The Far Side of the Sea – The Story of Kino and Manje in the Pimería
Published by Jesuit Fathers of Southern Arizona, 2003, 356 pp.
When the State of Arizona announces in the mid 1960s that it had selected the Jesuit missionary and explorer Jesuit Father Eusebio Francisco Kino as one of the two famous Arizonans it was allowed to honor with a statue in the halls of the U.S. Congress, the Mexican government becomes concerned. After all, southern Arizona represented only the northern most part of Kino's activities. It was the northern third of Mexico itself which Kino, almost single handily explored, built settlements and developed for what later became the Mexican nation. Mexico not only had no monuments to this great man, it also did not know where, in the vast stretch of northern Mexico, where the great man was buried.
The embarrassed Mexican government quickly allocates some funds and recruits the anthropologist Jorge Olvera to find Kino's grave. As is common with government projects, the funding was both meager and conditioned on the continued interest in the project by higher powers in the government. While a major worry, finances were but one of Olvera's problems as he struggled to locate a body that had been buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in the vast desert of Northern Mexico two centuries earlier. Worse still, while Kino's legacy was great, he left behind few written records and of the many missions and other structures he built most had been either reclaimed by the desert or destroyed to make way for new structures in the intervening centuries. Finally, Olvera and his team also had to contend with the fact that the anticlericalism of the Mexican government in the early years of the twentieth century had resulted in the faithful hiding records and artifacts relating to the Church. Those still living and their descendants remained wary of the Mexican government and its uncertain attitude toward the Catholic Church.
Using Spanish Calvary officer Juan Mateo Manje's contemporary account of his extensive travels with Kino, entitled "Luz de Tierra Incógnita", as a guide to both Kino's activities and his mind, Olvera and his team begin retracing Kino's life steps as they, detective like, gather evidence. Local records, church records, local lore, tips from locals with whom they gained trust, old photographs and paintings help them to narrow the search and close in on the grave. Time is lost exploring false leads. Finally, evidence and a hunch lead them to the area where they think the grave is located. As his crew furiously digs a trench to find the foundation of a church that disappeared years before and is believed to contain the crypt with Kino's body, Olvera fights to convince his superiors to continue to fund the project for a few more hours.
Frequent flashbacks to Kino's life as recounted in "Luz de Tierra Incógnita" enable the reader, along with Olvera's team, to get to know Kino the man and give this part of the book the feel of an eighteenth century action thriller while the rest of the book remains a first rate detective story.
This report prepared by Chuck Nugent