cover image A Gift of Angels: The Art of Mission San Xavier del Bac

A Gift of Angels: The Art of Mission San Xavier del Bac

Bernard L. Fontana, photography by Edward McCain, Univ. of Arizona, $75 (376p) ISBN 978-0-8165-2840-0

Weighing in at almost ten pounds, Fontana and McCain's effort promises to be comprehensive, and in some ways it is. The Mission, we learn, was first Jesuit, then Franciscan, was completed in 1797 on the Northern frontier of what was then New Spain and is now outside Tucson, and was built to evangelize the native people, the O'odham, who also provided most of the labor. There follows an overview of the structure and art on display, and a breakdown covering every painting and statue found inside. Fontana, an anthropologist who worships there, discusses each saint depicted in great depth. While not uninteresting, these mini-histories aren't specific to the Mission, and this, coupled with the fact that each artwork is discussed on its own rather than in context, makes it hard to get a sense of the place as a whole. Though the diagrams and photographs are lovely, readers may wish for a better sense of the spirit of the place people call The White Dove of the Desert and the Sistine Chapel of the New World. For that, perhaps, a pilgrimage is in order. 175 color photos. (Oct.)