Agnes C. (Agnes Christina) Laut.

Through our unknown Southwest, the wonderland of the United States - little known and unappreciated - the home of the cliff dweller and the Hopi, the forest ranger and the Navajo - the lure of the painted desert online

. (page 19 of 19)
Online LibraryAgnes C. (Agnes Christina) LautThrough our unknown Southwest, the wonderland of the United States - little known and unappreciated - the home of the cliff dweller and the Hopi, the forest ranger and the Navajo - the lure of the painted desert → online text (page 19 of 19)
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Morning Glow. A lucky thing it is that restoration
did not imply change in San Xavier; for the Mis-
sion floats in the shimmering desert air, unearthly,
eerie, unreal, a thing of beauty and dreams rather
than latter day life, white as marble, twin-towered,
roof domed and so dazzling in the sunlight to the
unaccustomed eye that you somehow know why
rows of restful, drowsy palms were planted in line
along the front of the wall.

Perhaps it is that it comes on you as such a com-
plete surprise. Perhaps it is the desert atmosphere
in this cup of the mountains; but all the other mis-
sions of the Southwest are adobe gray, or earth


color showing through a veneer of drab white-

There is the giant, century-old desert cactus
twisted and gnarled with age like the trees in Dante's
Inferno, but with bird nests in the pillared trunks,
where little wrens peck through the bark for water.
You look again. A horseman has just dismounted
beneath the shade of a fine old twisted oak; but be-
yond the oak the vision is there, glare, dazzling,
white, twin-towered and arched, floating in mid-air,
a vision of beauty and dreams.

Life seems to sleep at San Xavier. The moun-
tains hemming in the valley seem to sleep. The
shimmering blue valley sleeps. The sunlight sleeps
against the glare white walls. The huge old mor-
tised door to the church stands open, all silent and
asleep. The door of the Mission parlor stands open

sunlight asleep on a checkered floor. You enter.
Your footsteps have an echo of startling impudence

modern life jumping back into past centuries!
You ring the gong. The sound stabs the sleeping
silence, and you almost expect to see ghosts of Fran-
ciscan friar and Jesuit priest come walking along the
arcaded pavement of the inner courtyard to ask you
what all this modern noise is about; but no ghosts
come. In fact, no one comes. San Xavier is all
asleep. You cross through the parlor to the inner
patio or courtyard, arched all around three sides
with the fourth side looking through a wonderfully
high arched gateway out to the far mountains.
Polly turns on her perch in her cage, and goes back


to sleep. The white Persian kitten frisks his white-
plumed tail; and also turns over and goes to sleep.
Two collie dogs don't even emit a " woof." They
arch their pointed noses with the fine old aristocratic
air of the unspoken question: what are you of the
Twenty Century doing wandering back into the
mystery and mysticism and quietude of the religious
sixteen hundred? But if you keep on going, you
will find the gentle-voiced sisterhood teaching the
little Pimas and Papagoes in the schoolrooms. Bancroft

San Xavier, architecturally, is sheer delight to the
eye. The style is almost pure Moorish. The yard
walls are arched in harmony with the arched outline
of the roof; and in the inner courtyard you will no-
tice the Spanish lion at the intersection of all the
roof arches. In front of the Mission buildings is a
walled space of some sixty by forty feet, where the
Indians used to assemble for discussion of secular
matters before worship. On the front wall in high
relief are placed the arms of St. Francis of Assist,
and in the sacristry to the right of the altar you will
find mural drawings and a painting of Saint Ig-
natius. Thus San Xavier claims as her founders
and patrons both Franciscan and Jesuit. This is
easily explained. The Franciscans came up over-
land across the Desert from the City of Mexico.
The Jesuits came up inland from their Mission on
the Gulf of California. Father Kino, the Jesuit,
from a Bavarian university, was the first missionary
to hold services among the Pimas and Papagoes,
and if he did not lay the foundations of San Xavier,


then they were laid by his immediate successors.
The escutcheon of the Franciscans on the wall is
a twisted cord and a cross on which are nailed the
arms of the Christ and the arm of St. Francis. The
Christ arm is bare. The Franciscan's arm is cov-

Unlike other Missions built of adobe, San Xavier
is of stone and brick. It is 100 by thirty feet. The
transept on each side of the nave runs out twenty-
one feet square. The roof above the nave is sup-
ported by groined arches from door to altar. The
cupola above the altar is fifty feet to the dome.
The other vaults are only thirty feet high. The
windows are high in the clearstory and set so deeply
in the casement that the light falling on the mural
paintings and fresco work is sifted and softened.
Practically all the walls, cupola, dome, transept,
nave, are covered with mural paintings. There is
the coming of the Spirit to the Disciples. There
is the Last Supper. There is the Conception.
There is the Rosary. There is the Hidden Life of
the Lord.

The main altar has evidently been constructed
by the Jesuits; for the statue of St. Francis Xavier
stands below the Virgin between figures of St.
Peter and St. Paul and God, the Creator. On the
groined arches of the dome are figures of the Wise
Men, the Flight to Egypt, the Shepherds, the An-
nunciation. Gilded arabesques colored in Moorish
shell tints adorn the main altar. Statues of the
saints stand in the alcoves and niches of the pillars


and vaults. Two small doors lead up to the towers
from the main door. Look well at these doors and
stairways. Not a nail has been driven. The doors
are mortised of solid pieces. The first flight of
stairs leads to the choir. Around the choir are more
mural paintings. Two more twists of the winding
stair; and you are in the belfry. Twenty-two more
steps bring you to the summit of the tower a gal-
leried cupola, seventy-five feet above the ground,
where you may look out on the whole world.

Pause for a moment, and look out. The moun-
tains shimmer in their pink mists. The sunlight
sleeps against the adobe walls of the scattered In-
dian house. You can hear the drone of the chil-
dren from the schoolrooms behind the Mission.
You can see the mortuary chapel down to the right
and the lions supporting the arches of the Mission
roof. Father Kino was a famous European scholar
and gentleman. He threw aside scholarship. He
threw aside comfort. He threw aside fame; and
he came to found a Mission amid arabs of the Ameri-
can Desert. The hands that wrought these paint-
ings on the walls were not the hands of bunglers.
They were the hands of artists, who wrought in love
and devotion. Three times, San Xavier was dyed
in martyr blood by Indian revolt.

Priests, whose names even have been lost in the
chronicles, were murdered on the altars here, thrown
down the stairs, cut to pieces in their own Mission
yard. Before a death which they coveted as glory,
what a life they must have led. To Tucson Mis-


sion was nine miles; but to Tumacacori was eighty;
to Old Mexico, 900. Occasionally, they had escort
of twelve soldiers for these long trips; but the sol-
diers' vices made so much trouble for the holy fath-
ers that the missionaries preferred to travel alone,
or with only a lay brother. Sandaled missionaries
tramped the cactus desert in June, when the heat was
at its height; and they traversed the mountains when
winter snows filled all the passes. They have not
even left annals of their hardships. You know that
in such a year, Father Kino tramped from the Gulf
of California to the Gila, and from the Gila to the
Rio Grande. You know in such another year, nine-
teen priests were slain in one day. On such another
date, a missionary was thrown over a precipice; or
slain on the high altar of San Xavier. And always,
the priests opposed the outrages of the soldiery, the
injustice of the ruling rings. Father Kino petitions
the royal house of Spain in 1686 that converts be not
forcibly seized and " dragged off to slavery in the
mines, where they were buried alive and seldom sur-
vived the abuse." He gets a respite from the King
for all converts for twenty years. He does not per-
mit converts to be taken as slaves in the mines or
slaves in the pearl fisheries; so the ruling rings of
Old Mexico obstruct his enterprises, lie about his
Missions, slander him to the patrons who supply
him with money, and often reduce his missions to
desperate straits; but wherever there is a Mission,
Father Kino sees to it that there are a few goats.
The goats supply milk and meat.


The fathers weave their own clothing, grow
their own food, and hold the fort against the
enemy as against the subtle designs of the Devil.
These fathers mix their own mortar, make
their own bricks, cut their own beams, lay the plaster
with their own hands. Now, remember that the
priests who did all this were men who had been art-
ists, who had been scholars, who had been court
favorites of Europe. Father Kino was, himself,
of the royal house of Bavaria. But jealousy left
the Missions unprotected by the soldiers. Soldier
vices roused the Indians to fury; and the priests
were the first to fall victims. Go across the Moki
Desert. You will find peach orchards planted by
the friars; but you cannot find the graves of the dead
priests. We considered the Apaches a dangerous
lot as late as 1880. In 1686, in 1687, in 1690,
Father Kino crossed Apache land alone. I cannot
find any record of the Spanish Missions at this pe-
riod ever receiving more than $15,000 a year for
their support. Ordinarily, a missionary's salary
was about $150 a year. Out of that, if he employed
soldiers, he must pay their wages and keep.

Well, by and by, the jealousy of the governing
ring, kept from abusing the Indians by the priests,
brought about the expulsion of the Jesuits. The
Franciscans took up the work where the Jesuits left
off. Came another political upheaval. The Fran-
ciscans were driven out. San Xavier's broken win-
dows blew to the rains and winds of the seven
heavens. Cowboys, outlaws, sheep herders, housed


beneath mural paintings and frescoes that would have
been the pride of a European palace. Came Ameri-
can occupation; and San Xavier was not restored
but redeemed. It was completely cleaned out
and taken over by the church as a Mission for the

To-day, no one worships in San Xavier but the
little Indian scholars. Look at the drawings of
Christ, of the Virgin, of the Wise Men! Look at
the dreams of faith wrought into the aged and beau-
tiful walls! Frankly let us be brutally frank
and truthful, was it all worth while? Wouldn't
Kino have done better to have continued to grace
the courts of Bavaria?

In the old days, Pima and Papago roped their
wives as in a hunt, and if the fancy prompted, abused
them to death. On the walls of San Xavier is the
Annunciation to the Virgin, another view of birth
and womanhood. In the old days, the Indians killed
a child at birth, if they didn't want it. On the
walls of San Xavier are pictured the wise men ador-
ing a Child. Spanish rings and trusts wanted little
slaves of industry as American rings and trusts want
them to-day. Behold a Christ upon the walls set-
ting free the slaves! Was it all worth while? It
depends on your point of view and what you want.
Though the winds of the seven heavens blew through
San Xavier for seventy years and bats habited the
frescoed arches, it stands to-day as it stood two
centuries ago, a thing unearthly, of visions and


dreams; pointing the way, not to gain, but to good-
ness; making for a little space of time on a little
space of Desert earth what a peaceful heaven life
might be.


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Online LibraryAgnes C. (Agnes Christina) LautThrough our unknown Southwest, the wonderland of the United States - little known and unappreciated - the home of the cliff dweller and the Hopi, the forest ranger and the Navajo - the lure of the painted desert → online text (page 19 of 19)