The Spirit of Arizona Blog Series:                                     Garden Of Gethsemane In Tucson, AZ

It seems fitting, with the holiday season upon us, to focus this installment of the Spirit of Arizona on what can only be described as a spiritual oasis in the midst of bustling Tucson Arizona.  Situated on the West bank of the Santa Cruz River across from the central business district and interstate, this serene site has provided a peaceful respite from the growing city surrounding it for over half a century. 

Walled off from the noise and filled with lush plants and trees, this unique garden has an immediate calming effect on its visitors.  The name, Garden of Gethsemane refers to the garden where Jesus prayed before being arrested and crucified.  Dominating this peaceful spot are life size concrete statues of Christ, his Apostles and his mother and father.  Maintained and supported by a partnership between the Catholic Knights of Columbus and the City of Tucson Parks and Recreation Department, the park is a gift to God from a grateful artist.

Felix Lucero, a Native American from Trinidad, Colorado was drafted into the army and sent off to the trenches of France to fight in World War I.  Following a bloody battle, Felix found himself laying among the dead and near-dead who had been abandoned and left to die on the now silent battle ground.  Critically injured, and very much alone and scared, he prayed to God for life, promising that in return he would devote his life to building statues of Christ wherever he went in his life. 

His prayer was answered and true to that promise he made to God in exchange for his life, he returned home and with no formal training in art, devoted his life to creating sculptures of Christ.  His figures speak to those who seek refuge in this garden of the love and unshakable bond that Lucero felt with God.   It has became a shrine where people from all over came to pray and meditate. 

All the more remarkable, when you consider that the artist was living under the Congress Street Bridge in a cardboard and plywood shack when he began sculpting the Christian statues.  They were originally molded from damp sand, reinforced with debris recovered from the Santa Cruz riverbed, and covered with plaster.  According to a plaque in the garden, "heartbreak and pain walked with the artist during his sacred efforts."

Today, the secret it out, and while the faithful still come to pray, it has also become a popular spot for weddings and quinceaneras.  Despite its fame, there remains an abiding spiritual feeling that envelopes visitors as they enter.  Open daily from dawn to dusk, there is no charge to visit this serene space located at 602 W Congress Street.  Felix Lucero died in 1951, but his beautiful legacy and monument of one man's fulfilled promise to God lives on in the heart of Tucson.  

       JUDI MONDAY, CRS         


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