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Sitework

With the plan of the church laid out on the ground, excavation for the stone foundation began. Whether the church was built of masonry or adobe, the first step in construction was to secure a solid foundation. Large stones were placed in foundation trenches excavated along the perimeter of the building to provide a structurally stable base for the mud or stone walls. The stones also retarded capillary action and provided better drainage than the earth alone would have allowed. Drainage was a critical factor in earthen construction. (The present-day use of cement stucco instead of mud plaster has interrupted the natural evaporation patterns from the ground through the wall to the air, thereby undermining more than one church.) If the site was neither level nor gently sloping upward toward the altar, earth removal or terracing was necessary. The nave of the church at Jemez Springs was cut into the steep hillside, and the excavated material was used to fill the downhill side until a relatively level floor was finally devised. Even the altar was stepped up several feet to take advantage of the topography—a sensible strategy given that bedrock could not be reformed. The slope and the interruption of the natural drainage pattern are the probable reasons for the church's double floor: two layers of earth separated by a layer of burnt wood or charcoal, the latter intended to absorb the ground seepage and desiccate the upper earthen layer.

Jemez Springs was an instance of extremely inhospitable topographic conditions, but it was certainly not the only instance. Consider the uneven surface of the Acoma mesa, where even the land for the campo santo was imported in baskets, or the limited strip of buildable land at Pecos, or the contoured hilltop at Laguna. All these sites required goodly amounts of labor just to establish workable footings and erect a suitable platform for construction. At Acoma, about eighteen inches of earth were used to fill and level the surface of the mesa to create a suitable floor.

The floors were finished as tamped, compacted earth, packed to almost rock hardness over the years. In residential construction animal blood was sometimes used as a sealant, and the practice may also have been used in the churches. Women swept floors weekly and in some churches repacked the surface each year with new mud and straw.[73] In the case of Abo, stone flags completed the interior floor surface, but this was common practice only at the Salinas missions.

Allowing the floor to remain earthen also served a practical need because the more noted personages of the parish would be buried inside the church as space allowed. Presumably for health reasons, a royal decree banning burials within the church was issued in 1748, although it took more than a year to reach Santa Fe. The practice remained desirable, however, in light of frontier conditions, fear of native deprecations, and the pious impulse to lay at rest near the altar. Higher fees for interment within the nave made the custom more attractive for the clergy as well as the congregation. In 1822, 1826,


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1–18
Generic Construction Section of Wall
The pitched metal roof, a common addition during the late nineteenth century, is shown in the right half of the drawing.
[Source: Sketch by Robert Nestor, 1989]


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and again in 1833, the Mexican government renewed the proscription, probably with the same ineffectual result.[74]


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