“The White Dove of the Desert”
Trails of history in the arizona desert
Looking at the top of the white towers of the Church San Xavier del Bac, Alexander Kreis describes it as follows: “Imagine traveling for days or even weeks through the desert. All you see is dust stirred up by the wind, tumbleweed and the occasional shanty town of wooden barracks. Then, all of the sudden, you see the white towers of San Xavier far in the distant. A beacon of hope, comfort, and security set into an ocean of nothingness. It must have been a surreal experience for the traveler more than 200 years ago.”
The present-day church
The construction of the church began in the year 1783. To complete this masterpiece of craftsmanship, the stonemasons, and artisans of that day and age took their time and completed the task after 14 years. The church is the oldest European structure in the state of Arizona (United States).
But the missionary work began much earlier. In fact, it began with Padre Eusebio Kino in 1692. A mission that started all these centuries ago and continues to be run by Franciscans to this day. “After more than 226 years, the main priority for this church is to serve its community. No movies are allowed to be filmed here, the church cannot be rented out for commercial events and in order to celebrate your wedding in this house of God, you have to be a member of the community,” explains Sonja Kreis.
The mission, sometimes called “the Sistine Chapel of the United States” as well as the “White Dove of the Desert,” is considered to be one of the finest examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the country. The walls of its Byzantine-influenced interior are ablaze with frescoes, a wide gallery of religious works painted directly on the walls by missionaries more than two centuries ago.
More than 100 saints and 300 angels can find their representation in watercolors, sculptures or bas-reliefs. Some of these works had been partially adorned with gold to accentuate important features
The desert landscape
There is more than meets the eye. The so-called Saguaros (cactus) can only be found in the Sonoran Desert. “A Saguaros can reach heights of 40ft. – 60ft. (12m – 18m), but patience is in order. After a ten year journey, a Saguaros might only be 1.5 inches (3.8cm) tall,” explains Alexander Kreis.
These living organisms can become 150 – 200 years old; making some of them almost as old a the church San Xavier del Bac itself.
“Observing the hidden beauty of life and its adaptability and how cultures come together is of great joy to me. I’m collecting these impressions in the scrapbook of my mind, so I can draw on them and seek inspiration,” says Sonja Kreis. And Vanessa Kreis continues to say, “that it is all about the little things. The details you observe in conversations, customs, how people talk and conduct their daily lives. What meaning do the gemstones we acquire have to them? We try to capture the meaning and origin of a gemstone.”
[Church San Xavier del Bac – by KREIS]
[Alexander Kreis standing next to a Saguaros cactus – by KREIS]
[Sonja Kreis during a hike in the desert – by KREIS]