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Top Ten: Historic Churches

“The church spire cast a long reflection on the graveyard grass; as if it were a dial (alas, the truest in the world!) marking, whatever light shone out of Heaven, the flight of days and weeks and years, by some new shadow on that solemn ground.” ~Charles Dickens

1. Tumacacori Mission, Tumacacori – Founded by Jesuit missionaries in 1691 and constructed in 1757, Tumacácori Mission was Arizona’s first Spanish mission. The old adobe church ruins are protected in a state of arrested decay within the boundaries of Tumacácori National Historic Park. The original mission included a small church and compound. In 1799 a more imposing church with a painted interior was built by Franciscan missionaries. Other sites in the mission compound include a small mortuary chapel, the ruins of the convento (missionary residence), a granary, remains of an Indian village, a historic cemetery and the remains of the mission garden and orchard. Also located within the jurisdiction of the park are the ruins of San Cayetano de Calabazas, one of the mission’s visitas (satellite communities) and Los Santos Angeles de Guevavi, a church associated with the mission.

2. San Xavier del Bac, Tucson – “The White Dove of the Desert” is one of the most beautiful mission churches in the Southwest. Its rounded parapets and graceful spires, imposing dome and lofty bell towers, shine brilliantly white against a vivid blue sky. The mission was originally founded in 1692 by a Jesuit missionary, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino. The present church was built by the Franciscans between 1783-1797. The large stuccoed church is a gracefully elegant blend of Baroque, Moorish, Byzantine and late Mexican Renaissance architecture. The church’s front portal is ornately decorated with scrolled ornaments and sculptures. The interior is covered with elaborately painted and sculpted surfaces. Even though one of the bell towers was never completed, this church is acclaimed by many to be the finest example of mission architecture in the United States.

3. Saint Augustine Cathedral, Tucson – Built in 1896, this is the largest Catholic church in the city, and one of the most splendid architecturally with its high interior, tall windows and dome. The Cathedral’s elaborate cast stone façade is a real treasure of sign and symbolism. Guided tours are available to the community; youth groups, Catholic schools, senior citizen groups, etc, to introduce you to the treasures of the Cathedral, but also give you history and background to understand many artifacts in a fuller and richer way.

4. Old Saint Mary’s Church, Tempe – The Old Church, located on the corner of College and University in Tempe, is the oldest church building in the Valley. Built in 1903, the red brick church with its single tall steeple and stained glass windows is a National Historical Landmark.

5. Saint Mary’s Basilica, Phoenix – Founded in 1881, Saint Mary’s is the oldest Catholic church in Phoenix, and the only basilica in Arizona. The building itself was completed in 1914, dedicated in 1915, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The church’s Spanish Mission structure supports four domes spanning the length of the Basilica. All the domes are compound design with the pendentives, following Roman architecture, transferring the weight of the roof to the pillars. The dome over the intercept point of the crossover, the nave center aisle and the apse, is topped with stained glass and features a lantern above the dome to emit light into the nave and sanctuary. The dome located over the altar is topped with a cupola designed to provide light to the altar. This church in downtown Phoenix also contains the state’s largest collection of historic stained glass windows. Tours are available on each Wednesday at 12:30 pm and by appointment.

6. First United Methodist Church, Glendale – Located in the downtown historic district, the church was designed originally as a grand two-story Gothic edifice with a three story buttressed corner tower. Over the years, the Sanctuary was enhanced by the addition of 21 inspiring, faceted, stained glass windows featuring symbols of faith and the teachings of Jesus. The installation began in 1969 and was completed in the 1980’s.

7. Pioneer Chapel, Phoenix – This old-fashioned white Victorian style chapel is a copy of St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church that was located in Globe, AZ from 1880-1927.

8. Arizona Temple, Mesa – Constructed in 1922-1927, the classic style is suggestive of pre-Columbian temples and the Temple of Herod. This is one of the largest LDS temples and one of the few without spires.

9. Brophy Chapel, Phoenix – This Spanish Colonial style chapel was constructed in 1928 and donated by Mrs. William Henry Brophy to the students of Brophy College Preparatory School. It features a tufa stone altar, sea shells used throughout the design, and a bank of stained glass windows which depict the eleven articles of the Apostles’ Creed.

10. Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona – Designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and intimately nestled into its red rock foundation, the American Institute of Architects gave the Chapel its Award of Honor in 1957. In the sculptor’s words, “Though Catholic in faith, as a work of art the Chapel has a universal appeal. Its doors will ever be open to one and all, regardless of creed, that God may come to life in the souls of all men and be a living reality.” In 2007 Arizonans voted the Chapel to be one of the Seven Man-Made Wonders of Arizona.

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