A short drive from downtown Tucson, Arizona…
Just west of Interstate 10, travelers can find the “Garden of Gethsemane.” The story behind this unique roadside religious site states that Felix Lucero, a young soldier, made a promise to the Virgin Mary as he lay dying on a World War I battlefield. If she let him live, he would spend the rest of his life creating Christian art in her honor. Lucero survived and twenty years later he made good on his promise.
In 1938, Lucero was living under a bridge in a cardboard and plywood shack. His life had taken a dramatic downward turn and he had fallen on hard times. He awoke one day, remembered his promise and began sculpting statues from damp sand, debris from the nearby Santa Cruz riverbed and plaster. As he continued to create his paradise, he incorporated concrete into his work, with the hopes of creating a longer lasting medium. It is not entirely clear who gave the sculptures the name “The Garden of Gethsemane,” but it is clear that they are important to local residents. Great care has been put into preserving the artwork over the years. Lucero’s choice of technique and medium did not lend themselves to longevity and all of the pieces have suffered some sort of damage or distress over the years. They have also been victims of vandals, one going so far as to have decapitated the entire party of the Last Supper.
After Felix’s death in 1951, the sculptures were moved a number of times before finding their final resting spot at a roadside park shaded by palm trees. The location is not far from where the artist lived while creating his masterpieces. The Garden is now a popular spot for weddings and for religious and faith-based visitors who seek a quiet spot for prayer or reflection. Visitors will often light candles at the location and leave behind papers lined with unspoken prayers.
To get to the Garden, take Interstate-10 to exit 258 and head west one block to Congress. On the western side of the Santa Cruz riverbed at Bonita Avenue is the gated park where the sculptures reside. Additional information can be obtained by calling 520-791-4873. There is no charge to visit.