University of Arizona

Sense of Place

Geos. 195D

San Xavier

San Xavier del Bac, aka the White Dove of the Desert, is an active Catholic church south of Tucson in the Tohono O'Odham Indian Reservation. As a mission concept, San Xavier was founded in the late 1600s, early 1700s by Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino. The church building itself was begun in the late 1700s and finished in 1797. It is under constant maintenance.

Right: Padre Kino statue at the corner of S. Kino Pkwy. and E. 15th St., decked out for the holidays and with his horse appearing to be grazing on buffelgrass, which wasn't in Arizona during Kino's time.



Photo—Nina Kolodij, 2015

Photo—Gary Huckleberry

San Xavier. Photo—Paul Sheppard, 2010

Artistry inside San Xavier.
Photo—Jayme Kelter, 2007

Front Sanctuary.
Gaizka Urreiztieta, 2011

Left Great Angel.
Paul Sheppard, 2017

San Xavier. Photo—Paul Sheppard, 2009

San Xavier pews. Photo—Will Carlisle, 2012

San Xavier corner. Photo—Carly Stewart, 2014


St. Kateri Tekakwitha
, in tile and statuary.
Algonquin–Mohawk, canonized by Pope
Benedict XVI in 2012.
Photos—Paul Sheppard


San Xavier fence.
Photo—Meghan Marriott, 2014

Saint Francis Xavier, 1506-1552.
Photo—Paul Sheppard

More sharp corners.
Photo—Paul Sheppard

Backlit portico. Photo—Paul Sheppard


The San Xavier Mission Church is considered "endangered," i.e., in threat of falling apart. Click on this image to see the list of endangered cultural sites worldwide (opens a new window).

Aerial photo. San Xavier is the white buildings lower left. Lots of ag fields, in a sea of otherwise desertscape. Martinez Hill is distinctly darker on the north slope than the south. Why?

San Xavier timeline. Click on image to see the full brochure.

Bernard "Bunny" Fontana
Pre-eminent Scholar of Mission San Xavier del Bac

Renowned Southwestern historian, anthropologist Fontana dies at 85: April 2, 2016, a titan has passed.

Mission San Xavier in Art

An icon of the Tucson art scene was Ettore "Ted" DeGrazia (1909–1982).

Click here to see the DeGrazia
Gallery in the Sun, a Tucson must-see.

Book of DeGrazia art-
work of Padre Kino.

DeGrazia: San Xavier.

DeGrazia: San Xavier.

Breaking News 2017: Crested Caracara at San Xavier

2017: We saw a large raptor bird flying low over the ag fields of San Xavier. Bigger than Cooper's Hawk or Northern Harrier, sort of like a vulture but vultures winter in Mexico and soar high in the sky, not flying low. White "hands" evident in flight. This was a Crested Caracara, not unheard of for southern Arizona but not common either. At this moment, a big group of Caracaras is residing at San Xavier. Go back out again to see them, and check a nice bird off your North American life list.
John James Audubon illustration, Crested Caracara.
Click here for more detail about this species.

Team Shot


San Xavier team shot, 2017. Photo—Paul Sheppard.

San Xavier team shot, 2017, panoramic version. Photo—Paul Sheppard.
Back to Sense of Place Home Page

Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, The University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona 85721 USA
Comments to Paul Sheppard: sheppard @ ltrr.arizona.edu