DeGrazia Mission in the Sun
DeGrazia Mission in the Sun is surrounded by local plant life
Published November/December 2014

On a Mission

Explore the history and significance of three Arizona missions

BYLorraine A. Darconte
Almost nothing is as reminiscent of the Southwest as an old adobe mission nestled among the strange and wonderful desert flora and fauna. Southern Arizona boasts some of the most entrancing, historic, and downright photogenic missions in the United States. 
This day trip, which explores three unique missions, takes you about 60 miles, from Tucson to Tubac. 
DeGrazia Mission in the Sun
Within Tucson, you’ll find a handful of missions, including the Mission in the Sun (a National Historic Landmark), built by artist Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia in 1952. There also are two galleries, one featuring DeGrazia’s work (Gallery in the Sun), and another, The Little Gallery, showcasing the works of local artists. 
“DeGrazia was a very fine architect in his own right, although he wasn’t a trained architect,” says Lance Laber, the executive director of the DeGrazia Foundation. “He designed the mission and the galleries and he did some really amazing things with perspective.” 
For instance, the mission’s ceiling is open so visitors can be a little closer to God. 
“It was a Mexican tradition, when you became a landowner, to build a chapel on your property to give thanks,” Laber says. “When he bought these 10 acres, that was the first thing he did. It was dedicated to Father Kino [a Jesuit priest] and in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe.”
The three-room mission is fashioned from handmade adobe bricks. Saguaro ribs were used for the doors and windows, and the walls covered with original paintings by DeGrazia. Its brick altar serves as a congenial backdrop for a diversified mix of personal and religious memorabilia, such as photographs of families, friends, and cherished pets, all left by visitors. Pictures of various saints, plastic rosary beads, and a bevy of milagros — tiny, silver amulets often found at religious sites, particularly throughout the Southwest -— also adorn the altar. Many couples tie the knot here, and it’s easy to see why; the mission feels peaceful and intimate, plus it’s nicely framed by the Santa Catalina Mountains.  
To get here, take Speedway Boulevard or Pima or Grant roads east from Interstate 10 to Swan Road; head north on Swan until you cross over East Sunrise Drive. It’s about a half-mile on your right (0.1 mile past East Camino Pimeria Alta). Parking and admission are free. 
If it suits your schedule, visit on Dec. 7 for La Fiesta de Guadalupe, which features performances by a local mariachi band, Yaqui Deer Dancers, and Ballet Folklórico. 
If You Go
Be sure to bring a decent camera as all three missions provide numerous photo ops both in and outside the buildings.
6300 N. Swan Road
Tucson, AZ
Open 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily
1950 W. San Xavier Road
Tucson, AZ
Mission hours: 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. 
Church hours: 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily  
1891 E. Frontage Road
Tumacácori, AZ
Open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily, except
Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day
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