As I sat in a scratched pew at San Xavier, my mind began drifting back to last spring term, to a place thousands of miles away and much larger in the scale. El Catedral de Sevilla in Spain bears few similarities to this small mission in southern Arizona, but one that stuck out in particular was the veneration of saints. At El Catedral, representations of various saints in the form of statues line several of the cathedral’s outer walls, and several saints have shrines inside the colossal structure. Similarly, at San Xavier, much of the iconography inside the church centered around a small group of saints, such as Francis Xavier and Jude. A notable difference in this regard, however, was the absence of the stations of the cross at San Xavier. In Sevilla, a series of golden tablets, beautifully painted and several stories tall, spells out the events of the stations of the cross in glory to all in the cathedral. So why in San Xavier, the most significant church in its area for hundreds of years, are the stations omitted?
I’ll preface this by saying that I’m no theologian, nor have I done any extensive studies on either Sonoran Catholicism or the opinions on saints of various populations. However, I have theory as to why these stations were excluded. As we’ve discussed in class, much of the Sonoran Catholicism focuses on the combined form of Francis of Assisi and Francis Xavier, two saints whose followers spread Catholicism to the region. From the beginning, the efforts to spread Christianity in the region are based off the teachings of two saints, not of centralized Vatican doctrine or theology. Much of the veneration event today focuses on these two saints, and this likely reflects a trend among the people of the region at the time of Christianization to focus more on the saints whose teachings they were learning as opposed to the sacred mysteries or even Christ himself. San Xavier likely reflects this trend by focusing on the saints the people would’ve venerated, making them more likely to continue to worship at San Xavier. Also, in general, saints are much easier for people unfamiliar with Catholicism to relate to. Many saints were converts, and with the exception of the archangels all were human, making them more accessible for the average man than the infallible Christ. Whatever the reason, the San Xavier mission was extremely successful in introducing Catholicism into the region, and likely this had to do with careful consideration of what was and was not venerated in the actual church.