3. DESCRIPTION OF THE OLD MISSION CHURCH OF SAN XAVIER DEL BAC.


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THE erection of the present mission church of “San Xavier del Bac” was commenced in 1768, on the site of one of the same name which had gone to decay. It is some ten miles south of Tucson, in the rich and beautiful valley of the Santa Cruz, and near the Papago villages. It was completed in 1798, with the exception of one of the towers, which is yet in an unfinished state. Its dimensions are 115X70 feet. The style of architecture is a commingling of the Moorish and the Byzantine. The outside is castellated, and surrounded by one dome and two minarets. The foundation walls are of brick with a fine coating of cement. The outside walls are of brick also cemented. The inside walls are of stone and cement, plastered and stuccoed, and the interior has the form of the Latin cross. The church fronts to the south, and the front centre is covered with beautiful scroll work, having also the coat of arms of the Franciscan monks, which is a cross, with a rope coil above,


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and two arms below, one of which represents that of Christ, and is naked, the other one that of St. Francis de Assisi, and is partially clothed, St. Francis de Assisi being the patron of the church. A life sized bust of St. Francis Xavier adorned and surmounted the front, but the head and part of the bust have been broken off by some modern Vandal. The roof is surrounded by a brick balustrade cemented, and at each angie and corner are griffons worked in cement, forty-eight in all. On the outside of the church to the west is a wide open niche where the Papago Indians were formerly congregated for morning prayers, and adjoining this, was the old Indian burial ground and dead chapel. Of late years, for sanitary reasons, the dead are buried farther down the valley. To the south of the church are the old convent buildings, which of late have been renovated and occupied by four of the sisters of St. Joseph, who for several years past have lived here teaching a school for the Papago children, and caring for and comforting the sick among the Indians.

When once inside the church, the beholder is forcibly struck with the display of skill in its structure, its beauty and grandeur, and the taste displayed in its adornment. The inside of the church has the form of the Latin cross, the foot being to the south, and extending thence to the north end, where the main altar is. The wails and ceilings are tastefully


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decorated and frescoed. The main altar is dedicated to St. Francis Xavier, and one of the central chapels to St. Francis de Assisi. Four large fresco paintings represent the Annunciation, the Visitation of the Virgin to Elizabeth, the Nativity of Christ, and the Visitation of the Magi. The altar work, and all the cornices, are done in cement, as are also the six arched ceilings overhead, the main one of which is fifty feet high, and the others about thirty feet high. The ceilings were all frescoed, but much of this has been defaced by time, and the elements. The Four Evangelists, in sculpture, adorn the main altar, and the scroll work is covered with gold leaf, which in its early days, when the frescoes and paintings were fresh and bright, and all the other surroundings new and in perfect harmony, must have presented a beautiful, grand, and gorgeous sight, especially to the half wild Indians who had never before seen anything of like character.

In the lateral chapel of the Virgin, there is a cross of small pieces of ironwood, imbedded in cement, on which there was formerly a sculptured figure of Christ. Within the body of the church there are in all over fifty pieces of sculpture, most of which are grand and beautiful, perfect in form, feature, and position. In two of the angles of the main arch, there are two most beautiful statues, representing angels, which tradition states are portraits of the


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two daughters of the artist who decorated the church. The main aisle is adorned by two large fresco paintings representing the Last Supper and the Pentecost. The foregoing is but a faint and imperfect description of this old and venerable church, whose wonderful beauty and symmetry of form attracts the attention of all, and creates wonder, surprise, and admiration in the bosom of every beholder. East of the altar, a door leads into the vestry, where the valuables of the church are kept. In former times there were large quantities of gold and silver ornaments, priests' vestments, and other furniture, which was kept in the vestry, some of which has been lost, stolen, or carried away to other churches, and a portion yet remains, among which, are one full set of priests' vestments, two gold cruets of about six ounces each, a large silver cross, several candlesticks of solid silver, a Douay Bible of date 1692, and a few other minor ornaments. On the door leading to the vestry is the name of its builder, Pedro Bojargues, 1797. The masonry work of the church was executed by two brothers named Gauna, who evinced great skill and genius in their work. From the south end of the main aisle, a doorway leads to the west, into the baptismal chapel, and from there a flight of winding stairs, consisting of twenty-seven, twenty-one, and twenty-one steps, leads to the upper floor of the west minaret or tower. At the rise of twenty-seven steps,


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a doorway leads to the right into the choir gallery, which is arched and frescoed. A further rise of twenty-one steps leads to the second floor of this tower, where there is a chime of four old and rich sounding bells, one of date 1804, and the three others so old and defaced by time, their date is obliterated. From this floor a doorway leads to the roof of the main building, and on going across, the visitor enters the east tower, where but one bell remains of the four formerly there. The date of the one remaining is also obliterated by time, but it carries the mark of some worse than Vandal, who has made of it a rifle target. Returning to the west tower, the visitor rises the last flight of twenty-one steps to the upper floor of the tower, from whence a fine view is obtained of the beautiful valley of the Santa Cruz, of distant mountain chains, of picacho peaks, and many evidences of ancient upheavals and volcanic eruptions. The steps leading to the upper floor, sixty-nine in all, have a rise of ten inches each, making the whole rise fifty-seven and one half feet. When it is remembered that this old, venerable, and wonderful church was commenced one hundred and eight years since, in a wild Indian country, far from the centres of civilization, we can but admire the great energy, perseverance, and indomitable will of the old Jesuit and Franciscan Fathers who planned, carried out, and so successfully accomplished this great work. It is the


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only remaining edifice left in the Territory of the many erected by those of a former century and age, and should be cared for and preserved by legislative enactment, as a memento of the past.

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