"I like the silence of a church, before the service being better than any preaching" - Ralph Waldo Emerson
E and I outside the San Felipe de Neri Church in Albuquerque, NM
My friend and I just returned from a short trip to New Mexico over the holiday weekend. Living on opposite coasts (he's in FL - I'm in CA), getting together for such trips is not easy, so I'm glad we were able to make it work. We had wanted to take this trip for quite some time. I talk about New Mexico constantly, so it was nice to finally show him the place I will always call "home."
San Felipe de Neri Church - Albuquerque, NM
New Mexico has a very rich history, and is full of stories that I love to share with out of town guests. As an out-of-towner myself now, it is fun to go back home on vacation, and fully appreciate the beauty of the architecture and scenery there. Some of the most amazing architecture in the state can be found in the state's churches. The above church was the first we saw on our tour, located in beautiful Old Town Albuquerque.
Inside the San Felipe de Neri Church
The San Felipe de Neri Church, prominently placed across from the Plaza in Old Town, is one of the oldest standing structures in Albuquerque. Commissioned in 1706, the original church was so named by the Duke of Albuquerque to honor the then King of Spain. After the collapse of the building in 1792, the current structure was completed in 1793 and stands to this day. This is an active church, continuing to host regular services and events throughout the year. If you're ever in the area, it is definitely worth a visit.
The Loretto Chapel - Santa Fe, NM
After a busy day in Albuquerque, we headed north to Santa Fe. The first church we stopped to see here was The Loretto Chapel. Commissioned in 1872, the church is built in Gothic Revival style - a stark contrast to the Pueblo style buildings in the surrounding area. The church itself is beautiful, but its beautiful staircase to the choir loft is what puts it on the map.
Dubbed The Miraculous Staircase, the double-helix staircase has been the subject of debate for years. Legend tells us that shortly after the church was constructed, the architect unexpectedly died leaving the nuns with no way to access the choir loft above. After being told that the small space only allowed room for a dangerous ladder, the nuns turned to prayer, asking for a carpenter to come into their lives to construct a staircase in the small space. Their prayers were answered on the 9th day of prayer when a mysterious stranger appeared. He reportedly carried only simple tools, and completed the staircase with no nails and non-native wood after only 3 short months. The man vanished after completing the staircase, his identity remaining a mystery to this day. The nuns of the church (as well as many believers) attribute the construction to Saint Joseph himself. It is a stunning feat of architecture, and definitely looks as miraculous as it sounds. Although no longer functioning as a church, you can visit the Chapel during its museum hours on most days. It also can be rented for events and weddings.
San Miguel Mission - Santa Fe, NM
Our last stop on our tour of churches was the beautiful San Miguel Mission, also in Santa Fe, NM. This is the oldest standing church in the continental United States, built and in use since 1610. Archaeologists have excavated the floor, finding the site may have once housed Native American dwellings dating back to 1200 as well. Amazing! Although the location was originally occupied by Tlaxcalan Indians from Mexico, the church was claimed (and rebuilt) after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 by Spain as a chapel for its soldiers. The wooden alter screen at the back of the chapel is stunning in person - it's hard to believe that it dates back to 1793. The church still holds weekly services in Latin, which is a testament to both the city and the church itself.
Deerskin tapestry - carbon dated to 1630
In addition to the gorgeous alter screen, the walls of the mission are adorned with a couple of deerskin and buffalo hide tapestries dating back to the 1630s. These beautiful pieces of art were used by the missionaries to teach the Tlaxcalan Indians about history and the stories in the Bible. They have been carefully preserved by the caretakers of the church, having survived the above-mentioned revolt and the earthquake of 1872.
Ringing the San Jose bell - Santa Fe, NM
If you still aren't convinced to visit the church, perhaps the very old, very heavy San Jose bell will do the trick. The 780 pound bell was originally commissioned in 1356 in Spain to commemorate a victory the Spaniards had over the Moors. It somehow made its way to Mexico, where it was bought by Señorita Ortiz in 1812. The owner of the church purchased the bell in 1848, relocating it to the Mission towers. It hung there until the earthquake of 1872, finding home on the ground where it stands today. The huge bell contains many precious metals, including over 600 pounds of brass, copper and iron along with 155 pounds of silver and 20 pounds of gold. The walls of the bell itself are very thick (over 3 inches), and visitors are encouraged to touch the bell and ring it with a hammer. Legend says ringing the bell will guarantee you will one day return to Santa Fe.
Although our trip was not intended to be a spiritual one, I am glad I was able to show my friend some of the amazing historic churches of New Mexico. These beautiful structures are very much a part of the state's rich history, and have influenced (to some extent) my own spiritual beliefs. If you're ever in New Mexico, I highly recommend you check these (and other churches) out.
Until next time...