Happy Easter


Hi folks, Happy Easter! It has been a pretty frustrating week on a lot of the fronts we follow here. There are far too many such weeks. Even the one piece of positive news, the reinstating of the charges against the Blackwater Nisour Square shooters, was based on a somewhat suspect decision by the DC Circuit Court and still very well may lead to another dismissal of the charges in the District Court because, quite frankly, it is probably appropriate that they be dismissed due to the monkeywrenching by the State Department and their demand for Garrity statements from the individuals involved in the shooting.

But that was the week that was, now it is Easter Sunday and it is time to relax, eat and have some fun, whether it is a religious holiday for you or just a good chance to chill. Marcy and Mr. Wheel have been enjoying the last few days by moving. You know how much fun moving is! As for myself, after an extremely busy week, the bmaz family went driveabout in Southern Arizona. Thought, just for grins, I would share a little of our trip. One of the places we went to was San Xavier del Bac Mission, which is just due south of Tucson.

A National Historic Landmark, San Xavier Mission was founded as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692. Construction of the current church began in 1783 and was completed in 1797.

The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church’s interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings. It is a place where visitors can truly step back in time and enter an authentic 18th Century space.

The church retains its original purpose of ministering to the religious needs of its parishioners.

The current church dates from the late 1700’s, when Southern Arizona was part of New Spain. In 1783, Franciscan missionary Fr. Juan Bautista Velderrain was able to begin contruction on the present structure usin money borrowed from a Sonoran rancher. He hired an architect, Ignacio Gaona, and a large workforce of O’odham to create the present church.

Following Mexican independence in 1821, San Xavier became part of Mexico. The last resident Franciscan of the 19th Century departed in 1837. With the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, the Mission joined the United States. In 1859 San Xavier became part of the Diocese of Santa Fe. In 1866 Tucson became an incipient diocese and regular services were held at the Mission once again. Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet opened a school at the Mission in 1872. Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity now teach at the school and reside in the convent.

Clicking on any of the images will give a full size view. The upper is obviously the outside of the mission, the middle one a view of the inside of the church portion and the final view more of a closeup of the altar area, which is simply ornate beyond description and beautiful. It is guarded by two huge golden lions on each side, although they are a bit hard to see well in the picture. San Xavier is pretty cool and just about the only place like it still standing this completely in what what was referred to in the 1600s and 1700s as New Spain.

The other completely awesome place we went was Kartchner Caverns. Kartchner Caverns State Park is about 50 miles southeast of Tucson, is only about ten miles off of Interstate 10 and is easily accessible. It is one of the most beautiful state park facilities you can imagine. Here is a wonderful history of how the cave came to be a jewel in the state park system in Arizona. One of the key players you will read about is Ken Travous, who was along with us on the tour the bmaz family took Saturday; it was really a special occasion.

In November 1974 two young cavers, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, were exploring the limestone hills at the base of the Whetstone Mountains. In the bottom of a sinkhole they found a narrow crack leading into the hillside. Warm, moist air flowed out, signaling the existence of a cave. After several hours of crawling, they entered a pristine cavern.

The formations that decorate caves are called “speleothems.” Usually formations are composed of layers of calcite called travertine deposited by water. The form a speleothem takes is determined by whether the water drips, flows, seeps, condenses, or pools.

Kartchner Caverns is home to:

one of the world’s longest soda straw stalactites: 21 feet 3 inches (Throne Room)

the tallest and most massive column in Arizona, Kubla Khan: 58 feet tall (Throne Room)

the world’s most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk (Big Room)

the first reported occurrence of “turnip” shields (Big Room)

the first cave occurrence of “birdsnest” needle quartz formations

many other unusual formations such as shields, totems, helictites, and rimstone dams.

The complex at Kartchner Caverns features a Discovery Center with museum exhibits, a large gift shop, regional displays, a gorgeous theater, and extensive educational information about the caverns and surrounding landscape. There are also campgrounds, hiking trails, lockers, shaded picnic areas, a deli, an amphitheater, and a hummingbird garden. It is simply an incredible experience, and I highly recommend it for anyone visiting the Southern Arizona area. Seriously cool.

So, the members of the bmaz family are back home now, the Wheels are semi-unpacked in their groovy new digs, and all are ready to eat and have happy hour. The best from all of us to all of you, the greatest readers and commenters in the blogosphere. Enjoy!

  1. barne says:

    Happy Easter everybody. As a kid, it was a T H R I L L to take a trip with the family to a place like Kartchner, or Wind Cave, or Carlsbad Caverns. I remember thinking, “Look at this cool place, and the trouble that good adults went through to make this available to us, and to create a safe path with a handrail, and good safe stairways, and then to fill it with educational thrills and fun guides, and a place to sit down and eat. THIS WORLD I’M GROWING INTO MUST BE FILLED WITH GREAT, GOOD PEOPLE AND WONDERS.”

    Well, the great good people ARE there, and the wonders ARE there, but our leaders, in Congress, are N O T putting it all together with nearly the right amount of courage and thought. Easter Jesus! Think of what this world could be like if we had courageous, thoughtful leadership driving us forward into sunlit, thrilling uplands. What the heck is going on here?!!

  2. orionATL says:


    what gorgeous architecture!

    and in the middle of a desert, in the middle of nowhere (in the 1700’s)!

    this is a beautiful cathedral! but designed by an architect? yes indeed!

    the range of talent, from a talent for pillaging and enslaving (talent in politics),

    to talent for music, painting, linguistics, architecture, and natural science that came to the new world within 200 yrs of columbus is a tribute to the adventuresomeness and pervasive love of art and learning of our species.

    there are a surprising number of gorgeous, old churches/ cathedrals like san xavier del bac distributed throughout southern n. america and northern s. america, and still others which succumed to fire or earthquake.

    all of this is a tribute to the passion of believers, and to the very strong social structures commonly held values create,

    all leading to enduring beauty of a san xavier del bac.

    an interesting side note for some might be that there is a long history in the new world of liturgical, aka church, aka religious, music – specifically, spanish liturgical music.

    to which was added,

    and which crested a mix, as happens always in human migration,

    of the musical talents of native americans.

    thank you, bmaz, for the pictures of this beautiful structure.

    p.s. why “go to church” when you can visit a church like this? :>)

  3. orionATL says:

    i would have liked to have provided a youtube playing of an example of the early new-world religious music, but that seems to require more search talent (and patience) than i possess, so here are two citations from “the usual suspects” which may help a reader place in historical perspective, the events leading to the creation of the very beautiful cathedral of san xavier del bac:


    and, on the matter of adventurous talent, this:


    thank you, bmaz, for this very peaceful interlude.

  4. eCAHNomics says:

    Good evening & Happy Easter.

    The San Xavier da bac Mission reminds me or Ouro Preto in Brazil, which is roughly contemporaneous. Oro Preto was built when Brazil was a Portuguese colony, during the Gold Rush of the 18th C. I visited it in 1979 or 80. It is well into the interior of Brazil in a province called Minas Gerais, aka General Mines. In addition to gold, now pretty well mined, it also has a gigantic open pit iron ore mine.

      • eCAHNomics says:

        Sounds about right. The whole reason for the Portuguese movement into that part of Brazil was the mineral wealth and I don’t see why the motivation did not apply to the Spanish in AZ. Of course, the R.C. church, with all its trappings, came along and built those gorgeous baroque churches. Ouro Preto blew me away. If you scroll down the wiki, you can see it’s a whole compound and town.

        My late husband found a priest’s “books” that spanned the discovery of gold in Brazil. The priest was also a merchant, so his financial records contained a lot of info about the Brazilian economy before & after the discovery of gold. Those records were the subject of Herb’s PhD thesis in Brazilian history at U. of Sao Paulo.

  5. Kelly Canfield says:

    Evening – I’ll just note for perspective’s sake that 1783 was the year of Mozart’s Mass in C-minor.

    Here’s the Gloria from it, and it’s in a similarly appointed Baroque/Neo-Classical looking setting, although nothing like San Xavier.

    I’ve been there dozens of times, and actually played for a wedding there in ’87. Quite a nice place.

    • eCAHNomics says:

      Heh. I never met a requiem I didn’t love & rarely a Mass. I think I’m not familiar with Mozart’s Mass in C-Minor. Don’t know how I missed it. Will have to get the CD. Thanks for the link.

      • Kelly Canfield says:

        The popular Mozart missa is the last one, never the others.

        He worked for the Bishop of Salzburg most of his life you know.

        Anyway, the year 1783 coincidence was noteworthy (pun intended!)

        • eCAHNomics says:

          Mozart’s requiem is the one I’ve listened to many times. I not sure I ever heard any of his other masses. Now I wonder why.

  6. kspopulist says:

    Thanks for sharing! I never knew about these places. Good Reason To Go.

    bmaz, mines and missions most certainly did go together. Especially the fancy ones. One of the primary reasons the crown used convertin for, going back to the 1500’s. To have a supply of people to run and work the mines in an unforgiving landscape far away from anybody else. Easier and more efficient than just the whip.

    Great trip. Thanks!

    ! I’m here at emptywheel! I’ll go on. I’ve begun a greater study on the roots of this american expansion by Spain. The motivations, the means, the justifications as they were different than much of what had come before.
    A story that should be famous is that Phillip II of Spain in the mid 1500’s was beset with financial woes from trying to tame the protestant reformation. /He was also beset by explorers of the new world wishing to cash in on riches of the new world. Much of those riches had to first be extracted from the locals.
    Phillip himself didn’t like that and wanted them to be Christian first as if that would make it any better.
    So he set the ‘merchants’ and the jurists and the priests at it to come up with a justification. They came up with a Thomist justification alright but one that turns the ‘turn-the-other-cheek’ maxim on it’s head to justify stealing the indigenous wealth.
    By the time it had became established in law, Philip was dead and everybody forgot. But it was used over centuries legally, of course at the highest levels, from then on to justify expropriating foreign peoples and their resources.

  7. eCAHNomics says:

    Hmmm. Thinking again about Herb’s PhD thesis brings up one of those little tasks I’ve never bothered to do. I have a paper copy of it in Portuguese. He told me the English translation was on mircofiche somewhere like U.Mich or wherever the U.S. repository of such “works” would be. Maybe I should make some effort to track it down. I don’t read/speak Portuguese, so I have never read the thesis. It would have been written sometime in the early 1960s.

    • kspopulist says:

      I would be interested in seeing that if you could find it. It may fit nicely with what I’m looking at even though that would be a consequence of the Portuguese crown and I’m looking at the Spanish new world specifically. But the topic is so huge one would need a whole university of scholars going at it for decades to make a complete authoritative study. Always so much more to learn :)

  8. tejanarusa says:

    A lovely piece on the mission – I’ve never seen that particular one. We are rather proud of our own remaining missions here in San Antonio, but I must admit that San Xavier del Bac is quite lovely. None of ours have interiors as sophisticated.


    Hmmm. I’m shocked that there aren’t better pictures on the Park Service web sight.

    Anyway, a small plug for the upcoming tourist season.

  9. orionATL says:

    [email protected]

    this is interesting.

    it sounds to me like you are stalking (intellectually speaking) the same fables that ew, bmaz, d’day, et al, stalk here every day.

    early an indifferent student of history, i’ve finally gotten to a(rather old)age sufficient to appreciate the value for the “present” of politics of events that happened five, fifty, or five hundred years ago.

    the central importance of what you are doing is uncovering our misconceptions of why people in power did what they did.

    there is no more valuable political research that can be done than ferreting out why Genghis khan, henry II, isabelle of castille, franklin roosevelt, george w. bush, barrack obama, et al., actually took the steps they took,

    as opposed to the “chopping down the cherry tree stories” we read in places other than fdl.

    • kspopulist says:

      It is the context, cultural, religious, economic, social that compels decisions, I feel. History as a string of dates and names and deeds is pretty flat to me in comparison. Those are all necessary of course but are just the start. Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier for example, was wildly popular all over Europe in Phillip II’s time, studied by lawyers, jurists, courtiers. Gives a sense of the ideal character in a world of crass poseurs born of syncophantic dependency on wealth and royalty. “Tell the man what he wants, so we can get what we want.” Even and especially the churches were stuck in this. Witness the English Puritans who just had to get away before or just as the English Civil Wars blew up. The more history I read and search out the more it seems progress is so hard and temporary, making that in turn even more necessary. Thanks for the encouragement! :)

  10. Larue says:

    but that was the week that was,

    One of the greatest shows of all time in my early teens.

    TW3. Greatly underknown and under appreciated.


  11. Phoenix Woman says:

    Never have made it the caverns, but was taken to San Xavier del Bac as a child. I remember the whiteness and the hugeness above all else. Got to see a similar whiteness on the same trip when we went to White Sands near Alamagordo in New Mexico. Didn’t know about the nuke testing until some years later.

  12. juliania says:

    Happy Easter to all, and thank you, bmaz for sharing your adventure! It is Monday of Bright Week in my tradition, so still Easter – in fact it extends until Pentecost, so you can keep your memorable trip with you for fifty days, if not forever since every Sunday is also Easter. (I remember a Rumanian monk who gave the Easter greeting, not just during that extent of the feast but every day.)

    Your opening description of the mission put me in mind of the line from the psalms: ‘I love the beauty of Thy house’, coupled with Dostoievski’s description: ‘beauty will save the world.’

    And then the remarkable caverns echo this verse from the Russian Easter Canon:

    “O Christ, when you went down

    Into the deepest abyss of the earth

    You broke the indestructible chains

    That kept souls prisoner in hell

    And on the third day you rose from the tomb

    As did Jonah from the belly of the whale.

    Thank you again for a lovely shared experience!

  13. JohnLopresti says:

    Regarding the baroque church, it was a Franciscan structure built upon a site in which Kino had built. Kino had something of a reputation as a peacekeeper in multilateral strife among Spanish colonists, Pima tribe members, and the displaced plains tribe the Apaches. As commenters characterized the epoch, he had a mix of responsibilities, serving in the teaching order the jesuits, but also in civil capacities. There is much government sponsored interpreting of his work currently ongoing in Mexico, with some extent of cooperation with government in Arizona, as his most common region of work bridged both countries in a time before national borders were set to their modern configuration. The two countriess are collaborating on a tricentennial site.

    He was born Eusebio Francesco Chino in northern Italy, and educated in several places including the Tyrol. His original party of numerous preachers missed their boat to the New World, and he had to wait 3 years in a seaport in southern Spain for the next affordable ship. Some of the history articles I saw about him explained that indigenous peoples would have to serve forced labor in northern MX silver mines if they refused to enter the christian religion; also, apparently there was some sort of tax exemption converts enjoyed. I am sure it is a complicated tale. Here are a few links: 1, 2, 3. For Spanish readers, an article at the MX office of Education and Culture is available there.

    I hope Kartchner is well developed. I knew several people living a few dozen miles south down the highway who were worried about the fragility of the landscape during the time Kartchner still was seeking building and use permits.

    As for the architecture and appointments of the mission, something about southern European baroque is a trifle of an overload sensorially for my esthetic, though I opine similarly about the gothic style, as well.