Tu­ma­cori, Ari­zona

A Span­ish Mis­sion

Snowbirds & RV Travelers - - Contents -

When vis­it­ing Tuc­son, Ari­zona, The San Xavier del Bac Mis­sion is a ma­jor tourist at­trac­tion. Most peo­ple are un­aware that only 82 km (51 miles) south on US-19, is an­other for­mer Span­ish church, the San Jose de Tu­maca­cori. The Tu­maca­cori Mis­sion was one of twenty-one mis­sions built in the Pimería Alta re­gion, with the in­tent to strengthen the Span­ish Em­pire or the Viceroy­alty of Nueva Es­paña. Fa­ther Euse­bio Fran­cisco Kino the ‘Black robe on Horse­back’, over­saw the mis­sions, es­tab­lished trade routes, mapped out the area and brought western civ­i­liza­tion and Chris­tian­ity to the Pima, Pas­cua Yaqui and To­hono O’odham In­di­ans.

It was Fa­ther Keno who ini­ti­ated the con­struc­tion of the Tu­maca­cori Mis­sion in 1691, but on the east side of the Santa Cruz River, build­ing churches at Gue­vavi and Cal­abazas. The word Tu­maca­cori, from the To­hono O’odham In­dian lan­guage, means ‘the place to gather wild chilis’ or ‘flat rock’. The present site of the Tu­maca­cori church dates back to 1751 and is built along the west side of the Santa Cruz River. The Je­suits, fol­lowed by the Fran­cis­cans (or brown robes), built a model com­mu­nity with a pop­u­la­tion of two hun­dred peo­ple. The church, of course, was the corner­stone of the com­mu­nity and built with the labour of the Pima In­di­ans. They also con­structed canals

for ir­ri­ga­tion, grew corn, fruit and raised cat­tle. In or­der to pro­tect the In­di­ans and set­tlers, in 1752 the Span­ish built a mil­i­tary fort or Pre­sidio at San Ig­na­cio de Tubac, five km (three mi) to the north.

For nu­mer­ous rea­sons, the church was aban­doned from 1848 to 1908 when the Amer­i­cans took con­trol with the Gads­den Pur­chase of 1853. Dur­ing this sixty-year pe­riod, the church fell vic­tim to van­dal­ism, theft and ne­glect. Nat­u­ral el­e­ments also took their toll, dam­ag­ing the ex­te­rior of the church. In the 1920’s, ren­o­va­tions be­gan by build­ing a new roof and pre­serv­ing what was left of the church, but the work has never been com­pleted. To­day the in­te­rior dé­cor is rather bleak and drab, ap­pear­ing much like an un­fin­ished adobe build­ing. Be­cause of its his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, Tu­maca­cori be­came a Na­tional Mon­u­ment in 1908 and, in 1987, was des­ig­nated a Na­tional His­toric Land­mark.

Scat­tered around the five-acre property are na­tive brush houses, or­chards, the rec­tory, bell-tower, gra­nary, mor­tu­ary and ceme­tery, all in need of sig­nif­i­cant restora­tion work. On the other hand, the tour guides do an ex­cel­lent job of de­scrib­ing how the Catholic mis­sion func­tioned on a daily ba­sis. At the en­trance, there is a small mu­seum, gift shop and a pa­tio gar­den, con­tain­ing the many lo­cal species of plants and cacti.

Fol­low­ing a visit to Tu­maca­cori, stop for lunch at Tubac. This small town is known as ‘The Cen­ter for The Arts’ and has an abun­dance of art gal­leries, ar­ti­san work­shops, gift shops and Mex­i­can restau­rants as well as the his­tor­i­cal mu­seum. Tubac and Tu­maca­cori make for a nice day trip out of Tuc­son.

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