Seeking out the Sacred in Santa Fe
Tomorrow is Easter Sunday, one of the most important holidays in the Christian faith. Having been raised Catholic the holiday and the preceding Lenten season has always had a significance for my family. A period of reflection followed by a day of celebration was one of the cornerstones of my upbringing. How fitting that this year I should visit Santa Fe during the Lenten season. Now, I’m not the best of example of a practicing Catholic but I can’t deny its significance in my make-up. The same can be said for Santa Fe. The Catholic Church was significant in the formation of the New Mexican capital and it’s influence is felt all around.
Perhaps the most famous example is the Loretto Chapel located in the heart of the city. This Sisters of Loretto came to Santa Fe in 1853 and established a school which soon thrived. In 1878 the chapel was built and his home to The Miraculous Staircase.
When the chapel was built there was no access to the choir loft. The sisters made a novena to St. Joseph and on the ninth day a mysterious carpenter arrived. He built the staircase and left town without seeking payment. In his place he left a beautiful staircase with no visible means of support. It’s a design innovation that still confounds experts today and many believe it was the work of St. Joseph.
I was very excited to visit the chapel and was amazed by the beautiful staircase. It truly is an fascinating sight to behold and appears to be made of one continuous piece of wood (the banister was added later). With two 360 degree turns it truly is an incredible example of engineering.
The entire chapel is beautiful and a must see for any visitor to Santa Fe. Unfortunately, it’s no longer a church as it was deconsecrated in the 1970’s. Today it’s owned by a luxury hotel and there’s a fee to enter which I found to be a bit disappointing. Regardless, I’m happy to have seen it after many years of curiosity.
In the immediate vicinity of the Loretto Chapel are multiple churches open to viewing including the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. As it is still part of the diocese there was no fee to visit the church.
We stopped in one afternoon on the way back to our hotel and it was a beautiful site to see. The parish was established in 1610 when the first church was built on the site. The current cathedral was built in the late 1800’s and is an impressive structure.
The cathedral is practically brand new in comparison to the next church we visited – San Miguel Mission.
San Miguel Mission dates to the early 1600’s and is the oldest church in America. It still is a practicing church and Masses are held daily. There is a $1 admission fee which goes directly to the preservation of the building. As it is an aging adobe structure I had no issue paying the admission price.
Inside a docent was on hand to explain the history of the church and the many beautiful pieces on display within. It was the smallest church we visited yet it was my favorite. I loved the Loretto staircase and St. Francis Cathedral was beautiful but San Miguel was truly special. This humble adobe filled with handmade wooden statues and paintings was a stunning example of true faith. It was clear each and every piece inside was formed with love and devotion.
And it contains a bell which dates to 1356! In the 1700’s one of the parishioners purchased it in Spain and had it shipped to Santa Fe. It was stationed in the bell tower until it was damaged in an earthquake and is now on display inside. It’s an impressive artifact that was amazing to see in person.
The last church we visited was located 30 minutes out of town in the small town of Chimayo. El Santuario de Chimayo is a place of pilgrimage for many Catholics all over the world. The church was built in 1813 on the spot where a crucifix was found buried in the sand. There are various histories surrounding the discovery of the crucifix and several miracles have been attributed to it and the soil it was found in. Often compared to the French town of Lourdes pilgrims travel from all over to view the crucifix and touch the healing soil.
I must admit I have conflicting feelings about the story of El Santuario de Chimayo but it truly is a devotional spot. The church is part of the diocese of Santa Fe and there is no admission to view it or touch the healing soil. Photos are not allowed and it is treated as a sacred space. Having never visited a pilgrimage site before it was a fascinating glimpse into this corner of New Mexico.
Whether you are religious or not the churches of Santa Fe are well worth visiting. Their beauty and history are true insights into life of the area and New Mexico as a whole.