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San Francisco de Asís offers spiritual lift

San Francisco de Asís offers spiritual lift
HARRY & LINDA KAYE PEREZ The beauty of the massive adobe walls and buttresses of San Francisco de Asís Mission Church near Taos, N.M., has inspired artists and photographers, such as Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams.

Whenever we travel, we try to find a unique church to attend, and we have found some unusual ones in places and languages we didn’t expect. We once came upon a tiny church in the middle of nowhere, while on a camping trip. On the unlocked door was a sign that read, “Sunday Mass at 11:00 a.m.” We went inside, took a seat on one of the four pews, and waited. Shortly before 11 a.m., a priest appeared at the door with a suitcase in hand. He proceeded to set up the altar and offered Mass for us and our children. What an experience.

Similarly, we recently stumbled onto the San Francisco de As’s Mission Church in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M. It is said this church is one of the most photographed in New Mexico, and rightfully so. This massive adobe structure, built between 1772 and 1816, is located in a small village just south of Taos on S.H. 68. The Spanish Colonial design includes arched entrances, beautiful courtyards, and two bell towers. In 1970 this church, which is still an active parish, was declared a National Historic Landmark and also a World Heritage Church.

A labor of love

The beauty and history of this place can only be rivaled by the dedication of both parishioners and total strangers who come together during the first two weeks of June each year to “re-mud” a new layer of adobe on the outer walls, including the courtyard enclosures. Without this painstaking process, the adobe will deteriorate, eventually dissolve, and be washed away by the elements.

The same process has been used for centuries. Clay, sand, straw, and water are hand-mixed in small batches and a new layer of adobe is applied on the outside surfaces. A fine mixture of water and sand is then applied and buffed with a sheepskin to a smooth and brilliant finish.

We felt very fortunate to witness this firsthand and speak with many of the volunteers. One woman we spoke with has been doing this every year since she was a child; another was not a parishioner nor even a resident of the area, but had happened onto the process, as we had, and then returned year after year to be a part of this beautiful tradition.

Taken aback

Many people stop as they are driving along Highway 68 and snap a quick picture, then continue on their way. It appears they did not realize that they were only looking at the back of the church; the front faces the old road to Taos, part of the Old Santa Fe Trail. It is necessary to park and walk along the side to get a good look at the magnificent front and courtyard.

Artist Georgia O’Keefe, who created four paintings of this mission, remarked that it was “one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards.”

Photographer Ansel Adams, who compiled a book of photographs titled Taos Pueblo in 1930, used his photograph of San Francisco de As’s Mission Church as his signature image. Captivated by its massive adobe walls and buttresses that create contrast between sunlight and shadows, he once said, “They seem an outcropping of the earth rather than merely an object constructed upon it.”

San Francisco de As’s Mission Church continues to be a source of inspiration not only for parishioners, artists, and photographers, but also for those of us who can just stand and look and absorb its beauty.

Harry and Linda Kaye Perez are freelance writers from just down the road from Floresville. Together they share a passion for traveling and writing, and discovering the very best in all corners of the world. Email them at Harry-Linda411@att.net.

Find out more

San Francisco de Asis Mission Church

60 St Francis Plaza, Ranchos de Taos, N.M ., 575-751-0518

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