About 25 miles south of Green Valley and just east of Interstate 19 is the Tumacacori National Historical Park, site of a Spanish mission that dates to the late 1600s. The mission church, with its whitewashed dome, is a little newer. Construction on it started in about 1800, but unfortunately, work on it was never finished. Franciscan missionaries abandoned their work in the 1830s.
All this area was first inhabited by native Americans, then became a part of Spain, then Mexico, before becoming a U.S. territory and later part of the state of Arizona.
The church sat empty and unused for many years. Nearby dwellers even used it occasionally to house livestock. But whoever first picked this site as a place to dwell chose wisely. Tumacacori sits on rich bottom land drawing life from the waters of the Santa Cruz River. The National Park Service has recently re-established an orchard at the park, using trees similar to the ones the Spaniards first planted.
Jesuit missionary Father Eusebio Kino came to this area in 1691, invited by the Sobaipuri Indians who wanted to know more about his religion. He directed construction of a small structure, little more than a thatched shade on the east side of the river. Later the mission would be moved west across the river to its present site.
After the Jesuit order was suppressed and expelled from the New World in 1767 by the Spanish king, Franciscans took over their work here.
The Pima Indians staged a short but violent revolt in 1751. Buildings were destroyed at Tumacacori and at nearby Guevavi, another Spanish mission site. More than 100 settlers were killed. In response, the Spanish government built a new fort, or presidio, at Tubac five miles north. But it was a violent time, as marauding Apaches often attacked the settlers. Work on the mission church at Tumacacori proceeded in fits and starts, but was finished enough for services to be held there in 1822. It was abandoned in 1848, and in 1909 U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt declared it a national monument.
There's a visitor center at Tumacacori today, a shady garden, what's left of a granary, or place to store harvested crops, and the beautiful old church. On special days it's used for religious services, and a local choir sings special programs at various times of the year. On Christmas Eve, the church and the surrounding walls are lined with luminarias, also known as farolitas-little beacons made by placing a lighted candle in a brown paper bag with sand in the bottom to anchor it.
Occasionally, with special permission, a bride and her bridegroom exchange their vows before the altar. Flying birds sing as they pass through glassless window openings into the lofty room.
The mission is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except for Christmas and Thanksgiving.