Landmarks of the Española Valley — 28th Annual Tour



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Willie Atencio provided tour participants with a history of the Santa Cruz de la Cañada in Española.

October 24 was a beautiful New Mexico fall day, and about 40 people enjoyed the perfect weather for the New Mexico Architectural Foundation’s 28th Annual Architectural Tour. This year we explored the Landmarks of the Española Valley.  This is a historically significant region about 90 miles north of Albuquerque. The valley was the home of several native pueblo peoples for hundreds of years and was settled by the Spanish beginning with the arrival of the Juan de Oñate expedition around 1598. Settlement was scattered at first and the Spanish withdrew for about twelve years in 1680 due to the Pueblo Revolt. The Spanish returned under Gov.Don Diego de Vargas and reclaimed the area in the 1690s by establishing missions, settlements and scattered haciendas throughout the valley among their pueblo neighbors. During the mid-1700s, increased raids by nomadic Plains Indians caused the Spanish settlers to move together and form defensive settlements.

La Iglesia de Santa Cruz de la Cañada, the largest of the Spanish Colonial period churches in New Mexico

Our first stop on the tour was the village of Santa Cruz and the massive adobe church: La Iglesia de  Santa Cruz de la Cañada, the largest of the Spanish Colonial period churches in New Mexico. The complete name of the village is Villa Nueva de Santa Cruz de los Españoles Mejicanos del Rey Nuestro Señor Carlos Segundo (The New Town of the Holy Cross of Mexican Spaniards under the King Our Lord Charles II.)  A “villa” was an official administrative town in New Spain and Santa Cruz de la Cañada was the second administrative town established in New Mexico after Santa Fe.  We were given an overview and tour of the church by Francisco Guillermo “Willie” Atencio, a lifelong parishioner who was much involved with restorations efforts and the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the parish in 1995.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe mission church was established originally in 1695 but the current structure dates to 1733 and served as the “mother church” for the surrounding communities and parishes. This is a huge adobe structure with walls measuring over four feet thick in some places. The building was constructed on the bare soil without a foundation. It had a packed dirt floor that was only replaced with a wood floor in the 1940s. There are a number of early burials under the church floor. The challenge for this type of building is the continuous threat of moisture eroding and weakening the adobe walls and the lack of a foundation has added to the challenge. There are some unobtrusive exterior drainage channels that help move water away from the building. The interior of the church has been restored to its original white clay surface which handles moisture better than plaster.


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The original church at San Juan Pueblo

Our second stop was at the Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh (formerly San Juan Pueblo) and the two local churches: Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel and San Juan Bautista Church.  San Juan Bautista is possibly the oldest active parish in the United States but the current parish church dates to the early 1900s. The very first church here was constructed in 1598. After the Pueblo Revolt in 1680 the Spanish reestablished the settlement and built a massive adobe church measuring 110 feet long by 22 feet wide…the fourth church in this community.

This adobe church survived until it was demolished in 1912 and replaced by the current neo-French Gothic brick church. Beginning with the arrival of Santa Fe’s first Bishop, Rev. Jean Baptiste Lamy, in 1851, many of the local parish priests were French and favored the French style of architecture.

Across the plaza from San Juan Bautista church is the smaller Gothic-styled Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel, built in 1889. The chapel is constructed of rough-hewn blocks of local volcanic tuff. Though seemingly out of place in a community largely built in the New Mexico adobe traditional style, these Gothic churches mark an interesting phase in the history of the local parishes and the tenure of the French priests and the influence of Bishop Lamy.

Following our visit to Ohkay Owingeh we continued to Chimayo and had a very pleasant lunch at the Rancho Chimayo restaurant. Our lunch speaker was Jake Barrow, the Program Director for Cornerstones Community Partnerships. Cornerstones is a major player in preservation efforts and partners with local communities and volunteers to promote cultural and traditional building practices.
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Tour participants enjoy a guided tour of Chimayo’s Plaza del Cerro

We continued our tour into the village of Chimayo to see the Plaza del Cerro (formerly Plaza de San Buenaventura). This is the last surviving example of a  New Mexican fortified plaza dating to 1749. Dan Jaramillo, a life-long resident of Chimayo and the curator of the Museo de Chimayo, served as our guide. The village of Chimayo and the plaza were well situated along a local road leading to Taos. The plaza is watered by an ancient acequia irrigation channel dug by local Indians prior to the arrival of the Spanish. The interior plaza area is large enough to be divided into individual garden plots but most are now overgrown and neglected.  The plaza space was surrounded by connecting adobe residential structures that effectively walled-in the defensive interior space.  Access to the plaza was controlled by narrow passageways between a few of the structures and there was a watch tower (torreon) on the south side.

Most of the plaza buildings are now vacant and some are in an advanced state of disrepair. Adobe structures need regular maintenance and there were several buildings that showed advance stages of decay and final collapse. With this level of deterioration, the plaza is in danger of losing its historical context and integrity. The buildings and garden plots are in private ownership and it has been difficult to develop a consensus for a viable preservation plan.One important structure on the plaza is the Oratorio de San Buenaventura, a chapel initially constructed in the 1800s for the local Ortega family. The small chapel has a packed earth floor and a roof of split cedar planks over vigas. The oratorio provides an example of what the interior was originally like in many of the local private chapels and mission churches. As in the church at Santa Cruz, there are several burials under the oratorio’s floor.

Our final stop was at El Santuario de Chimayo located in the Portrero plaza of the village of Chimayo. The Santuario is a popular pilgrimage site that attracts 300,000 visitors each year. It is also known for the reputed healing properties of the “Blessed Soil or Holy Dirt” found inside a side chapel and the miraculous appearance of Nuestro Senor de Esquipulas (crucifix) in the 1700s. The current adobe Santuario dates to 1816 and was a private chapel for the family of the original (lay) friar (Brother Abeyta) who witnessed the miracle. The Santuario now belongs to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and is a National Historic Landmark (1970). The Santuario grounds, being the destination for thousands of visitors and pilgrims, has been enlarged and developed over the years but still retains a reserved style.  We began our visit by listening to a local author, Pat Oviedo,  discuss the Santuario and its place in the community and then spent some time exploring the Santuario and its grounds.

A special thanks to our sponsor,s speakers, and guides and those who made this, our 28th annual tour, a success.

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