San Xavier (ha-veer) del Bac, a mission just outside of Tucson, dates to the 1780’s, over 200 years old. You see it from the city, white glowing against the soft green and buff of the desert, safe from development inside the Tohono O’odham reservation.
Inside, the statuary, molded from lime and sand plaster, rise everywhere above the cross shaped sanctuary. The paintings of saints and biblical scenes cover every space into the highest arch. Painted in soft, rich, two-hundred year old European pigments, here by long journey of sail and burrow, and accented with gold and silver leaf. The Jesuits who guided construction spent wisely and well.
No Michelangelo painted and formed this art, but the primitive power of it fits the soaring rugged structure and the soft pigments. There is a harshness to the statues of Jesus and the grieving Mary that serves fine counterpoint to the cloth garments they wear. These figures were made to be accessible to the native population, not to please Rome. I could see in the place the true power of The Church. It’s icons were adapted to speak to those living, surviving, in this harsh and beautiful land.
A death statue, leather and wood copy of a bishop’s body, lies in eternal state, under the statue of Jesus with his crown of thorns. I watched quietly as people came to leave pictures of those in need of healing, including several ultra-sounds of fetuses. They lingered to caress his head and garments, cross themselves, pray and cry. Others lovingly attached small commemorative pins and hospital bracelets to his white robe, in testimony to healing received.
These touching scenes were played out in the midst of scaffolds holding art restoration experts at work on the chapel ceiling, milling tourists taking flash pictures, and a taped history of the mission emitting from loudspeakers. It seemed appropriate that life and death matters be carried out as the White Dove of the Desert, as it is called, was being restored and tourists were being enlightened in the power of the faith.
The White Dove has seen the city rise to the north, an imperfect and overpowering addition to the landscape, a landscape once of low adobe, saguaro and a peaceful people.
Ground Hog Day, and the only significant amount of rain since we’ve been here ended. Yesterday we swam in the pool and soaked in the Jacuzzi in the cool rain. Some locals thought it strange of us, “You from Minnesota?”
We enjoyed warm showers and clouds again this morning on a hike up steep and narrow Blackett Ridge in Sabino Canyon. Our friends Pat and Tom showed the way as they have for so many bike rides in the surrounding countryside.
At the top, clouds funneled up one vertical side, shot skyward, then whorled, a giant fiddle-head. And there was a rainbow, a rainbow in the desert. It reminded me of hikes along similar aretes in the Olympics and Cascades. Saguaros and ocotillo are not Douglas fir, but a couple of thousand feet higher, we would have found fir and ponderosa pine, and 18 inches of new snow. On the way down we were warmed by sun, the natural order of things here. With temperatures in the 70’s soon again, the famous groundhog could be wrong, for Tucson at least.
Riding a bicycle in a good sized city is new to us, and we see some unusual sights. Recently, while stopped at a stoplight, we were treated to a lesson in attitude and thanksgiving, and a laugh.
Across the crosswalk came a motorized wheelchair, a laughing woman piloting at full throttle, her colostomy bag swinging wildly. Riding stoker (on some little pegs at the back) was a grizzled man, also laughing, along for the ride. (maybe he was her emergency brake) They stopped on our side and he dismounted to push the walk-light button, while she bubbled something about giving him the ride of his life, and laughed for us. He drank something from a large covered cup, and laughed at what she said. (we couldn’t hear it all for the stink-pot idling beside us) When the walk-light flashed, he replaced his cup in the convenient cup holder on the side, hopped on the pegs and she tore off across the cross-walk. I think she was drag-racing us. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anyone in a luxury car have half as much fun. Life can be funny that way. And just.