FA I T H
ancient and modern churches reflect enduring faith By Rick Hendricks
San Gerónimo de Taos. Photo by Rick Romancito.
No public spaces in Northern New Mexico are more reflective of local customs, the skills of homegrown artisans and particular traditions than are churches. In our ongoing look at various means and methods of religious faith in the area, in this issue we visit three iconic churches: San Gerónimo of Taos Pueblo, San Francisco de Asis in Ranchos de Taos and San Cristobal del Rey in Santa Fe.
SAN GERÓNIMO DE TAOS Taos Pueblo was the site of the northernmost Franciscan mission in the Spanish colonial period. 58
L AN D WAT E R P EOP LE T IME
The original 17th-century San Gerónimo Church did not survive the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. The replacement, begun around 1706, was destroyed by the U.S. military in 1847. A third church stands here today, offering testimony in muted tones to the endurance of a people’s faith. San Gerónimo de Taos sits just off the pueblo’s plaza, adjacent to the iconic, multistoried north house block. The diminutive single-nave church has two large buttresses in the back. Today it is painted white and the color of earth, although over the years it has worn other color schemes. The front of the structure features a surrounding retaining wall enclosing a tiny flagstone-paved camposanto
(cemetary), which visitors enter through a portal of stair-step design. On a recent visit, I went in the church and found myself quite alone, the perfect occasion for a moment’s contemplation of the confluence of cultures that was immediately apparent. Rather than wearing the traditional Eastertide liturgical colors, the Virgin Mary, who dominates the altar, was attired in delicate pink, because Taos faithful dress her according to the seasons: pink for spring, green for summer, yellow/ gold for fall and white for winter. However, the colors have changed over the years, varying according to the wishes of the priest and the women who care for the church’s holy figures.
The church was completed about 1850, with its facade undergoing alteration several times since. In the late 19th century, the church looked like a typical Northern New Mexico village church. Photographs from the turn of the 20th century indicate that it had a single wooden bell tower. By the late 1920s or early 1930s, the church had a single bell tower of stepped adobe. In the 1950s the facade gained an exterior balcony, and two large bell towers at the corners of the façade, with a stepped wall between them, replaced the single central bell tower. A Franciscan priest, Fray Andrés García — who was also a talented santero (a maker of carved and