||The Historic Churches of Santa Fe, New Mexico
San Miguel Mission Church
Recognized as the Oldest Church in the United States, San Miguel Mission (pictured right) is located one block south of Loretto Chapel on Old Santa Fe Trail, between Alameda and Paseo de Peralta. Within easy walking distance from the historic Santa Fe Plaza, it is now surrounded by lovely restaurants and shops, and with the Oldest House right down the alley, its definitely a must see on any Santa Fe site list.
The Mission was built by Tlaxcalan Indians from Mexico in the early 1600s, under the direction of Fray Alonso de Benavides, OFM. During the Pueblo Indian rebellion of 1680, the roof was burned and destroyed. After resettling Santa Fe, in 1694 General Diego de Vargas had a new roof constructed and repairs continued until 1710.
A three-tier tower was constructed around 1830, and in 1887, a single facade tower was built, with massive stone buttresses added for support. The reredos (or altar screen) in the Mission dates from 1798 and is the oldest wooden reredos in New Mexico. There is also a wood carved statue of St. Michael, celebrating the victory over Satan.
The Mission is open to the public during the week and there is a small gift shop adjoining the main church. Regular services are held each Sunday.
St. Francis Cathedral
St. Francis Cathedral (pictured right) is located just one block east of the historic Santa Fe Plaza at the end of San Francisco Street. Dedicated in 1886, the Cathedral is a blend of adobe, French-Romanesque and modern architectural styles. It is also one of the citys most recognized, photographed and beloved landmarks.
The sixth church built on the site, it was designed by French architects, carved by Italian stonemasons, and built by local New Mexico residents. The Cathedral design is in sharp contrast to the adobe pueblo style architecture that so clearly defines Santa Fe and all of the Southwest.
The main structure is the Conquistadora Chapel, built of adobe in 1714, which houses La Conquistadora, Our Lady of Conquering Love, the countrys oldest Madonna, dating from 1625. The building was commissioned by Archbishop Lamy, whose crypt lies within the Cathedral.
In 1967, the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was added in the modern style. The many stunning stained glass windows were imported from France, and the stone for the building was brought in from 15 miles away, from what is now the small community of Lamy, New Mexico.
In July 2005, Pope Benedict XVI elevated the Cathedral to a basilica (meaning royal hall), calling it the cradle of Catholicism of the Southwest. As the first church in New Mexico history to receive this designation, it is now officially known as Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
Loretto Chapel (pictured right), constructed in the 1870s, is believed to be the first Gothic structure built west of the Mississippi. It served as the Loretto Academy, operated by the Sisters of Loretto. A design flaw existed in the chapel, as there was no way to get to the choir loft from the main floor. Many carpenters were consulted for a solution, but all of them felt that a traditional stairway would take up too much room. Most suggested that a ladder be used or the balcony be reconstructed.
The Sisters sought divine guidance, and on the ninth and final day of their Novena, a mysterious carpenter appeared who designed and constructed a circular stairway to the loft. His miraculous stairway contains 33 steps in two full 360-degree turns, with no center support, nor is it held from the sides. Upon completing the stairway, the carpenter disappeared without receiving payment for his work.
Loretto Chapel is located at 207 Old Santa Fe Trail, two blocks south of the historic Santa Fe Plaza. It is privately operated and is open to the public.
El Santuario de Guadalupe
Built in 1781, just west of the Santa Fe Plaza, the historic El Santuario de Guadalupe church is now an art and history museum. The Santuario (pictured right) contains the Archdiocese of Santa Fe's collection of New Mexican santos (carved images of the saints), Italian Renaissance paintings, and Mexican baroque paintings. Among the treasured works is Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of the largest and finest oil paints of the Spanish Southwest, dated 1783 and signed by Jose de Alzibar, one of Mexico's most renowned painters. The church is located at 100 South Guadalupe Street.
Cristo Rey Church
This adobe church, a classic example of New Mexico mission architecture, houses restored reredos (altar screens) that are noted examples of New Mexicos Spanish Colonial religious art. Cristo Rey Church (pictured right) is located at the corner of Canyon Road and Cristo Rey Street.