Preferred Citation: Treib, Marc. Sanctuaries of Spanish New Mexico. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1993 1993.




On my first visit to New Mexico some ten years ago I was taken by the power of the landscape and the beauty of the buildings. The appropriateness of both their forms and materials, the quality of light, and the subtle variations of the colors of the adobe in the various locales all make an indelible impression on the first-time visitor to New Mexico, and I was certainly no exception. The vividness of the reds near Jemez and Pecos, for example, are indelibly etched in my memory.

With many questions about the architecture I had seen, I began to search for answers first in books and then in articles. I was surprised to find that George Kubler's pioneering work, The Religious Architecture of New Mexico , first issued in 1940, remained the classic study and that little had been published since that examined the churches of New Mexico not only as architecture but also as the products of a unique environmental and social history. Although many insightful writings explained land settlement patterns, title disputes, and the ethnology of New Mexico, the need still remained for an architectural history that synthesized material from these studies and bolstered them with fieldwork and formal analysis. Naively assuming that I must already be sufficiently familiar with the subject to produce a book of my own, I made the fateful mistake of beginning this project outside my usual area of expertise. The gravity of my error soon became apparent, and I realized that I would have to undertake two to three times as much research and study to reach, at least, a minimally informed point of view.

I began this book in 1982 as a guide to the missions of New Mexico that would include an introductory essay examining the environmental, social, and political history of New Mexico and an analysis and description of the churches built in response to these constraints. To complement period images, I would make new photographs of the churches and prepare architectural plans at a consistent scale. Although this seemed a considerable task, the goals of the project also seemed simply enough formulated.

But problems in limiting the scope of the book arose almost immediately. If geographical circumscription were used as the primary selection criterion, the existing churches of today's El Paso and


Juarez would need to be included since they were part of the same supply-route system. Alternatively, if the mission building type were the main criterion, how could one include the Santuario at Chimayo, which is neither a mission nor a church but a votive chapel? And what of the parish church of San José at Las Trampas, in certain respects the most complete example of late-eighteenth-century New Mexican religious architecture? Surely, the book must include them. Should the demolished Castrense chapel—which once figured prominently on the plaza of Santa Fe and for which the most elaborate altarpiece in New Mexico was created—also be presented? Should churches such as Tome and Belen—originally missions but now parish churches—be included, although their message appeared in other, better preserved structures and they had been treated in other studies?

Since there are certain to be readers who will take issue with my selection of some churches over others, perhaps a word or two on my reasoning is in order. I wanted to study existing buildings, rather than historical documents, so I chose not to discuss those churches I was unable to visit because I would have been forced to rely solely on previously published texts and historic photos, which distort even as they document. Thus, Santa Ana is left out, not because it is any less valuable than other churches described here, but because the pueblo is virtually closed to visitors year round. Moreover, because the total length of the text was also a consideration, certain sacrifices had to be made. Accordingly, both the text and the title of the book were adjusted to reflect the churches necessary to the telling of the story. I settled on a more generic, although perhaps somewhat more ambiguous, term and architectural corpus, choosing sanctuary instead of church or mission. In this case, sanctuary is used broadly to describe religious structures such as the mission, the church, the chapel, the oratorio , and the morada . The core of the book centers on the mission church, while the Hispanic parish church or chapel constitutes the remainder of the text. For the most part the construction of all the structures described herein extended from the 1620s to the 1820s, although the current form of the buildings may be of more recent construction. For example, in spite of its long history, the existing church of San Ildefonso was rebuilt to new plans in the late 1960s. In addition, the small village churches that commonly date from the post-1820s are barely touched on in this book. Their number, pattern, and role in their respective villages make it clear that they warrant an independent study, as the surveys conducted during the 1980s by the Santa Fe architectural firm Johnson/Nestor/Molier/Rodríguez clearly demonstrate.

For those structures that have been omitted—Belen, Tome, Cordova, Nambe, Socorro, and Santa Ana, for example—references can be found in other sources: principally Kubler's works, the classic Adams and Chavez translation and annotation of Domínguez's The Missions of New Mexico in 1776 , Kessell's The Missions of New Mexico Since 1776 , and Prince's Spanish Mission Churches of New Mexico , for an earlier (1915) point of view.

Although this book has outgrown its original formulation as a guide, the organization still reflects its beginnings. In Part I of the text I have tried to concisely outline the environmental conditions of New Mexico, the patterns of exploration and settlement by the Spanish, and their influence on the development of New Mexico's colonial architecture. Politics always plays a key role in the generation and understanding of architecture, whether implicitly through funding or explicitly through legislation. In New Mexico the relations and interrelations among the Pueblo Indians, the Franciscans, the military, and the colonists were often convoluted and antagonistic. Whether constructed for worship, defense, or administration, the architecture of the province reflected this volatile condition. Those articles that guided, however, weakly, the settlement of the northern provinces and that were formalized at the end of the sixteenth century as the Royal Ordinances of Colonization (commonly referred to as the Laws of the Indies) are discussed because they are necessary for understanding the form taken by Spanish settlement and the architecture that filled the subsequent town plan.

Following the discussion of the environmental and social underpinnings of Spanish cities and architecture in New Mexico, the focus shifts to the buildings themselves: the forms of domestic and re-


ligious structures, their siting and construction, their furnishing and decoration. In the middle of the nineteenth century New Mexico became part of the United States, and the impact of this political shift was registered on the form of many important church buildings. The aftermath and the successive attempts to modify and later "restore" the mud or stone fabric of the sanctuaries conclude Part I. Nevertheless, issues remain that warrant further research: for example, the exact nature and practice of the mass and other liturgy during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the relationship between daily and annual religious practice, and the specific form of the church and the Franciscan domestic quarters.

Part II comprises individual chapters on the churches and their histories. Because I intended the book to be useful as a guide, these entries are more or less self-contained, and some overlap exists between these chapters and Part I. For the most part, cultural material, architectural precedents, and construction techniques appear in Part I, while specific architectural descriptions of the sanctuaries appear in the individual chapters in Part II. In each case I have tried to chronicle the history of the structure and comment on it, focusing where appropriate on a particular issue or characteristic and discussing it within the context of a single church. For example, the power of light and the complex problems of restoration are both presented in the chapter on Isleta, while the issue of church siting in relation to the pueblo is discussed in the chapters on Pecos and Taos. For detailed descriptions of adobe construction techniques, see Taos pueblo; for stone, Abo. The use of mud plaster versus cement stucco is central to the history of the Ranchos de Taos church and its restoration, while the Cochiti chapter chronicles the major stylistic changes that came with the wave of Anglo immigration and trade at the turn of the twentieth century. The scope and role of mission decorative programs are illustrated by the Laguna pueblo church of San José.

A church of mud or even stone is mutable, and the forms of the New Mexican churches have changed drastically even in the last century. Both historical and contemporary photographs accompany the text of most chapters, although several of the Pueblo communities, including Cochiti, San Felipe, Santo Domingo, and Zia, permit neither photography nor note taking and are represented only by period photographs. The communities' right to privacy took precedence over my desire for complete documentation of the churches.

Where available sources or permission allowed, architectural plans of the churches were prepared, and these are included with the individual entries. Reproducing all the plans at the same scale may limit the amount of perceivable detail, but it allows a ready reference to the relative sizes and configurations of the various structures. Windows drawn without shadows lie more than eight feet above floor level.

A word of warning: these plans must be taken in almost all instances as "conjectural." In some cases, such as San Francisco at Ranchos de Taos and Laguna, the plans derive from Historical American Buildings Survey (HABS) drawings and can be considered relatively accurate, although the basic data upon which they are based may date as far back as fifty years. Where possible, data from field observations have been used to bring these drawings up to date. But for other churches, such as San Felipe and Santo Domingo, where no photography or note taking is allowed, a hypothetical plan was pieced together from aerial and historical photos, verbal descriptions, and memory. The plans are meant to illustrate only relative size and rough configuration and should not be taken as truly accurate and current (1989) records of the churches.

The orthography of cities, towns, and pueblos is based on New Mexico Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary , edited by T. M. Pearce. Church names, however, retain those accents in common use.

If one begins a book in naïveté, one ends in humility. It is unavoidable, given all the points that were unconsciously overlooked and questions that remain unanswered. I hope the reader will find in these pages a comprehensive introduction to New Mexican church architecture and some answers to the questions that their very existence raises.



Preferred Citation: Treib, Marc. Sanctuaries of Spanish New Mexico. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1993 1993.