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Loretto Chapel Santa Fe New Mexico ~ Cristo Rey Church ~ St. Francis Cathedral ~ Historic Places to Visit

Updated on September 21, 2016

Cristo Rey Church in Santa Fe, NM

Cristo Rey Church in Santa Fe
Cristo Rey Church in Santa Fe | Source

Vacation Santa Fe New Mexico

What do you think of when you think of vacationing to Santa Fe, New Mexico? Is it the adobe construction on many of the homes and businesses? Is it the Indian and Spanish influences that have left their marks over time? Is it the terrific art galleries that seem to flourish and thrive in this high altitude sunny spot? Is it the abundance of fine dining spots? Is it the historic places to visit and the beauty of the churches both large and small such as the St. Francis Cathedral; the Loretto Chapel or the Cristo Rey Church? Or is it all of the above and more?

This posting will take you for a journey into the three churches just mentioned.

Whether you are a tourist interested in merely the history and architecture of such buildings or a visitor looking to attend a church service, you should find something of interest here.

All three of these churches certainly add to the color and ambiance of what is found in Santa Fe.

Cristo Rey church altar

Altar inside Cristo Rey Church
Altar inside Cristo Rey Church | Source

Cristo Rey Church

What makes this fairly new church (by Santa Fe standards) stand out and make it unique among any other church is that it is the largest adobe structure in all of the United States!

It is situated at the eastern end of Canyon Road, a street which is known for its numerous art galleries, restaurants and shops.

While on a tour taking us to places like Cristo Rey Church, we passed large homes that were located off of Canyon Road in the surrounding hillsides. The minimum square footage requirement was 5,000 square feet when having these residences designed and constructed. Many were much larger and obviously wealthy people live in areas like this.

Keeping with Santa Fe's architectural standards and commitment to keeping with the cultural flavor of the place, when Cristo Rey Church was designed in 1939 by architect John Gaw Meem, he did it in classic New Mexico Mission style.

Cristo Rey church interior

Inside of Cristo Rey Church
Inside of Cristo Rey Church | Source

Tinwork - Cristo Rey Church

Tinwork inside Cristo Rey Church in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Tinwork inside Cristo Rey Church in Santa Fe, New Mexico | Source

The interior of this massive adobe church is very plain. The wooden beams on the ceiling counter-balance the wooden pews on the ground and plain windows cut through the thick adobe walls shed light into the interior.

The altar piece shown above is believed to be very old and is made out of stone.

Along the walls are the typical Stations of the Cross found in most Catholic Churches, but these are special. They are framed with hand-worked tin-work which is just about a lost art.

Undoubtedly inspired by people who migrated up to these parts from Mexico, the most active period of creating pieces like these frames around the Stations of the Cross as well as other pieces like candle holders and sconces, was from 1860 to about 1890.

Rarely were the tinsmiths who created these pieces viewed as artists. It is nice to see such handcrafted pieces recognized for what they are...true pieces of art and representing an era long past when tin was used as a decoration for people's homes and other places such as now hanging in the Cristo Rey Church.

Loretto Chapel

Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe
Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe | Source

Loretto Chapel Santa Fe, New Mexico

Unlike the very simple and plainer adobe construction of the Cristo Rey Church in Santa Fe, the Loretto Chapel was built in the Gothic Revival style with pointed arches and the use of flying buttresses which are needed supports to keep tall buildings like this intact.

It was constructed in the years 1873 to 1878 and was entrusted to the Sisters of Loretto on the Old Santa Fe Trail to manage.

Antoine Mouly, a French architect, designed this building.

Stations of the Cross in Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe, NM

Stations of the Cross inside the Loretto Chapel
Stations of the Cross inside the Loretto Chapel | Source

Loretto Chapel

Each Station of the Cross was beautifully created and displayed inside of the Loretto Chapel.
Each Station of the Cross was beautifully created and displayed inside of the Loretto Chapel. | Source
Loretto Chapel Station of the Cross
Loretto Chapel Station of the Cross | Source

Stations of the Cross

Most Catholic Churches and many if not most Lutheran Churches have physical representations of the Stations of the Cross inside of their churches.

This is meant for people to meditate upon the sacrifices that Jesus made when he was convicted to a death on the cross giving up His life on earth as a "sacrificial lamb" so that the rest of us could attain heaven after our deaths.

It follows his journey of carrying the cross up to his tortured death and removal from the cross. The number of Stations of the Cross vary with some going beyond His death to His rising from the dead and ascension into heaven.

In Europe there are some large outside Stations of the Cross built, one of which I got to see in Germany when visiting a friend of mine years ago. People follow along as a pilgrimage stopping to pray at each of these stations.

The Stations of the Cross inside of the Loretto Chapel are sculptural beautiful depictions.

Loretto Chapel altar

2 photos pieced together of the altar inside of the Loretto Chapel.
2 photos pieced together of the altar inside of the Loretto Chapel. | Source

Loretto Chapel (shows interior)

If you look closely at the picture above, at the base of the altar is a Bas-Relief of Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper.

The stained glass windows inside of the Loretto Chapel were made in France in 1874 from what we learned.

Statues were made by the Daprato Statuary Company about 1915.

This Loretto Chapel no longer functions as a church but weddings can be arranged to be conducted in this beautiful space.

Loretto Chapel

Loretto Chapel
Loretto Chapel | Source

Loretto Chapel's Miracle Staircase

Loretto Chapel Staircase

There are several stories about this famous staircase inside of the Loretto Chapel.

Probably the most popular rendition goes something like this...

Construction of this chapel for the Sisters of Loretto was almost completed when it was discovered that the original plans for a staircase up to the choir loft would not fit. The nuns prayed for a solution to their problem when lo and behold a carpenter appeared out of nowhere and built this fabulous staircase using wood that was not local and no nails.

The curved staircase making two complete 360 degree turns also had no visible means of support. After completion the carpenter disappeared receiving no pay from the nuns.

They would like to think that it was St. Joseph himself who arrived (as he is the patron saint of carpenters) and who did this "miraculous" building of this staircase in answer to their prayers.

No matter who created it, it is a masterful piece of construction and draws many tourists who like to gaze upon it in wonderment.

St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe, New Mexico

St. Francis Cathedral
St. Francis Cathedral | Source

St. Francis statue at the St. Francis Cathedral

Statue of St. Francis
Statue of St. Francis | Source

St. Francis Cathedral

Named after St. Francis of Assisi, this majestic cathedral dominates the downtown horizon of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

It is an active church and the tolling church bells still call the faithful to services.

St. Francis is a highly venerated saint to people from all around the world. He gave up a life of privilege and wealth and took on vows of poverty while teaching and preaching what Jesus Christ had taught while on earth.

He started the Franciscan Order which also accepts the tenets of not amassing wealth of material things on earth.

St. Francis had a special rapport with animals and could communicate with them. A blessing of the animals takes place in many places around the world on his Feast Day of October 4th.

Prayer of St. Francis beautifully sung in 2 languages

Prayer of St. Francis

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

St. Francis Cathedral

Close-up photo of portion of the St. Francis Cathedral
Close-up photo of portion of the St. Francis Cathedral | Source

St. Francis Basilica

In 2005 on the Feast Day of St. Francis (October 4th), Pope Benedict XVI changed the status of St. Francis cathedral to basilica.

In Catholic churches, a cathedral is the home church for bishops and archbishops.

What makes a basilica special? It is deemed such due to special spiritual, historical or architectural significance. Certainly this St. Francis basilica has historical significance.

It sits atop a location of two former churches, the earliest being one dating back to 1626.

Architecturally it was built in a Romanesque Revival style starting in 1869. Local yellow limestone was utilized. While the towers were never completed as planned on top of the squared off buttresses, it is certainly a thing of beauty.

St. Francis Cathedral stained glass window


Stained glass windows

Inside of the St. Francis Basilica is a beautifully crafted round rose window that was installed in 1884.

It along with twelve large other stained glass windows depicting the 12 apostles of Christ were produced by the firm of Felix Gaudin in Clermont-Ferrand in France.

The workmanship is exquisite.

These windows are luminescent particularly when the sunlight is bright outside sending shafts of prismatic colors into the interior of the church.

Interior of St. Francis Cathedral

Interior photo of the St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe
Interior photo of the St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe | Source

Small chapel inside of St. Francis Cathedral

Smaller and older chapel inside of St. Francis Cathedral.
Smaller and older chapel inside of St. Francis Cathedral. | Source

Our Lady of the Rosary

This is a smaller chapel inside the much larger cathedral as is common with large churches and cathedrals.

The altar is made out of carved and painted wood and is reminiscent of the more simple types of altars found in many smaller places around the State of New Mexico and elsewhere.

A large crucifix of Christ on the cross adorns one of the adjacent walls inside of this chapel.

The statue that highlights this altar is called La Conquistadora.

She represents Mary, the mother of Jesus and was built out of willow wood in Spain.

She is the oldest Madonna that is present in the New World.

At one point taken from Santa Fe down to Juarez, Mexico (due to fighting and hostilities with native Indians)...she was returned back to Santa Fe by Fray Alonzo Benavidez representing the Spanish government in 1629.

Location of St. Francis Cathedral Basilica, Loretto Chapel and Cristo Rey Churches in Santa Fe, NM

show route and directions
A marker -
St Francis of Assisi Cathedral, 131 Cathedral Pl, Santa Fe, NM 87501-2026, USA
get directions

B marker -
The Loretto Chapel, 207 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA
get directions

C marker -
Cristo Rey Catholic Church, 1120 Canyon Rd, Santa Fe, NM 87501-6188, USA
get directions

Shows more interior pictures of 2 of the 3 churches shown in this hub, plus the "oldest church" featured in another hub + street scenery in Santa Fe.

Do you like visiting churches and cathedrals when vacationing?

See results

Travel to Santa Fe

Spanish influences and Catholicism customs meshed together with the Native Indians (many of whom converted to Catholicism) have had strong influences in the culture found in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

If your travel plans have you headed to Santa Fe, be sure and include visiting some of these sites like the Cristo Rey Church; St. Francis Cathedral and the Loretto Chapel to get a sense of the overall picture making up what Santa Fe has become today. If you enjoyed this look at this aspect of the Santa Fe culture, please leave a comment below. Thanks!

Did you enjoy this hub? If so, please take time to give it a star rating. Thank you!!!

5 out of 5 stars from 4 ratings of Historic churches in Santa Fe, NM

© 2011 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcome. Thanks!

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    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi VJGSA,

      Did you notice that the highlighted Loretto Chapel Staircase leads to your wonderful hub? Nice that you have gotten to enjoy this city over and over again particularly during an art festival. No, I have not been to Chimayo. Is it something that could write about in a hub?

    • VJGSA profile image

      VJG 2 years ago from Texas

      How could I have missed this Hub on my last visit. I guess I didn't scroll down far enough. My wife, son and I started visiting Santa Fe for a week in a July (in conjunction with the International Art Festival) about 9 years ago. And on each visit we stop by the Cathedral and the Loretto - we never get tired of basking in its history. Great Hub! Have you been to Chimayo?

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Au fait,

      I agree! If at all possible and if time allows, these churches are well worth visiting. That staircase in the Loretto Chapel is amazing! Thanks for the votes and shares.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 3 years ago from North Texas

      I have been to this chapel and the staircase is nothing short of amazing! A really beautiful chapel that anyone going near Santa Fe should be sure to visit. Excellent article packed with great information as always, and also as usual, superb photos.

      Voted up, BAUI, pinned to my 'Travel' board, and sharing.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello rajan jolly,

      I also like that prayer of St. Francis. I am happy to hear that you enjoyed seeing these historic churches in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Thanks for your comment, votes and the share.

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