You step through the main gate, the walls rising before you. Weatherworn saints with their mouser perpetually chases its prey peer down at you. Time has passed here and the desert has not been kind. Walking through the door, you’d swear you just heard the whir of a time machine as you step into the 1700s. This is not a museum. Mission San Xavier del Bac is living history. It is still a place of worship for the locals although hordes visit when a mass is not in session. Inside is an homage to a time when most people did not read. The statues of saints, Mary and Jesus are also stories. People used to look at them remembering the saints’ lives, their miracles, their faith. The santos served as art, history and books as they stood in their niches watching over the faithful. Now many who enter don’t know their stories. Tourists we are, getting the history from books and words, no longer knowing who we are looking at with the exception of Mary and Jesus. We get our tales from academics who interpret them for us with detached scholarship rather than grandparents and parents who are hoping we will use the saints’ stories to learn how to be a part of the community, how to care, how to put others first, how to sacrifice.When the Pimas (O’odham) ran from the Tumacacori Mission in January 1849 after more than a decade of increasingly violent Apache raids (with guns supplied by Anglos in their bid to take the territory from Mexico), they carried the santos (saints) with them refusing to leave them behind to be burned or mutilated. Nowadays the one-hour car ride probably took the families three days or more in freezing cold with the fear of death dogging them. Yet Pimas (O’odham) carried these life-sized santos over the long weary miles to the sanctuary of Mission San Xavier del Bac. The refugee group of around 30 rescued the Jesus from the cross above the Tumacacori altar. He’d lost his legs by the time they reached Tucson. Initially recognized as Jesus, over time, the Jesus morphed into Father Kino. These days people still pin their prayers to that wooden effigy as it lays in an open glass coffin. They know Father Kino’s story and hope that he will intercede for them. I know this story from the web but as I look up at all the saints, I wondered who else they carried those long 40 miles. Which saints had already been here waiting to welcome the survivors? All those saints up there staring down at me, I don’t know them. Others do. Faithful people still make the pilgrimage to San Xavier del Bac along with the tourists. I imagine sitting in a pew, listening to the priest, kneeling and praying, while looking at the statues, picturing the rise and fall of a storyteller’s fervent oration bringing the saint to life. I take my photos like everyone else here, capturing the surface easily enough. Sacred art on display but where once everyone understood their stories, now only a few can read them. Looking around me I realize we lost something. Not everything can be googled.
walking forty miles
carrying faith, hope, belief
haibun and photos by M. LaFreniere, all rights reserved
Writing prompt linkup : Haibun Road Week 10
Easy search this time. I put in “mission san xavier del bac” and the return was as expected : book on San Xavier del Bac. I think the kids Arizona alphabet book called “G Is for Grand Canyon” looks cute though.
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