March 22, 2010

Mission San Xavier

The Mission San Xavier (c. 1797) is a fascinating place brimming with mystique and sacredness. Here, on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, water magically appears from the ground, a bizarre sight made bizarre-er while considering the geography of the water-starved American Southwest.  This Missonary was conceived by Jesuit outcasts from the Spanish Empire, yet was both constructed and attacked by native tribes, existing today as a case study in America's awkward multicultural history. (Appropriately, the Moorish style of Mission San Xavier is a mash-up of Islamic and Greco-Roman cultures.) Adding to our fascination of this place is the fact that no record of the building's architects and artisans exists.

Set in the middle of an empty desert-like landscape the building presented itself to bewildered roadtrip tourists with exceedingly too much to say.  So there we stood, gawking in stunned silence while sheepishly snapping digital photos of a place we knew we would never fully understand. Aside from the incredible story of this mission, what was most compelling to us was the combo of whimsical exteriors and mysteriously playful interiors.  Alas, some photos from Mission San Xavier...

Oversized curvaceous buttresses paired with a balcony containing a miniaturized colonnade exhibited decidedly post-modern characteristics.

Color on the exterior was limited to bright red decorative motifs above small punched openings in the facade.

The main entry was painted in an unexpectedly dazzling color scheme: something between M.C. Escher and Magic Eye Posters (a world-wide stereogram craze from the 1990's). 

Hallways were snugly fitted to the human figure, existing as secret passages bisecting the Mission's maze of rooms and levels. 

To our disappointment, the National Parks Service's HABS/HAER Program apparently beat us to the chase, discovering (and fully documenting) this building 70 years before we did.

An undeniably over-scaled gateway into an adjacent courtyard space on the Mission grounds left us feeling satisfied, yet somehow desperately wanting more.


tapirgal said...

What a fascinating post. I've been meaning to put up one of my photos from this place on my Daily Image blog. When I do, I'll link to your post and let you know. It looks like you have a fascinating blog all around. I look forward to finding more time to read it.

N_O_R_T_O_N said...

tapirgal: thanks for the comments! we stumbled upon this place by accident and were quite impressed by it. hope to return someday for another visit. let us know when you post your photos.