Santa Fe, NM is a remarkable place — the oldest established Capital City in all of the United States of America. With so much history, it can be easy to overlook some really phenomenal locations. This week, we highlight a location you surely wouldn’t want to miss: San Miguel Chapel. Subscribe to our blog to catch all of our posts where we look differently at the most interesting places in New Mexico!
Some History to Start Off…
San Miguel Chapel is commonly known as the oldest church in the United States of America, but many wonder just how old the famous chapel is. The earliest known documentation of the chapel’s existence dates back to 1628, lending credit to the idea that it must have been built sometime before then. Oral history dates the chapel to 1610. In 1640, the church was partially destroyed at the hands of Luis de Rojas, a provincial governor who was feuding with church authorities. The chapel was then rebuilt, but again partially destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt of of 1680. Twelve years after the revolt, Spanish forces returned to the city of Santa Fe and Governor General Don Diego de Vargas ordered the restoration of the chapel, which was completed by the end of 1710. The chapel saw another major renovation in 1798 when the governor funded necessary repairs and the construction of the beautiful altar screen in the front of the church. Around 1848, the elaborate three-tiered bell tower was added and by 1856, the 780-pound San Jose Bell was installed.
In 1872, an awful storm hit the city of Santa Fe, destroying the top two stories of the famous San Miguel bell tower. As the storm raged through the night, the bell tower was hit and the top two stories fell to the ground below with a deafening crash. The bell tower was never rebuilt to its former glory.
Today at San Miguel Chapel…
When the world isn’t engulfed in the craziness of social distancing, the San Miguel Chapel holds weekly services that are open to the public, and is open to the public for tours on a daily basis. San Miguel Chapel offers a Latin Mass at 3pm on Sundays, and an Ordinary or New (English) Mass at 5pm on Sundays. The church is open to visitors for walk-through visits from 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM Monday through Saturday, and before and between masses on Sundays. The chapel also often hosts live music events.
The wooden altar screen, or reredos, within the San Miguel Chapel is one of the oldest in New Mexico. There is an inscription on the lower left-hand side that reads, “This altar was erected through the piety of Don Jose Antonio Ortis in the year 1798.” It is said that the reredos was designed by the Laguna Santero, an anonymous but incredibly influential artist who worked in New Mexico from 1796 to 1808. The twisted “Solomonic columns” on either side are thought to be the first of their kind in New Mexico, and a common attribute of the Laguna Santero.
Preservation Efforts Today…
San Miguel Chapel is one of the best examples of preserved adobe architecture in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Saint Michael’s High School, which shares a history with the chapel having used it as their place of worship from 1859 to 1967, is the proud owner and caretaker of this magnificent piece of history. In 2008, Saint Michael’s High School began a collaborative relationship with Cornerstones Community Partnership to best serve the renovation of the chapel. With their technical and grant expertise, the chapel was able to enter into a project in 2010 to begin removing the Portland cement stucco in order to return the chapel to its former full adobe glory. Now that the chapel has returned to traditional adobe construction, the preservation effort must continue full force for the chapel to continue servicing the community for another 400 years to come.
Ways You Can Support the San Miguel Chapel During this Difficult Time
While the community works hard to maintain restoration and preservation of the chapel, those at the San Miguel Chapel also work hard every day to provide food, clothes, and shelter to those in need. Contact the San Miguel Chapel today to learn how you can provide help to this beautiful monument in this global time of crisis.
We hope that, when you can, your visit to San Miguel Chapel is filled with all the historic beauty the church has to offer. Join us next time for another look at an amazing New Mexico monument. As always, thank you for being a loyal Trails West Digest reader.
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