Discovering colonial Spain

Visit nearby remnants of Kino's legacy
Tim Vanderpool

Although San Xavier is the finest example of Kino's legacy, other remnants of his work and his era are nearby. About half an hour south of San Xavier, the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park offers a further glimpse into the Spanish colonial period. Just 3 miles south of Tubac, Kino's first mission in Arizona is now part of Tumacácori National Historical Park. It was established on the site of an O'odham village that the padre visited in 1691.

Unlike San Xavier, which is still an active church, the towering walls of San José de Tumacácori remain in a state of arrested decay beneath a burnt adobe bell tower. Begun around 1800, with more construction taking place in the 1820s, the mission church was finally abandoned, still unfinished, in 1848. "Tumacácori was preserved as a ruin to allow visitors to see how the Indians built the church here 200 years ago," says park historian Don Garate.

Weathered columns frame the arched doorway, leading the eye up past more columns to the facade. A cross perched there catches the sun and throws slender shadows across a grassy field and the gracefully preserved outer buildings. Inside, the beauty of the nave and altar survives in simple, rough adobe. Exit through the sacristy and stroll through the cemetery chapel. Beyond are humble graves topped by piles of stones and squat, sun-beaten crosses.

Kino died in the Mexican village of Magdalena just after completing a small chapel there in 1711. Although that chapel no longer exists, the magnificent Santa María Magdalena church now rises above Kino Memorial Plaza.

Brilliant sunlight passes through stained-glass windows in Santa María Magdalena's high dome, throwing beams of blue and red across the gilt-edged altar and scalloped nichos harboring finely detailed statues. The faithful still travel long distances to visit this church, where a sacred ritual involves lifting the head of a reclining carving of St. Francis Xavier. If the statue's feet also rise, it is seen as harbinger of a miracle.

But for many visitors, the real wonder of Magdalena lies across the plaza, where the remains of Father Kino―discovered within the original chapel ruins in 1966―now rest beneath a dome with glass windows for viewing. Over the years his bones have darkened to the rich caramels of their earthen tomb. Their only adornments are those befitting the cowboy missionary: a single cassock button laid upon the breastbone and a small crucifix on his shoulder bone.