Santa Fe, New Mexico offers so much more than iconic red adobe buildings, turquoise and silver, southwest art, and old traditional southwestern culture. New Mexico’s state capitol is also known for its’ deep Christian roots. Thus, the city has an amazing collection of old historic churches in Santa Fe just waiting for you to visit! And you don’t even have to be a Christian to see them!
In Santa Fe, there are over 40 Christian churches, four synagogues, six Buddhist temples and dozens of spiritual centers supporting other beliefs. Three of the oldest churches in Santa Fe were begging us to visit them.
These three old churches and chapels tell their own unique stories of history and even miracles inside them. Because of their construction ranging from old southwestern culture to intensely detailed and ornate interiors, these churches and chapels have made their mark in Santa Fe and the world.
So, put on your Sunday best and let’s go on a field trip to see why these historic churches in Santa Fe are begging you to visit them too!
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3 Must-See Old Historic Churches in Santa Fe, New Mexico
We parked our RV for three nights at Santa Fe Skies RV Park so we could take in a few tours in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Because we arrived later in the afternoon, we decided to stay put and rise early to go tour the city.
The next day, we grabbed our sightseeing bag and dashed off to two chapels and a cathedral in Santa Fe; the Loretto Chapel, the San Miguel Mission, and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. However, we ran out of time to see the San Miguel Mission but still want to share it as part of our article. We do intend on visiting the Mission chapel in the future. As you read about it, you’ll see why we want to return to Santa Fe.
The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
|Location: 131 Cathedral Place , Santa Fe, NM 87501|
|Website: Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi|
The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is one of the most visited historic landmarks in Santa Fe, and for good reason. According to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the history of this incredibly spiritual place of worship dates back to when Santa Fe was founded in 1610. The original church was built where the Cathedral sits today. Due to massive growth of the congregation, roughly 20 years later a larger church was built in the original’s place.
However, the church was destroyed by the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. A new adobe church wasn’t rebuilt until 34 years later in 1714. This church is named in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, Patron Saint of Animals and Ecology. But also, he’s the Patron St. of Santa Fe.
Later a new Cathedral was built around the former adobe church. When the walls of the Cathedral were complete, the old church was torn down and removed through the front doors. The stain glass windows in the lower bay are from France depicting the twelve apostles. Seven archbishops are buried in the church sanctuary. The stunning structure that stands today was commissioned in 1850 by Santa Fe’s first Bishop and is still very much in use today.
To say it best, this Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi’s majestic grandeur is breathtakingly stunning inside. Once you enter through the heavy wood doors, you’ll understand why it’s more than a place of worship. You can’t help noticing the detailed scrolls in the Corinthian columns, gilded gold-leaf embellishments, hand-painted arches, mahogany, and meticulously carved woodwork.
Our self-tour of the Cathedral along with the beautiful gardens and small statues took almost two hours. Even if you’re not Catholic or even of Christian diety, the regal beauty in the architecture and artistic finishings alone will move you. Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is one of those places you certainly don’t want to rush.
The Loretto Chapel
|LOCATION: 207 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87501|
|WEBSITE: The Loretto Chapel|
Many years ago prior to us visiting Santa Fe, we watched a documentary about a little chapel in Santa Fe that has an intriguingly mysterious story. The story also on Unsolved Mysteries. And, of course Hollywood had to get in on the act by putting out the 1998 movie, “The Staircase”.
So, who would have known many years later that we’d travel to Santa Fe and happen upon this mysterious treasure.
The Loretto Chapel, located not to far from the Palace of the Governors and Santa Fe Plaza at the end of the Santa Fe Trail. It is a former Roman Catholic Church that is now a museum and a wedding chapel. However, this Chapel isn’t just an ordinary little place of worship. It holds a little mystery inside; the Miraculous Staircase.
About the Miraculous Staircase
In the early 1850’s, there was instruction to build the Loretto Academy to teach and preach. The chapel building was completed in 1878 with additions made later as the Stations of the Cross, the Gothic Altar and the Frescos during the 1890’s. But, there was one thing missing. A staircase for the Sisters of the Loretto to get up into the choir loft.
So, the Sisters made a novena to St. Joseph, Patron Saint of Carpenters. On the last night of novena, a lone carpenter with his donkey carrying his tools ironically happened upon the Chapel looking for work. Thinking this was, quite literally, the answer to their prayers, the Sisters hired the man with promise of payment when he finished building the staircase.
However, after completion of the staircase, the carpenter with his donkey and tools mysteriously disappeared without payment and seemingly skipped town. Perplexed, the Sisters were adamant in asking, “who was this man?”. They conjured up belief that the master carpenter was St. Joseph, himself.
What’s astounding is the staircase shows no means of support of its’ two 360 spiral turns. There’s no evidence of usage of nails; only wooden pegs held it together. However, there’s another mystery about the staircase. It has 33 steps which is significant in itself as that was the age of Jesus when he died on the cross.
But, you have to see it for yourself to appreciate the intricate craftsmanship of the Miraculous Staircase.
Unsolved Mysteries story about the Loretto Chapel Miraculous Staircase. (Fast Forward to the story at 30:07)
San Miguel Mission Chapel
|LOCATION: 401 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe NM, 87501|
|WEBSITE: San Miguel Chapel Santa Fe|
Unfortunately, we didn’t plan enough time in Santa Fe to visit the San Miguel Mission Chapel. However, it’s definitely on our bucket list next time we roll into New Mexico’s iconic city.
The San Miguel Mission is located in Barrio de Analco Santa Fe’s historic district. Santa Fe was originally settled in the very early 1600s by Tlaxcalan Indians from Mexico migrated to Santa Fe, New Mexico with the Franciscan missionaries and Spanish officials. Perhaps, they were America’s first immigrants? The Barrio de Analco is recorded as being the oldest settlement of European origin in Santa Fe except for the Plaza.
The San Miguel Mission was built about 1610, under the direction and guidance of Franciscan Friars as a place of worship for soldiers, settlers, traders and immigrating Tlaxcalan Indians. Of course, as all buildings constructed in that era and geographic location, the church was constructed out of adobe.
According to the National Park Service Preservation of History Adobe Buildings, “The adobe, or sun-dried brick, is one of the oldest and most common building materials known to man. Traditionally, adobe bricks were never kiln fired. Unbaked adobe bricks consisted of sand, sometimes gravel, clay, water, and often straw or grass mixed together by hand, formed in wooden molds, and dried by the sun.”
However, during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the San Miguel Mission church was partially destroyed by fire. Also known as Popé’s Rebellion or Popay’s Rebellion, the 11-day Revolt was an uprising by most of the indigenous Pueblo people against the Spanish colonizers in the province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México.
Yet, another fire also destroyed the church’s historic documents and records. But, while those official records were also destroyed in the Revolt, some records were sent elsewhere prior to the explosive 11-day riot. And even today, the original 400 year old records are surfacing all over the globe.
Reconstructed about 1710, San Miguel Mission Chapel building has gone through several structural changes and restoration projects to keep up its’ legacy.
Now, the San Miguel Mission bell has a history all its’ own. According to History in Santa Fe, “During the 17th century the bell was brought to Santa Fe by ship from southern Spain. It was transported by wagon up the Camino Real by Nicolas Ortiz Niño Ladron de Guevara. The bell was placed in a capilla (small chapel) he built for his family. After the Pueblo Revolt it was placed at San Miguel Chapel. In 1872 the bell was damaged by a storm and removed to the interior of the church for protection and preservation where it resides today.”
Final thoughts on why you should visit these old historic churches in Santa Fe, New Mexico
While we’ve visited many churches throughout our travels, these three churches in Santa Fe are really something to experience.
RELATED: Our Visit to St. Agnes Church in Terlingua, Texas
This Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and Loretto Chapel certainly didn’t disappoint. On a personal note, visiting these churches truly moved us. It’s kind of difficult to explain. But I guess other believers would understand the fulfillment we received while in the presence of such spiritual place.
RELATED: Our Visit to Notre Dame University’s Basilica of Sacred Heart
Today, great numbers of believers have made pilgrimage to Santa Fe see these beautiful historic churches. When planning your trip to Santa Fe, put these two chapels and cathedral on the top of your bucket list. Also, make sure to their websites for operating hours (listed under each section). They may close for holidays, weddings, funerals and other special events.
Tourism Resources to check out before heading to Santa Fe:
Fodor’s InFocus Santa Fe (Full-color Travel Guide)
Frommer’s Easy Guide to Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque
Other cool places to visit:
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