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Father Kino established Tumacri as a mission in January 1691, making it the oldest mission site in what is now Arizona. For many years it was a visita or visiting station of the mission headquarters. During most of those years, it was located on the east side of the Santa Cruz River and was called San Cayetano de Tumacri. Services were held in a small adobe structure built by the Pima inhabitants of the village. After the Pima rebellion of 1751, the mission was moved to the present site on the west side of the river and renamed San Jose Tumacri. Here the first actual church edifice was built. The Franciscans began work in 1800 on an ambitious undertaking - a church that would match the frontier baroque glory of the celebrated Mission San Xavier del Bac not far to the north. Under the direction of a master mason, a crew of Indian and Spanish laborers laid five-foot thick cobblestone foundations that year, but construction ground to a halt as funds dried up. Over the next few years they were able to add a few courses of adobe bricks, bringing the walls up to seven feet. These were plastered inside and out and decorative handfuls of crushed brick were pressed into the wet plaster. Today this magnificent icon of history is overseen by the National Park Service and enjoys large groups of visitors and local support.
It was not until 1821 that work truly resumed. An enterprising Franciscan, Father Juan Bautista Estelric, sold 4,000 head of the mission's cattle to a local rancher, Don Ignacio Pz, and with the first payment hired a new master and pushed the work ahead. The walls were raised to 14 feet, but the rancher stalled on his payments and construction again ceased. Two years later, Father Ramibera persistent friar, finally got the rancher to pay his bill, and work resumed. Within a few years the church was almost completed, although the bell tower was never capped with its dome. The church must have been a striking landmark in the flat Santa Cruz Valley, with its embellished and painted fae and plaster walls embedded with crushed red brick.
November 9th, 2013
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