The picture above is not from my camera. Read on, and you’ll find out why.
But first, a little background.
San Xavier is a very old and famous Spanish Catholic mission, the oldest European structure in America. Though the original mission was established in 1692, the current church dates back to the 1780s and was built by the local Tohono O’odham tribe. The Wikipedia article (link) gives a good accounting of its history.
Last year, my mother and I went there to see the place. She has an interest in architecture and was raised Catholic, so it was a meaningful trip for her. I was curious if I might sense something but wasn’t expecting anything in particular.
When we got there, I realized that I’d forgotten my camera in the car. It’s a low-end Nikon, not a camera attached to a phone. I think she uses a Canon but hers is a bit simpler than mine. I went back to get it. Now, my camera was working fine until this point and had fresh batteries, the kind that let you test them. I decided to take a picture of the cross on top of a low hill near the Mission, the same hill where some of the stone for building was taken from.
As I focused on the hill, the camera retracted the lens and shut off. I turned it on again and again the same thing happened. I could never get the camera to focus on the hill or anything else in the area. The only time the lens retracts like that is when the light is bad, or when the batteries are dying, and neither of those things were the case. It also didn’t give me its usual low battery warning. My Mom’s camera didn’t have a problem, though she didn’t try to use it in that parking lot.
I gave up on the camera and went inside.
Inside the mission itself, I found the sanctuary a rather interesting place. Paintings of saints and such were everywhere and the old wooden seats were intact. I’m not sure if they were original but they were definitely old! I felt a heavy feeling as I walked around in there, looking at the art. After a time I was a bit light headed and also felt somewhat uncomfortable. I spoke quietly to any spirits who might be hanging around, letting them know I was here with peaceful intent. Around this time I began to be aware of an emotional weight as well, and I also felt something like a vibration throughout my body. Tears started to well up also even though I hadn’t been feeling particularly sad. My mind was a bit foggy as well. The general impression I get when thinking about those few minutes is dimness, and heaviness.
In case it wasn’t just psychic background count, or stored emotion in this old place, I spoke again to the spirits, letting them know that if they were afraid to move on, they need not be, that they were free. My mother seemed to feel something as well but it was difficult to put into words.
The moment I left the sanctuary and went out into clear air, the heaviness went away, my head cleared, the vibrations stopped, and the emotional sensations also left me.
I’ve done a bit of research and have found two legends about San Xavier. One describes an old padre who wanders the church at sunrise and sunset, and the other tells of a nun and five children who died in a fire as the nun was leading them to safety. One person on a hauntings website tells of a heavy feeling, and another says the place is very haunted but isn’t specific about how. I don’t think I sensed the padre or the nun and children. My impression was that either I was sensing the strong emotion of all the people who prayed in that sanctuary, each leaving their own imprint like finger-marks on a long-unwashed doorway, or perhaps it was a collection of spirits who hadn’t moved on. I personally have a thought that sometimes people might pass from this life but not be able to move on because they fear condemnation or eternal suffering, and so they might get stuck. So when I feel anything like a spirit who might be stuck like that it’s my practice to tell them that they are cared about and that they are free to go where they will, in case no one told them before.
I still don’t entirely know what I felt, but I did undeniably feel something. My imagination just isn’t that good!