San Xavier Mission – Spanish Colonial Architecture in Tucson AZ

After we were done with our dental and doctor visits in San Luis, Mexico just south of Yuma, we crossed the southern part of Arizona to visit Tucson. Getting off of the interstate at Gila Bend, we enjoyed a beautiful backroads drive through the Tohono O’Odham Indian reservation.

A few miles south of downtown Tucson, we visited the San Xavier Mission (Mission San Xavier del Bac).

Mosaic circle in front of San Xavier Mission Tucson AZ

Mission San Xavier del Bac

This catholic church was built in 1692 by Father Eusebio Kino, a Jesuit missionary who traveled throughout New Spain, an area that now includes both Mexico and some of the American southwest.

San Xavier del Bac Mission Tucson AZ

The exterior has lots of ornamentation.

Mission San Xavier del Bac was the northernmost mission in New Spain, and it was built to impress the local Indians and encourage them to convert to Catholicism. Today it remains largely intact and is considered a premier example of Spanish Colonial architecture.

Mission San Xavier del Bac Spanish Colonial architecture

Pretty details on the outside of the Mission

The Mission has been lovingly restored with generous donations and very fine craftsmanship over the past two decades. Now it is now in full splendor, and there are wonderfully ornate decorations all over the outside, from pretty windows and doorways to elaborate carvings and balconies.

Balcony San Xavier Mission Tucson AZ


There are several buildings at San Xavier Mission, and a small shrine off to one side has a bell tower.

Bell tower San Xavier del Bac Mission Tucson Arizona

The bell tower

Inside were small statues and candles burning.

Shrine Chapel San Xavier Mission Tucson AZ

Candles burn alongside statues

Even though it was midweek, there were loads of tourists visiting and taking the free tours. After our tour, we really enjoyed walking around at leisure and taking photos.

Photography at San Xavier Mission Tucson Arizona

Mark lines up a scraggly tree for a photo.

Starburst tree San Xavier Mission

Nice shot!

The inside of the Mission has rounded arches and is decked out with sculptures.

Interior San Xavier del Bac Mission Tucson Arizona


The San Xavier del Bac Mission sits on the San Xavier section of the Tohono O’Odham Indian reservation, and it is likely that the ancestors of the people that live there today were the ones converted to Catholicism by Father Kino three hundred years ago.

Interior San Xavier Mission Tucson AZ


A combination of Italian, Mexican and Tohono O’Odham artisans did the painstaking restoration of the church.

Altar San Xavier Mission Tucson AZ

The altar is very elaborate.

During the restoration, layers of history of the mission were uncovered. Apparently when the building was first painted, there were blue thumb-sized dots covering all of the walls. But during one of the earlier renovations the priest of the time didn’t like the spotted walls so he washed most of them off!

Now, specialists think the blue dots were actually fingerprints of all the people who labored to build the building three hundred years ago!

Column San Xavier Mission Tucson AZ

At one time all the walls were decorated with blue thumb prints like the right side of this column

There is a museum, and I was very taken with the callligraphy in an antique book on display under glass.

Calligraphy scriptures San Xavier del Bac Mission Tucson AZ

Beautiful calligraphy from ages ago.

Outside we were free to roam around. A pair of lions guard the hill next to the mission.

Lion sculpture San Xavier del Bac Mission Tucson Arizona


We had fun taking photos of the barrel cactus which were in bloom. Wonderfully vibrant yellow flowers poked out of their tops, perfect for some creative shots.

Photographing barrel cactus Arizona

The barrel cactus were in bloom with yellow flowers

San Xavier del Bac Mission Tucson Arizona

Looking down at San Xavier Mission with the barrel cactus to one side

If your RV travels take you to southeastern Arizona, a excursion to Mission San Xavier del Bac is a really fun way to spend an afternoon.

Front San Xavier del Bac Mission Tucson Arizona

Mission San Xavier del Bac near Tucson, Arizona

Never miss a post — it’s free!

For more info:

Related posts featuring cathedrals and other Spanish Colonial architecture we saw in Mexico during our cruise:

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the top MENU above.

<-Previous || Next->

4 thoughts on “San Xavier Mission – Spanish Colonial Architecture in Tucson AZ

  1. Absolutely beautiful! We’ve not yet visited the Mission — I think the last time we were in Tucson it was still undergoing reconstruction. How interesting that the walls were originally covered in thumbprints — that’s a LOT of thumbprints. Thanks for the wonderful preview tour!

    • The thumb prints idea is a theory, but a really plausible one it seems to me. Enjoy your visit there when you get there. The reconstruction is ongoing and you’ll probably see and learn about new facets of this old mission that are yet to be discovered!!

  2. Sorry, I just had to ask: Did anyone explain why the architecture of the two towers in the front was the same to a certain height, but then changed? At first I thought the one on the right was just incomplete but the windows appear to be a different size and the the molding is different too. My questions drive my DH crazy . . .LOL Cathi


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *