The City of Holy Faith: Santa Fe

The Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, to the east of the Palace of the Governors, offers the National Collection of Contemporary Indian Art and a spectacular sculpture garden.

A block east of Santa Fe Plaza is St. Francis Cathedral, named for Santa Fe’s patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two blocks south of the plaza is the San Miguel Mission Church. One of the oldest churches in America, this buttressed adobe building is a favorite with photographers who can snap away both indoors and out.

A block east of Santa Fe Plaza is St. Francis Cathedral, named for Santa Fe’s patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi.

The cathedral was built in French Renaissance style and was the design and dream of Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy. Built between 1869 and 1886, this structure replaced an older adobe church built after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. In the small chapel to the left of the Cathedral altar is a very beautiful willow sculpture of the Madonna called La Conquistadora. She is the oldest religious statue in the United States and is an enduring treasure and symbol of the Spanish heritage of Santa Fe. La Conquistadora has a wardrobe of over 160 garments, some of which were gifts from Indian Pueblos, the Pope, and the King of Spain.

Continuing past the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assis to the south, and behind La Fonda on the Plaza, is a small one-way street, Water Street. Go west one block to the intersection of Water and Old Santa Fe Trail. There stands a small chapel also built under the auspices of Archbishop Lamy.

The Loretto Chapel with its Miraculous Staircase. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is a copy of his original parish church in Paris, La Sainte Chapelle. This Neo-Gothic chapel was built for the students of the Loretto Academy which was the first girls’ parochial school in Santa Fe.

When the Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878, its quarried stone facade and elegant stained glass stood out from the adobe churches common in this frontier town.

What draws the visitor is the spiral staircase inside that leads to the choir loft. The chapel’s small sized made access to the loft possible only by ladder.

When none of the local carpenters could build a staircase that wouldn’t encroach on the limited floor space, the Sisters prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.

Soon a mysterious stranger arrived, looking for work, and built an elegant spiral staircase. Without presenting any bill for payment, he disappeared as suddenly as he had come. The staircase—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase. The identity of the builder remains unknown.

In between and around these destinations near the plaza are shops with merchandise in all price ranges; art galleries showcasing art from around the world; and restaurants whose menus reflect the many cultures represented here.

Continuing south on Old Santa Fe Trail there is a simple but beautiful adobe church, the San Miguel Mission. It is the oldest church in the United States, built between 1610 and 1626. The church was built for the Indian slaves that the Spanish had brought with them. from Mexico. This part of town is called the Barrio de Analco, a charming area to explore, and is now home to many interesting galleries, restaurants, and shops dealing in Indian arts.

The staircase—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parking that can accommodate vehicles of all sizes is available in city lot 9 at Alameda, west of Paseo de Peralta. The parking lot is only two short blocks from the Santa Fe Plaza.

A visit to Santa Fe is not complete without a trip along Canyon Road. The narrowness of this road is a reminder of its past, for at one time it was a principal route from the Rio Grande to the Pecos area. The buildings are full of galleries featuring a variety of fine art. The galleries, along with the many others in Santa Fe, have made the city the second largest art market in the U.S.

Do not attempt to drive a recreational vehicle down Canyon Road, as it is far too narrow.

If you are traveling to Santa Fe from the south via Interstate 25, you can stop at the La Bajada State Visitor Information Center, 17 miles south of town, for maps, directions, and brochures. Similar information is available from the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Note: This is the third of a four-part series on Santa Fe, New Mexico

Part 1: The City Different: Santa Fe, NM

Part 2: Historically Significant Santa Fe 

Final article in the series: Historic Walks of Santa Fe

Worth Pondering…
Whoever designed the streets in Santa Fe must have been drunk, and riding backwards on a mule.

—Will Rogers

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