St Christopher’s Mission

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, St. Christopher’s Episcopal Mission was established with the construction of a log Mission House in 1943.  It is located 1.7 miles east of Bluff on Utah Highway 162.

History

In 1943, H. Baxter Liebler (1889-1982), an Episcopal priest from Old Greenwich, Connecticut came to Bluff to establish a mission to the Navajos which he named St Christopher’s Mission after the patron saint of travelers.  When Father Liebler arrived in Bluff, there were no missions, schools, or medical/hospital facilities for the Navajo living in this remote Utah section of the reservation.

Before arriving in southeast Utah, Father Liebler studied the Navajo language to make his message comprehensible to the Dineh and compatible with their understanding of harmony.  He participated in Navajo ceremonies, wore his hair in the traditional Navajo style-long, pulled back and wrapped.

A year after the mission was established, a school was started which became the only school for the 1,500 Navajo living in the central part of the Utah strip of the Navajo Reservation.  The state began providing public school service a few years thereafter, so the building was repurposed as the mission’s winter chapel.

A separate hospital/ clinic building was completed in 1956.  An estimated 500 babies were born in the clinic during the years it was in operation.

Various mission services were eventually taken over by tribal and government offices, leaving the mission to perform ecclesiastical services.  St Christopher’s Mission is now part of the Episcopal Church in Navajoland.

 

Architecture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The early buildings (Mission House, school, hospital/clinic and staff housing) were designed in a simple  Mission style and still retain their architectural integrity.  The Mission style was probably chosen because of its design simplicity and because of Father Liebler’s Anglo-Catholic background.

Constructed from 1943-1951, the Mission House is located at the property’s north end and is constructed of randomly-sized, red sandstone in a coursed rubble pattern.  Stone for all the buildings was quarried from the bluffs north of the mission.  At the time, the Navajos had little experience in stonework, yet they quickly became expert masons, plasters and carpenters.

At the center of the Mission House is the Common Room, which features a stone fireplace and chimney extending above the roof.  It is constructed over the remains of a stone house dating from the late 19th or early 20th century.   Today, the Mission House Common Room houses social gatherings, meetings, and receptions.

Two wings project to the south on either side of the common room forming a U-court.  The west wing (1943) consists of cells used as staff sleeping quarters.  The east wing once served as a chapel and clinic until separate buildings were constructed for those purposes.  Each of the exterior entryways from the courtyard features arched openings.

The grounds also include a museum and a community farm.  A free well on the mission grounds is used today by many Navajo as their main water source.

Source:  National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for St Christopher’s Episcopal Mission, Date of Action, November 18, 2002.

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