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Santa Fe, New Mexico: Three Distinct Places of Worship

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

Cristo Rey Church in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Cristo Rey Church in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe, New Mexico

What do you think of when you think of vacationing to Santa Fe, New Mexico?

  • Is it the adobe construction on many of the homes and businesses?
  • Is it the Indian and Spanish influences that have left their marks over time?
  • Is it the terrific art galleries that seem to flourish and thrive in this high altitude sunny spot?
  • Is it the abundance of excellent dining spots?
  • Is it the historical places to visit?
  • Is it the beauty of the churches, both large and small such as the St. Francis Cathedral, the Loretto Chapel, or the Cristo Rey Church?
  • Or is it all of the above and more?

This article will take you for a journey into the three churches just mentioned.

Whether you are a tourist interested in merely the history and architecture of such buildings or a visitor looking to attend a church service, you should find something of interest here.

All three of these places of worship certainly add to the color and ambiance of what is in Santa Fe.

1. Cristo Rey Church

What makes this relatively new church (by Santa Fe standards) stand out and make it unique among any other church is that it is the most massive adobe structure in all of the United States! It is at the eastern end of Canyon Road, a street known for its numerous art galleries, restaurants, and shops.

While on tour taking us to places like Cristo Rey Church, we passed large homes located off of Canyon Road in the surrounding hillsides. The minimum square footage requirement was 5,000 square feet when having these residences designed and constructed. Many were much more extensive, and obviously, wealthy people live in areas like this.

Keeping with Santa Fe's architectural standards and commitment to keeping with the cultural flavor of the place, when Cristo Rey Church was designed in 1939 by architect John Gaw Meem, he did it in classic New Mexico Mission style.

The interior of this large adobe church is simple. The wooden beams on the ceiling counter-balance the wooden pews on the ground and unadorned windows cut through the thick adobe walls shed light into the interior. The altarpiece shown above is believed to be very old and is made out of stone.

Along the walls are the typical Stations of the Cross found in most Catholic Churches, but these are special. The frames are hand-worked tin, which is just about a lost art. Undoubtedly these were inspired by people who migrated here from Mexico. The most active period of creating pieces like these frames around Stations of the Cross and other items like candle holders and sconces was from 1860 to about 1890.

Rarely were the tinsmiths who created these pieces viewed as artists. It is nice to see such handcrafted pieces recognized for what they are, genuine pieces of art. They represent an era long past when tin was used as a decoration for people's homes and other places such as these now hanging in the Cristo Rey Church.

2. Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Unlike the straightforward and more plain adobe construction of the Cristo Rey Church in Santa Fe, the Loretto Chapel is in the Gothic Revival style. It has pointed arches and the use of flying buttresses, which are needed supports to keep tall buildings like this intact. It was constructed between 1873 to 1878 and entrusted to the Sisters of Loretto on the Old Santa Fe Trail to manage.

The designer of this building was Antoine Mouly, a French architect.

Most Catholic Churches and many, if not most Lutheran Churches have physical representations of the Cross's Stations inside of their churches. They give people a place to meditate upon the sacrifices that Jesus made when he was convicted to death on the cross, giving up His life on earth as a "sacrificial lamb" so that the rest of us could attain heaven after our deaths.

It follows His journey of carrying the cross up to his tortured death and removal from the cross. The number of Stations of the Cross varies with some going beyond His death to His ascension into heaven.

In Europe, there are some large outside Stations of the Cross built, one of which I got to see in Germany when visiting a friend of mine years ago. People follow along as a pilgrimage stopping to pray at each of these stations.

The Stations of the Cross inside of the Loretto Chapel are beautiful.

If you look closely at the last picture above, the altar's base is a Bas-Relief of Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper.

The stained glass windows inside of the Loretto Chapel are from France and made in 1874. The Daprato Statuary Company made statues about 1915.

This Loretto Chapel no longer functions as a church, but weddings can be arranged in this beautiful space.

Loretto Chapel Staircase

There are several stories about this famous staircase inside of the Loretto Chapel. The most popular rendition goes something like this: Construction of this chapel for the Sisters of Loretto was almost complete. It became apparent that the original plans for a staircase up to the choir loft would not fit. The nuns prayed for a solution to their problem. A carpenter appeared out of nowhere and built this fabulous staircase using wood that was not local and no nails.

The curved staircase making two complete 360 degree turns also had no visible means of support. After completion, the carpenter disappeared, receiving no pay from the nuns.

They would like to think that St. Joseph himself arrived and did this miraculous building of this staircase in answer to their prayers. St. Joseph is the patron saint of carpenters.

No matter who created it, it is a masterful construction and draws many tourists who like to gaze upon it in wonderment.

3. St. Francis Cathedral

Named after St. Francis of Assisi, this majestic cathedral dominates the downtown horizon of Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is an active church, and the tolling church bells still call the faithful to services.

St. Francis is a highly venerated saint to people from all around the world. He gave up a life of privilege and wealth and took on vows of poverty while teaching and preaching what Jesus Christ had taught while on earth. He started the Franciscan Order, which accepts the tenets of not amassing a wealth of material things on earth.

St. Francis had a special rapport with animals and could communicate with them. A blessing of the animals takes place in many places around the world on his Feast Day of October 4th.

St. Francis Basilica

In 2005 on the Feast Day of St. Francis (October 4th), Pope Benedict XVI changed the status of St. Francis cathedral to a basilica.

In Catholic churches, a cathedral is the home church for bishops and archbishops.
What makes a basilica special? It is deemed such due to special spiritual, historical, or architectural significance. Indeed, this St. Francis basilica is of historical importance.

It sits atop a location of two former churches, the earliest one dating back to 1626.
Architecturally it was built in a Romanesque Revival style starting in 1869. Local yellow limestone was utilized. While the towers were never completed as planned, it is a beauty.

Inside of the St.Francis Basilica is a beautifully crafted round rose window installed in 1884. It, along with twelve large other stained glass windows depicting the 12 apostles of Christ, was produced by the firm of Felix Gaudin in Clermont-Ferrand in France. The artistry is exquisite. These windows are luminescent, especially when the sunlight is bright outside, sending shafts of prismatic colors into the church's interior.

Our Lady of the Rosary

There is a smaller chapel inside the much larger cathedral, common in large churches and cathedrals. The altar is made of carved and painted wood and is reminiscent of the more simple altars found in many smaller places around the State of New Mexico and elsewhere. A large crucifix of Christ on the cross adorns one of the adjacent walls inside of this chapel.

The statue that highlights this altar is called La Conquistadora. She represents Mary, the mother of Jesus, and is made of willow wood from Spain. She is the oldest Madonna that is present in the New World.

At one point taken from Santa Fe down to Juarez, Mexico, due to fighting and hostilities with native Indians, she was returned to Santa Fe by Fray Alonzo Benavidez, representing the Spanish government in 1629.

Smaller and older chapel inside of St. Francis Cathedral

Smaller and older chapel inside of St. Francis Cathedral

Spanish influences and Catholicism meshed together with the native Americans' customs have substantially influenced the culture found in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

If you enjoyed this look at this aspect of the Santa Fe culture, please leave a comment below. Thanks!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcome. Thanks!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 06, 2018:

Hi C E Clark,

I can relate to some of what you wrote. Haha! Some of that comes with normal aging. Thanks for the shares. These churches and chapels are well worth a visit if spending time in Santa Fe. That staircase in the Loretto Chapel is amazing!

C E Clark from North Texas on October 04, 2018:

So you have written about the Loretto Chapel! Noted I have left a comment before, so I guess I just forgot. Seems like that is my best talent these days -- forgetting. I can forget anything in the blink of an eye, including what I am doing at the current time, and then I wonder, why am I doing this?

You have great photos as usual. All of these places are amazing and everyone should visit them all. Reading this article before their visit will make it all the more enjoyable for people, so I hope they are able to find this article. Posting it on FB and Awesome HubPages.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on January 07, 2015:

Hi VJGSA,

Did you notice that the highlighted Loretto Chapel Staircase leads to your wonderful hub? Nice that you have gotten to enjoy this city over and over again particularly during an art festival. No, I have not been to Chimayo. Is it something that could write about in a hub?

VJG from Texas on January 05, 2015:

How could I have missed this Hub on my last visit. I guess I didn't scroll down far enough. My wife, son and I started visiting Santa Fe for a week in a July (in conjunction with the International Art Festival) about 9 years ago. And on each visit we stop by the Cathedral and the Loretto - we never get tired of basking in its history. Great Hub! Have you been to Chimayo?

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 30, 2014:

Hi Au fait,

I agree! If at all possible and if time allows, these churches are well worth visiting. That staircase in the Loretto Chapel is amazing! Thanks for the votes and shares.

C E Clark from North Texas on May 19, 2014:

I have been to this chapel and the staircase is nothing short of amazing! A really beautiful chapel that anyone going near Santa Fe should be sure to visit. Excellent article packed with great information as always, and also as usual, superb photos.

Voted up, BAUI, pinned to my 'Travel' board, and sharing.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 31, 2012:

Hello rajan jolly,

I also like that prayer of St. Francis. I am happy to hear that you enjoyed seeing these historic churches in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Thanks for your comment, votes and the share.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on October 31, 2012:

Very interesting history of these churches especially the way the staircase of Loretto Chapel was constructed. Amazing pictures. I have always admired the calm and serene atmosphere inside these churches.

Loved the prayer of Saint Francis.

Voted up, interesting and awesome. Shared.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 06, 2011:

Hello shea duane,

I just read your poem and left a comment. Nicely done! That staircase in the Chapel of Loretto is really something!

shea duane from new jersey on September 06, 2011:

I hope you can take a moment to read my poem.

shea duane

shea duane from new jersey on September 06, 2011:

Hi Peggy,

I'm a hubber who has written a poem about the Chapel of Loretto in Santa Fe (I grew up in SF). I found your hub looking for pictures to post with the poem.

Great hub!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 04, 2011:

Hi kittythedreamer,

I had not heard about ghosts at the Christo Rey Church but it is certainly old enough to possibly have some. Do you know the story? Those old adobe buildings and churches in NM certainly have a distinctive beauty. Thanks for your comment and votes.

Kitty Fields from Summerland on June 04, 2011:

Voted up, awesome and beautiful! The first church, the Santo Rey Church, I believe there are some ghosts there...an old priest and a woman. Very beautiful buildings indeed! I didn't realize how gorgeous NM churches could be!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 17, 2011:

Hello Phyllis Doyle,

Glad that I could share the Loretto Chapel, Cristo Rey Church and St. Francis Cathedral with you since you like visiting old chapels and churches. Thanks for your comment and votes.

Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on May 17, 2011:

Hi Peggy. I love old chapels and churches. Your photos are wonderful and make me feel like I just went on a trip to Santa Fe. Voted 'UP' and 'Beautiful'.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 09, 2011:

Hi Billy,

Yes...we have some very interesting Mission Churches in Texas also. Thanks for taking a peek at these churches in Santa Fe, New Mexico and leaving a comment.

billyaustindillon on May 09, 2011:

Nicely done - reminds me a lot of the Mission Trail in Texas.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 09, 2011:

Hello John Sarkis,

Glad you liked these pictures of some of the historic places in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Appreciate the comment.

John Sarkis from Winter Haven, FL on May 09, 2011:

Nice hub and pictures

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 06, 2011:

Hi mdlawyer,

So happy to hear that you enjoyed this about 3 of the churches in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Thanks for your comment and votes.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 06, 2011:

Hi Denise,

Glad you liked these photos of the Loretto Chapel, Cristo Rey Church and St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe. Santa Fe, New Mexico is such a unique place with much history. Thanks for your comment and rating.

mdlawyer on May 06, 2011:

Beautiful presentation of the chapel. VOTED UP, RATED BEAUTIFUL!!

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on May 06, 2011:

Peggy-Congratulations on your '100' score. What an awesome hub. I loved the photos and information-rated up.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 05, 2011:

Hi Hello, hello,

Glad that you liked reading about and seeing these churches in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Just the tip of the iceburg as far as great things to see while there! Thanks for your comment.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on May 04, 2011:

Thank you, Peggy, for showing us all these beautiful churches. Splendid hub.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 30, 2011:

Hello Eiddwen,

Glad to take you along on a journey to some of these churches in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Appreciate the comment as always.

Eiddwen from Wales on April 30, 2011:

Hi Peggy,

Once more you have delivered and created this brilliant hub.

I don't think I need to point out anymore that I bookmarking this one also.

Take care

Eiddwen.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 28, 2011:

Hi AliciaC,

Agreed! One does not have to subscribe to different beliefs to admire the architecture and history of a place. Santa Fe is filled with history and certainly has unique architecture. Thanks for the visit and comment.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 28, 2011:

Thank you very much for the “virtual tour”. I love visiting chapels, churches and cathedrals. I enjoy looking at the architecture and learning about the history of the buildings, and even if I don’t share the same beliefs as the congregations I always find the visits spiritually uplifting.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 28, 2011:

Me too, Simone! Glad that you liked this. Thanks for the comment.

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on April 28, 2011:

Another fascinating place, Peggy W. Great photos! I'm a real sucker for church architecture.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 28, 2011:

Hi Gene,

I guess the light is one reason attracting so many artists (along with the scenery, of course) to Santa Fe. I've not been to those places you mentioned and will remember that if we go back that direction someday. Thanks!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 28, 2011:

Hi dahoglund,

Like you, I like these old churches. Some modern ones look just like office buildings! Oh well...to each their own! Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 28, 2011:

Hi Mary,

Thanks for your comment. These old churches in Santa Fe are beautiful...Cristo Rey being the newest one of these three featured here in this hub. Have you been to Santa Fe?

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 28, 2011:

Hi Cheryl,

Glad that I could show you these churches in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Each is special in its own way. Thanks for the visit and comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 28, 2011:

Hi Charlu,

That story about the Loretto Chapel staircase is amazing no matter who built it. Glad that you enjoyed this. As to the frequency of my hubs, I had joined the April hubchallenge...writing one a day. However, I don't think I will make it. Also painted 4 rooms in our home during April. Crazy! Getting tired! Will only miss it by 2 or 3...depending upon if I want to get any sleep. Ha!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 28, 2011:

Hi susannah42,

I would have to agree with you about loving Santa Fe. It is a gorgeous place in so many ways! Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 28, 2011:

Hi Darlene,

Hope you get to go back and see more of Santa Fe someday. It is certainly a great spot in New Mexico! Thanks for your comment.

Gene Jasper on April 28, 2011:

Santa Fe is our favorite place and we've been to all those places. For me the best thing about the place is the light. A photographer's dream! Next time you go be sure to see Bandillero National Monument and go to Chama and take the steam train through the mountains.

Gene

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on April 28, 2011:

I often like old churches and get a bit depressed by the need in recent years to "modernize" churches. I am fine with modern churches but I dislike take a nice old church design and spoiling it by trying to make it more up to date. It loses all integrity.

rated this up and beautiful.

mary chastain on April 28, 2011:

The pictures of the old churches are so beautiful. Thanks, mary

Cheryl J. from Houston, TX on April 28, 2011:

Hi Peggy,

You have shared beautiful photos and videos of The Loretto Chapel, St. Francis Cathedral and the Cristo Rey Church. I am in awe of the beautiful work of art that each church has. Beautiful and great hub. You are awesome, Peggy.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 28, 2011:

Hi Micky,

That was the only way I could get all of the altar to show up...by taking two pictures and just piecing them together. Not so pretty, but I thought getting to see the entire altar with all the detail was worth it. The Loretto Chapel is such a beauty. Of course so is St. Francis cathedral and the Cristo Rey church...each in their own way. Thanks for your comment.

Charlu from Florida on April 28, 2011:

They are absolutely stunning. I love the story of the staircase and the carpenter, and no nails WOW. I agree with Charles in that you do such incredible work in so little time Fabulous hub. All up.

susannah42 from Florida on April 28, 2011:

I love Santa Fe, it's such a beautiful place.

Darlene on April 28, 2011:

Have only visited Santa Fe New Mexico once and would love to visit again after seeing your beautiful photography.

Micky Dee on April 28, 2011:

Buttons up as always Peggy! You did an excellent job piecing the photo together. God bless you dear.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 27, 2011:

Hi Charles,

Am getting tired! Ha! Missed doing one yesterday and will probably start slowing down, but thanks for thinking that these hubs are beautiful. I appreciate your comment! These churches are definitely worth a visit if ever visiting Santa Fe, New Mexico.

charles criner on April 27, 2011:

It amazes me how you can do such beautiful work so fast. Thank you.

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