Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Holy History: A look at five church buildings of New Mexico

The San Francisco de Asís Church at Ranchos de Taos is a National Historic Landmark. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Structures of religious worship go back centuries in New Mexico.

All the way back to Chaco Canyon—long before the time Europeans came to New Mexico.

State historian Rob Martinez is no stranger to the complex history of the state.

Recently, Martinez took some time for this month’s Gimme Five column to spotlight a bit of history of religion and its places of practice throughout the state.

“New Mexico has a Catholic period which began in 1598,” he says. “The churches over time have changed somewhat. I want to give a nod to the many facets of religion in the state and how they all come together.”

Martinez chose five New Mexico churches to spotlight and adds a little bit of history.

1. San Francisco de Asís at Ranchos de Taos

The 18th century adobe is a National Historic Landmark.

It is an active church which includes the outlying “Capillas” of Nuestra Senora del Carmen in Llano Quemado, San Isidro in Los Cordovas, and Nuestra Senora de San Juan de Los Lagos in Talpa.

It is constructed of mud and straw sun-dried adobe bricks.This church still stands as one of the few original buildings in Taos.

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“This structure has inspired photographers for centuries,” Martinez says. “It inspired Catholics since 1772 and is constructed by the Mestizo people of the area.”

Martinez says there is a “Mystery Painting,” as well as amazing bultos that are inspired by the Catholic traditions.

2. San José de Gracia at Las Trampas

Emilio Martinez, the mayordomo, walks out of the San José de Gracia Catholic Church in Las Trampas. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Located on the main plaza in Las Trampas in northern New Mexico, Martinez says the community began building the structure in 1760.

“The bishop visited in 1760 and they asked permission to build,” Martinez says. “I have roots there, so it’s a special place.”

The church is in a typical Spanish style, single nature plan, about 100 feet long. Its walls are made of a thick, plastered adobe. The church has a simple facade comprised of two flanking buttresses topped by wooden belfries.

Martinez says during the trip, the bishop described the people in Las Trampas as merry, but without good blood.

“He was looking down on us,” he says. “The town was founded by mixed-blood ancestry and he noticed that. The people remained strong and got their church built by doing it themselves.”

In the 1800s, Bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy wanted to put more French touches, Martinez says.

“When you get inside, it’s amazing,” he says. “The dark and light color on vigas is quite a contrast.”

Today, Las Trampas Historic District is a National Historic Landmark District.

3. El Santuari o of Chimayó

El Santuarío de Chimayó in Chimayó has a history that dates back to 1810. More than 300,000 people visit the area each year. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

The most famous of the selections, El Santuarío de Chimayó is known internationally as a place for healing and has more than 300,000 visitors each year.

Martinez says where the church resides was originally the land of Bernardo Abeyta.

“He was of Spanish and Native American ancestry,” Martinez says. “He built a chapel to the Christ of Esquipulas on his land in 1810.”

In 1813, Abeyta wrote to Father Sebastián à lvarez, the parish priest of Santa Cruz de la Cañada, asking him to write to the Episcopal See of Durango for permission to build a bigger church in which the people of El Potrero could worship.

Martinez says the priest came up from Mexico and he had a devotion to the Christ of Esquipula.

“They have holy dirt or holy clay,” he says. “The Native American people knew of the healing significance of the water in the area.”

By 1816, a larger chapel was built, which is the one seen today, Martinez says.

“By 1929, the Santuario had passed from the family to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe as a gift form the Spanish Colonial Arts Society.”

The structure is also a National Historic Landmark.

4. Basilica of San Albino in Mesilla

Basilica of San Albino in Mesilla has a history going back to 1852. (Lauryn Gomez/For the Journal)

Located in the town of Mesilla near Las Cruces, Martinez says the Basilica of San Albino has an interesting history.

“Because of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, Mexicans living in (New) Mexico had the option to move because the territory changed,” Martinez says. “There was a group of people who moved to Mesilla and wanted to remain in Mexico. In 1852, the church began to be built.”

The settlers soon established a central plaza which included a Catholic church on the south side. Constructed of mud and logs, this primitive structure was named San Albino.

By 1854, Martinez says this is where it gets interesting.

“The Gadsden Purchase happened in 1854, which once again changed the international border between Mexico and the United States,” he says. “The group who moved south a few years prior now found themselves as part of the United States.”

Martinez says the structure standing today was dedicated in 1908 and is Romanesque and stands on the same site the original church occupied on the north end of the plaza.

5. First Presbyterian Church in Santa Fe

Martinez says the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Fe was the first Protestant church in the state in the mid-1800s.

The Presbyterian Church in Santa Fe is located in downtown and has a history dating back to the mid-1800s. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

In 1853, missionaries began construction on the structure in downtown Santa Fe.

Martinez says Rev. Henry Reed arrived in Santa Fe in 1846 and opened a school.

“Reed came to the state to convert local people to Protestantism,” Martinez says. “It’s ironic because they came to convert the pueblo and Apache people, as well as the Hispanics from Catholicism.”

Martinez says Rev. Smith was a big part of this movement as he worked with Padre Martinez to conduct bilingual masses.

“This was a Baptist church and later it sold to the Presbyterians,” he says. “In 1866, there was a plan to tear the structure down. In 1882, a brick structure was built. In 1939, it is replaced with a Pueblo Revival style and the thought that the structure would draw all kinds of people.”

Editor’s note: The fourth Sunday of each month, Journal Arts Editor Adrian Gomez tells the stories behind some of the hidden gems you can see across the state in “Gimme Five.”

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