Yesterday I had the most special privilege to climb into the Tumacacori bell tower. The bell tower is not generally open to visitors to the church, and its entry has been gated for safety reasons. The steps are uneven and crumbling, as are the adobe roof structure and walls inside the tower itself. Because the adobe is very vulnerable to anything touching it, the climb was made without the benefit of using the walls for balance. Each step was made carefully, getting balance before taking the next step. (Kind of like learning about life – what a metaphor!)
Guided by one of the park’s rangers and armed with flashlights we made the ascent, through the baptismal and then up to the first to the level of the now destroyed choir loft, and then through the ceiling door to the top of the tower. The view from the top of the tower is awesome, and provides the ability to see aspects of the church not normally available to view. This is another reason I feel so honored to have had the opportunity to visit this part of the church.
On the south wall of the interior of the church, on the level of the choir loft are a couple of ‘graffiti’ drawings of roosters. It is said that the rooster has significant meaning for the church; however, no one has substantiated this. While I had tried to capture a photo of the roosters from the nave floor, it was really nice to get a better view from the upper level.
Through years of abandonment and abuse, as I mentioned in another post, much of the usable and valuable things were carried off by treasure hunters or local people, to be reused or sold elsewhere. For instance, the original roof timbers were removed to be used by a local rancher after the church was no longer being used. This act made it possible for the seasonal monsoons to damage the adobe, and basically ‘melt’ the walls.
None of the bells are original to the church. There is evidence, however, that metal work was done on site, so the original bells may have been made here. When the bells were rung, they were rung from the ground level, using a long rope. There are grooves in the bricks of the tower from the ropes. The tower was originally designed to have a dome; however, it was never completed because of lack of money.
It’s ironic that there exist many stories of buried gold and silver on the mission site, and there have been many treasure hunters that have destroyed the church fabric looking for hidden valuables. Yet, the church was never finished because of lack of funds. The church experienced many setbacks that prevented its completion. When the church was finally abandoned, and there was concern for the venerated items in the church (wooden statues of the saints, for instance), they were removed to San Xavier, where they remained for many years. Many of the saint figures have been returned and are now safely on display in the park museum. Some still remain at St. Xavier.