When the Spanish first came to New Mexico, they built churches, many in early settlements and many in Native American villages. The very earliest ones are in ruins now, such as the ones at Jemez and Salinas Pueblos, with a few exceptions still in use, such as Laguna Pueblo and Acoma Pueblo. We look in awe at the effort of these early builders, honing stone bricks and carrying huge logs for vigas from distant mountains. Visiting churches tell a story of forced Pueblo labor as well as devotion to the churches and their buildings enduring for centuries. Today, you may photograph churches on pueblos only with explicit permission from the pueblo, usually in the form of a permit available for a fee. For the churches that are still in use in old Spanish settlements, most of them are unlocked at all times, and you may enter and take photos. If there is a donation box, we always leave a donation in appreciation for being able to enter. The interiors have wonderful art in the form of murals, stained glass windows, bultos (small statues) and retablos (devotional paintings). Most of these are on wood because New Mexico did not have the silver and gold that churches around Mexico City would have access to. We like the simpler art–it exemplifies New Mexico’s provincial status. Some are easy to find, such as San Felipe de Neri in the center of Albuquerque. Some are quite remote, such as the El Santo Nino de Atocha east of Three Rivers Petroglyph Site. Churches are all over New Mexico and make wonderful photographic subjects.
Many people visit Chimayo with hopes of a healing, as its dirt floor is said to have healing power. Many years ago we were there, and instead of just taking some of the dirt, we saw a mother place her toddler in the pit of dirt. She then proceeded to pour dirt all over the little boy many times. We thought, “This young boy must be so sick!” We finally asked her if he were sick, and she said, “No, just mischievous!”
This is a much-photographed church, and many artists, such as Georgia O’Keefe, have preferred this view.
There are many wonderful churches in Santa Fe, and we plan to have an entry on Santa Fe in general next month.