This is the first post in our annual series of essays by our Preservation Archaeology Field School students. We invite you to follow along with their experiences over the next six weeks through their own words.
(June 5, 2019)—Beyond the iconic, white plastered walls of the San Xavier mission lie hidden intricacies that give us a glimpse of the artists who helped shape the mission. The San Xavier del Bac mission stands as the white palace of the desert. This mission instantly caught my eye due to how the white plaster juxtaposed with the desert landscape.
My first visit to San Xavier was for a humanities honors project at Cochise College. This visit, I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to explore behind the scenes through a field trip with the 2019 Upper Gila Preservation Archaeology Field School. Atop the choir loft, I looked out on the mission from a whole new perspective. Seeing the details of the historic mission made me think back to how each choir member must have felt singing hymnals centuries ago. The vibrant colors of the artwork must have been an incredible spectacle for the faithful when San Xavier was first constructed in the late 1700s.
Today, the mission again impacted me with its beauty. The dome above our heads featured remnants of thumbprint decorations that would have been a focal point of the choir loft for the day. As I studied the prints further, I reflected on the fact that each print was made by a living, breathing person. Their legacy physically lives on through each print. Although each aspect of artwork in the mission is unique in its own way, the thumbprints are particularly unique because of how well they reflect their artist.
As a Catholic, I connected with San Xavier and the years of spiritual reverence the mission witnessed. This spirit especially lives on through the mission’s continual, active use. Just as the artists left their mark on the church, I hope that I can leave my mark on history through my endeavors.