Monday, June 3, 2013


I recently visited Tumacacori Mission and found a peaceful site I will return to again and again. As mentioned previously, I haven't had much time to sort through the numerous photos from that trip, so here are just a couple of them. With more to follow. 

The mission is now a well cared for National Park Service site and there is a nominal $3.00 entry fee. The history of the location dates back to 1691, the first mission in the area. It is an impressive structure first glimpsed through an exterior arched window of the visitors center. It simply takes your breath away; magnificently posing in an open grassy flatland sprinkled with trees. The decay of the building, halted but not reversed by the Park Service, can been seen even from that distance. 

Tumacacori Mission

The building calls you to it and you respond by gliding down the cement path, not noticing your surroundings as your attention is focused on the structure in front of you. The building is asymmetrical. Something that is a little hard to comprehend after seeing San Xavier del Bac, the mission further north, just south of Tucson. 

San Xavier Mission, The White Dove of the Desert

I spent my childhood attending mass at San Xavier and I am much more accustomed to its appearance. I can't help but make comparisons. This building isn't white-washed, as San Xavier is, a brilliant white that is almost painful to look at in the desert sun. Tumacacori, is the brown of the desert that surrounds it, though it is not of the land. It is more as it rises up from the flat plain.

As you get closer, the building towers above you, and you can clearly see the places where plaster is missing, revealing the massive adobe bricks of the structure.

Stepping through the imposing carved doors, your eye is caught by the weathered arched blocks above your head and you wonder how the building survived at all. 

Down a Park Service added ramp and into the interior. The temperature drops instantly. Silence envelopes you. The church welcomes, embraces you in it's past, and you are swept back to a different century. The history is palpable. Towering walls, some with sections of plaster remaining and hints of faded color decorating the walls, a testament to the past grandeur. To your left a veritable tunnel leads to a side vestibule. How is it even possible for walls be this thick? A set of stairs you want to climb with every fiber of your being that you know lead to the bell tower. Can you imagine the view from up there? The photo opportunities?  

As you are drawn to the alter, you examine the empty niches in the walls and wonder which saint was represented by a statue long gone. There are beautifully made adobe blocks with the form marks still visible in some areas protected from the elements. There are no benches to mar your progress, or trip over as you take in the large support beams of the ceiling. After climbing the set of stairs to the alter you turn to take in the space you have passed through. How many others have done the same. Where were the benches located? How many weddings performed? How many funeral services? You can imagine the weathered cowboy, hat in hand, finding his seat for mass. The ladies in their Sunday best, heavy wool dresses, reveling in the cool interior as you are doing today. The procession of Franciscan monks heading out the doors at the end of mass to greet attendees. You can imagine Tumacacori in all its painted and well-tended glory. And the melancholy arrives, knowing what would have been like in its prime, if it hadn't been abandoned after Apache raids. Certainly more similar to the stunning San Xavier, though never as flashy. 

Another visitor enters, marring the blinding light of the doorway and taking you out of your revive, back to the present. It is almost disorientating. Taking another look around, you realize the building is just as impressive, if not more so, than San Xavier, for its tenacity to survive without the tending, care and continual habitation of people. A true desert rat. That feeling of peace returns and you continue out to the blinding light of day feeling as though you have made a new friend.

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