Date of visit:
March 5, 2009
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High Road to Taos
San Francisco de Asis Church is a small mission in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico. Construction on the church began around 1772 and was completed in 1815 by Franciscan Fathers and its patron is Saint Francis of Assisi. It is made of adobe, as are many of the Spanish missions in New Mexico.
It a few miles south of Taos Pueblo and has inspired the greatest number of depictions of any building in the United States. It was the subject of paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe, and photographs by Ansel Adams. Georgia O'Keeffe described it as, "one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards."
St. Francis de Asis, 1934
|Site Gallery - St. Francis de Asis Church
(Bernardo de la Encarnacion Abeyta found the crucifix of Our Lord of Esquipulas and built El Santuario de Chimayo)
If something unites me still to this world, it is the Shrine of the Lord of Esquipulas in Chimayo. Thus is called this church of mud and straw.
Many pages have been written about the shrine, but nobody is able to say exactly how the Christ of Esquipulas came to Chimayo. Nobody knows, that is, except me. My name is Don Bernardo de la Encarnacion Abeyta. I am not a historian, but I was present when the relevant events occurred.
I remember perfectly that certain night in Lent, 1810. I was meeting with my confraternity brothers in the Society of Our Father Jesus of Nazareth to do penance for the sins that nailed our Lord to the Cross. We were on the hill called El Calvario, very near to the place called El Potrero (Pasture). From the top of El Calvario one could see the valley of Chimayo, but that night there were neither moon nor stars. It was completely dark and very cold. Some brother penitents prefer to do penance on cold, dark nights because there is no way to escape suffering for our sins, but, for me, the cold has always heightened my imagination.
We were doing penance at the top of the Calvario when I saw a light at the bottom of the valley. At first I thought it was a reflection of the moon over the Santa Cruz River. I looked up, but there was no sky, no moon, and no stars where they should have been. Then I looked down and I saw the light again. "The world is backwards!" I said in a loud voice. "The light is supposed to come from the sky, but instead it is coming from deep in the earth." "What light, brother Bernardo? It's a dark night," said the others. "Don't you see that light that comes from deep in the valley?" I said. "No," they answered me. The light flashed in the darkness, but my fraternity brothers didn't see it, despite my efforts to direct their sight deeper into the valley.
We descended from the Calvario practically blind, holding into the shoulders of the brothers next to us is line. Fearing that the light would disappear, I walked with my sight fixed on the depth and darkness of the valley. If I didn't roll down the hill it was because two brothers were to me like those who guide the blind so I wouldn't stumble.
"Where is the light, Brother Bernardo?" some were asking when we arrived on flat ground. "Still you don't see it, you unbelievers?" I replied. However, I had lost sight of the light, and my fears had become reality. I thought, "Now they will take me for crazy." I continued walking in the darkness without direction, praying that the miracle would be produced again. "If we continue in this direction, we will have to cross the Santa Cruz River," I heard a brother say. "No," I said, "Our ancestors already crossed the river; it won't be necessary for us." To tell the truth, I don't know how I was so sure. The light had disappeared for quite some time, and the fear of darkness had been converted into a cross that was much heavier than the penances we had been practicing on the Calvario earlier on that most memorable night.
At that moment, my feet got tangled up with something. In the blink of an eye, my legs were wrapped up before my head understood what was happening. For that reason, I fell to my knees, like a penitent. To my consolation, my brothers, seeing me in this posture, and thinking that I was praying, fell to their knees as well. They knelt and waited. It was in this way that we found the carving of our Lord Jesus Christ. Still we had not seen the Lord, but he was right in front of us. Just like the light, He also shot up out of the darkness of the earth. My hands scraped against it. The sand was not very compact there. In a matter of seconds, a dozen hands were scraping around the holy wood. That is how our Lord appeared to us: still nailed on the cross.
Don Bernardo de la Encarnacion Abeyta
The Steps of history ... El Santuario de Chimayo was built between 1813 and 1816. The crucifix of Our Lord of Esquipulas was found in 1810. Don Bernardo Abeyta built a small shelter next to his home, at his own expense, in which to house the crucifix.
This information is from the letter of Fray Sebastian Alvarez, pastor of the parish of Santa Cruz, to the Vicar General of the Diocese of Durango, Mexico: "I inform you that the miraculous image of Our Lord of Esquipulas has been venerated for three years in the chapel that the devout petitioner built next to his own home."
There is no written testimony concerning an apparition of Our Lord in the Chimayo area. What we have is tradition passed from one generation to another by the people of El Potrero. Here are two such accounts, each "true" depending on the story teller.
One tradition recalls that during Holy Week on the night of Good Friday in 1810, Don Bernardo Abeyta, who was a member in good standing of the Hermandad de Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno (Penitentes), was performing the customary penances of the Brotherhood around the hills of El Potrero. Suddenly, he saw a light springing from one of the slopes of the hills near the Santa Cruz river. Don Bernardo went to the spot and noticed that the shining light was coming from the ground. He started to dig with his bare hands and there he found a crucifix. He left it there and called the neighbors to come and venerate the precious finding. A group of men was sent to Santa Cruz to notify the priest, Father Sebastian Alvarez.
After hearing the news, the priest and the people set out for Chimayo. When they arrived at the place where the crucifix was, Father Sebastian picked it up and carried it in a joyful procession back to the parish church. Once in the church, the Crucifix was placed in the niche of the main altar.
The next morning, the Crucifix was gone, only to be found in its original location.
A second procession was organized and the Crucifix was returned to Santa Cruz, but once again it disappeared. The same thing happened a third time. By then, everybody understood that El Senor de Esquipulas wanted to remain in Chimayo, and so, a small chapel was built. This chapel is probably the one referred to by Fr. Sebastian Alvarez, which contains the hole with dirt, called the well.
There is another tradition concerning the origin of the Esquipulas devotion. Documents in the archives of Durango, Mexico, state that a Guatemalan priest came with the first settlers to Chimayo. He preached to the Indians in surroundings pueblos and carried with him a rather large crucifix. He was eventually killed by the Indians and the settlers buried him at El Potrero.
In 1810, the Santa Cruz river flooded and both the crucifix and the body of the martyred priest were uncovered by the water. Some older people who had known the priest while alive shouted: "Look the Father from Esquipulas," and so the crucifix came to be called, Our Lord of Esquipulas, named after the village where the priest came from. This same spot where the Crucifix and the body of the priest were found was considered a sacred place by the Tewa indians long before the Guatemalans and the Spaniards came to Chimayo.
The devotion to the Christ of Esquipulas grew in popularity. Three years after finding the crucifix, Don Bernardo Abeyta wrote a letter to Father Sebastian Alvarez, dated November 15, 1813, and asking permission to build a church to the Christ of Esquipulas. The letter said this was the desire of the families of Potrero.
The following day, Father. Sebastian wrote a4etter to the Vicar General in Durango, Mexico, Father Francisco Fernandez Valentin, endorsing the petition made by Don Bernardo Abeyta. Fr. Sebastian was convinced that the new church would facilitate the fulfillment of the Sunday obligation by the families of the Chimayo valley. A second recommendation was made by Manuel Garcia, the mayor of Santa Cruz, dated November 19, 1813. Also, Father Antonio Cavallero, Custodian of the Missions of New Mexico, gave his approval in writing on November 21, 1813. All these documents were forwarded to Durango, Mexico, and on February 8, 1814, Father Francisco Fernandez Valentin, Vicar General of the Diocese, granted permission for the construction of the church, known as El Santuario de Chimayo.
Don Bernardo Abeyta died in 1856, and the maintenance of El Santuario passed to his daughter Carmen. In 1915, the new owner was Carmen"s daughter, Maria de los Angeles. In the decade of the 1920"s, the number of families living in rural areas decreased considerably. The big city appeared to offer more employment and security than the farms and agriculture. Private chapels fell into disrepair and objects of value were sold.
John Gaw Meem and the Society
for the Preservation and Restoration
of New Mexico Mission Churches
Episcopalian architect and preservationist, John Gaw Meem after some time became aware of the many problems confronting some of the historical places of worship in the diocese of Santa Fe. He proposed to his fellow members of the Society for the Preservation and Restoration of New Mexico Mission Churches the acquisition of the Santuario de Chimayo on behalf of the Catholic Church.
The new property title was dated October 15, 1929, and was consigned to Albert Thomas Daeger, Archbishop of Santa Fe. The sellers were Jose Chavez and Dorotea M. de Chavez, his wife. Mrs. Chavez signed by mark, with John Gaw Meem and Paul A. F. Walter witnessing her signature. Victor Ortega and Marcos Chavez signed as witnesses to the transfer. The deed was turned it over to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe a few days later during a ceremony hosted in the Archbishop's gardens. El Santuario de Chimayo was assigned to Santa Cruz Parish, whose pastor at that time was Father Salvador Gene, S.F. El Santuario became one of its missions, within a very extended parish, whose boundaries included: Los Alamos, San Ildefonso, Nambe, Pojoaque, Espanola, Chimayo, Truchas, Cordova, Ojo Sarco, Las Trampas.
Casimiro Roca, S.F.,
A Little Priest for a Little Church
The ensuing years were not kind to El Santuario. No one in the village felt responsible for keeping up the chapel. The previous owners continued welcoming visitors, but Mass was celebrated only once a month. The church deteriorated to such an extend that religious services had to be celebrated in the chapel of Santo Nino, built in 1834 by the Medina family.
When Father Casimiro Roca arrived at Santa Cruz Parish in 1952, he was assigned to take care of the Eastern missions of this extended parish: Chimayo, Rio Chiquito, Cundiyo, Cordova, Truchas, Ojo Sarco, Las Trampas, El Valle. Father Roca persuaded two parishioners from Santa Cruz that their faith could move mountains, and they helped to carry out his plan for saving El Santuario from the undercutting by river flooding that endangered it by building a supporting terrace of earth and repairing roof and walls. In his Album of Memories, A long Trip for Two Short Legs, Father Casimiro Roca states:
"When I first arrived, I found the structure of the church in danger of crumbling into ruins. The various floods over the years had worn away the protective wall behind the church. There were cracks forming on the lateral wall and the posterior wall was in danger of falling over, threatening the precious center retablo. Leaks were weakening the foundation. Our biggest worry was with the back part of the church. We had to reinforce the foundation blocks with a firm wall of stone and concrete, and refill a large cavity left by water erosion. We would need tons of soil to get it done. Many times I thought of the passage of the Gospel: "Faith moves mountains."
Behind the populated area of Potrero, there was a small hill where the highway that connects to Pojoaque and Nambe runs today. The idea occurred to me that we could use that mound of earth to solve the problem of the erosion of soil that was endangering the Santuario. Two contractors in Espahola, Norberto Atencio and Dan Quintana, had access to heavy machinery. I bumped into them one day and almost without greeting them, I blurted out to them quite bluntly:
"Do you have faith"?
They laughed. I repeated that I was only interested to know if they had the faith of that Gospel passage. They appeared all the more confused. I invited them to take a ride with me in my car so that I could show them something. We headed towards the Santuario.
"You will demonstrate your faith if you move this mountain from here to behind the Santuario!"
They were almost rolling over with laughter at the suggestion. Some time passed, and I had almost forgotten about the matter. Then one day, I saw a large caravan of vehicles approach with heavy machinery. Everyone looked on with their jaws hanging low at what eventually resulted. In only a few days they moved close to 150,000 tons of earth. I realized that there was a serious problem with the project, of course, that remained unmentioned during the work. The concern must have shown through the expression on my face. With a frank chuckle, the men told me that they were expecting that I would be worried. I asked how they had figured me out and they responded reassuringly:
"We know you don't have a red cent on you. But, we didn't do it for you. We did it for the Lord!"
They didn't want to charge anything for the work. The spirit of generosity had fallen upon their hearts like the blessed rain in May. One of them, continuing to joke, added:
"You know what, Padre? I bet that wine you use for Mass is a tasty vintage!"
NOTE: For more information on Santuario de Nuestra Senor de Esquipulas in Guatemala, visit our page that describes our visitation in 2006 ...
Esquipulas, Guatemala 2006
Saint makers carve or paint religious images in the form of pictures, altar screens or statues, based on Catholic faith and traditions. Their art also expresses the aesthetics, usually innocent and emotional, of the artist.
Some saint makers use only natural pigments and traditional tools and techniques from the Spanish colonial period. Culture and art are fused in their work, so that prayer, the saints, and the artistic legacy of the northern New Mexico adobe churches inspire their art.
Even though the saint maker finds beauty in his images, his primary objective is to offer a symbol for the prayer, contemplation and meditation of the believer.
"I want that the spirit of the image be reflected in my work, therefore to create a saint is a spiritual process that ought to be done with dignity and reverence," says Felix Lopez, a saint maker. "To carve or to paint a saint produces a perception that seems like meditation. The carving is a kind of prayer," says Luisito Lujan, another saint maker.
Generations of saint makers have grown up in homes where the creative activity forms part of the daily life. The children learn from helping their parents. "I was a teacher in the public schools," says Felix Lopez. "I know that children learn very rapidly in the early years. After I dedicated myself to make saints, I realized that art is an especially beautiful path toward the development of children. We want our sons and daughters always to learn and respect who they are, where they come from, and what they can do."
|Reredo entering the chapel - 2nd to the right.
|Reredo entering the chapel - 1st to the right.
El Santuario has been called the "Lourdes of America." The reference is, undoubtedly, to the healings which have been attributed to the dirt in which was found the crucifix of Our Lord of Esquipulas. Fr. Sebastian Alvarez, in his letter to the Episcopal See of Durango (1813), left no doubt that he considered it a place of healing.
El Santuario has been a place of encounter with God from the very beginning: a place to pray, to thank, to ask, to meditate and to experience peace of mind as well as of body.
In time, the mass media paid attention to the little shrine in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Newspapers from Chicago, Denver, New York, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles; National Geographic, Time and Newsweek magazines have taken it upon themselves to inform the public about the Shrine and several television news organizations have done features.
Miracles? It all depends on how you understand a "miracle." For some a miracle is something supernatural, something above nature. Others demand something less, and for them anything out of the ordinary is a miracle. As far as extraordinary happening at El Santuario, officially, the Church has never investigated any of the claims.
Many written testimonies of favors granted have been received at the Shrine. Here are some examples:
Ida P. from Chicago writes: "He had to have six more radium treatments. She rubbed it on his neck Sunday, and on Monday they examined his throat and found nothing there. In six months they will know for sure if it has come back. With all our hearts, we know it was the healing dirt."
Sylvia H., also from Chicago says: "I'd requested holy dirt for a friend who was dying of cancer. Father, I'd like you meet my friend, a young girl. She's better, she didn't need any other surgery after using the holy dirt."
W.K., from California writes: "... it didn't cure me, but then it's God's will. Peace of mind is some-times better."
What is the "holy dirt"? Where does it come from? There are legends about how the dirt in the little well replaces itself in some extraordinary way. This is not true. This dirt is brought from the surrounding hillside and every time the little well is filled by the custodian, it is blessed by the priest. In itself, the dirt does not have any curative powers.
Knowing this, some may still wonder why people come. If faith is the sole requirement, people do not need to come to El Santuario. God is in every place. The thing to consider is that people come to El Santuario not only when they want something, but also to pray, in thanksgiving, and to wor-ship God. Something about this place helps people experience their God, and that has been true since the days when only Native Americans lived here.
|Site Gallery - El Santuario de Chimayo
The devotion to El Santo Niņo de Atocha originated in Spain. During. medieval times, the Moors held large areas, and battles between the Christians and Moors were commonplace. The Moors invaded the town of Atocha. The victorious Moors held many Christians captive, and prevented the adult villagers from visiting and from bringing the prisoners food or water. Fearing for the lives of the prisoners, their families stormed heaven with prayers for relief. One day, a child appeared, dressed as a pilgrim of that period, carrying a basket of food and a gourd of water. The Moors allowed the child to bring food and water each day. The prisoners were fed, but the basket and gourd remained full. The child was not known to the Christians nor to the Moors, so the people concluded that the child Jesus disguised as a pilgrim had come to their rescue.
El Santo Niņo de Atocha is the patron saint of those unjustly imprisoned. He also protects travelers and rescues people in danger.
El Santo Niņo in Art Work
In artwork, the Holy Child often wears a brimmed hat with a plume and a cloak or cape ornate with the St. James shell. (During the Crusades, scallop shells were the symbol of holy pilgrimages and one European variety is still referred to as "the pilgrim" or "St. James" shell.") In his left hand, He carries a pilgrim's staff to which the gourd of water is fastened, a pair of shackles, and a few spears of wheat. In his right hand, He holds a basket which generally contains bread or flowers. He either wears sandals or is barefoot.
The Child is said to roam the hills and valleys, particularly at night, bringing aid and comfort to the needy, and thereby wearing out his shoes. He is usually shown seated.
El Santuario de Chimayo
Many villagers believed that the Santo Nino image was found in the hole where the sacred earth is found. A story was told about a man, along with his young daughter, plowing his fields with oxen. She heard church bells ringing in the ground and begged her father to dig them out. He discovered the bells and a wooden statue of Santo Nino de Atocha. Many miraculous cures have been attributed to the Santo Nino.
Pilgrims frequently bring little pairs " of baby shoes to place at the feet of Santo Nino as offerings to replace those he has worn out during his nightly travels. Local villagers sometimes call him Santo Nino Perdido because he is believed to be absent from the church at night.
Chapel of Santo Niņo de Atocha
This private chapel was built by Severiano Medina, a near neighbor of Bernardo Abeyta, who built the Santuario.
Around 1856, Severiano Medina became very ill. Severiano promised that if he recovered, he would make a pilgrimage to the shrine of El Santo Niņo in Plateros, Fresnillo, in Mexico. He recovered and kept his promise. Upon his return to his home in February of 1857, he asked for and obtained permission to build a private chapel in honor of El Santo Niņo.
The bell tower, with its three crosses, was added later by Ramon Medina and stands at the corner of the adobe wall which encloses the family cemetery. The chapel was used for family events and it remained in the Medina family until 1992, when it was purchased by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
|PRAYER TO THE MIRACULOUS
CHILD OF ATOCHA
FEARLESS CHILD OF ATOCHA,
PROTECTOR OF THE IMPRISONED
AND OF INVALIDS,
DIVINE DOCTOR OF ANY ILLNESS,
I PRAISE YOU ON THIS DAY
AND I OFFER YOU THESE
THREE OUR FATHERS
AND HAIL MARYS,WITH A
GLORY BE TO THE FATHER
IN MEMORY OF THE JOURNEY
THAT YOU MADE INCARNATED
IN THE MOST PURE WOMB
OF YOUR MOST BELOVED
FOR THE PETITIONS
THAT I MAKE TODAY,
I ASK YOU TO GRANT MY REQUEST
FOR WHICH I SUBMIT
DIVINE CHILD OF ATOCHA.
I KNOW THAT I WILL NOT BE
DISAPPOINTED BY YOU
AND I WILL OBTAIN
WHAT IS THE BEST FOR ME
TO THE GLORY OF GOD,
|Site Gallery - El Santo Nino de Atocha