The Churches of Taos

Hi everyone,

Welcome back to Traveling With Tom. Earlier this week, I was scrolling through Facebook when a post from Visit Taos popped up on my feed. This became the inspiration for my article this week. I revisited the images from my week-long visit to Taos in mid-April 2018 and noted how many photos were of churches. Some of those churches were small, some big, some active, some abandoned, and some now museums. I invite you along to take a reminiscence tour of the churches of Taos.

Taos is located in north-central New Mexico, just south of the border with Colorado. It’s in the high desert area surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This area has been populated for over a thousand years. The Taos Pueblo built in the 1000’s by a tribe of Native Americans, is considered one of the oldest continually inhabited communities in the United States. The Spanish colonized the area in the early 1600’s and was under the control of Mexico until the mid-1800’s when New Mexico became a territory of the United States and a state in 1912.

Around 1900 Taos became a mecca for artists, many who came to paint the colorful vistas and the Spanish architecture. Later on photographers, such as Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, and Ned Scott, showed up to photograph the same scenes. That’s why I was there! I met up with my friends from our photo workshop together on Madeline Island a few years prior. We engaged a local photographer, Geraint Smith, to lead the workshop and tour of sites around Taos. During our time with him, we stopped at a lot of churches. I stayed an extra day and revisited some of those churches for more photos.

After landing in Albuquerque and renting a car, I drove the backroads on the fifty-mile Turquoise Trail to Santa Fe. As I passed through the small village of Golden, I spotted the church in this photo up on a little hill off the road. I quickly turned into the small parking area for a look around at the San Francisco de Asis Catholic Church. On either side of the gravel path leading up to the pueblo church, was a small cemetery. This still active parish is well kept and in excellent shape. The doors to the sanctuary were locked so I respectfully took photos and went on my way.

Just up the road, I saw this church that I discovered was closed surrounded by a tall fence topped with barbed wire and a locked gate. I guess the owners didn’t want anyone messing with this closed church.

After spending a pleasant evening in Santa Fe at a motel along Route 66, the next morning I made my way to the historic downtown for a look around. San Miguel Mission  is often referred to the oldest church in the US. Sunday services are held weekly in this church.

This stairway is featured in the Lorreto Chapel, once an active church, now a museum. This spiral staircase, made without a center support, is one of the dominant features and the source of a legend. The Sisters of Lorreto had this chapel built as part of their girls school. When nearly complete, the architect died suddenly, without plans for a stairway to the choir loft. Without a satisfactory solution, the nuns prayed to St. Joseph for help and inspiration. On the eighth day, a carpenter appeared and offered to build the staircase. When completed after a period of a few months, he disappeared without being paid. His identity is not known. The Sisters believed this to be a miracle and just maybe St. Joseph himself did the work! The story spread making this chapel one of Santa Fe’s oft visited sites. Quite a story, quite a place!

Near the main square in central Santa Fe stands the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. The doors were open to visitors to view the beautiful interior and elaborate alter screen. In the center is a statute of St. Francis of Assisi surrounded by paintings of saints from the Western Hemisphere. 

By mid-afternoon, I was ready to transverse the High Road to Taos. One of the sites along this road is the El Santuario de Chimayo. This shrine is one of the favorite Catholic pilgrimage centers in the United States and is a National Historic Landmark. Many pilgrims visit seeking cures from the “holy dirt” or clay. Or they arrive to receive a blessing or fulfill a vow. Before the pandemic, Chimayo received over 300,000 visitors per year. The grounds are quite interesting, it’s certainly worth the visit even if one doesn’t need a cure or fulfill a vow.

Up the road in the village of Truchas is the Nuestra Señora del Rosario Church. This historic church is restored but was not open to visitors the day I passed by.

Another National Historic Landmark is the San Jose de Garcia Church in Las Trampas. It’s considered an excellent example of adobe architecture of the Spanish Colonial period. When driving the High Road to Taos, it’s located right beside the road so can’t be missed. I stopped there twice, on my way to and from Taos. Both times there were photographers shooting photos of this picturesque church.

Just south of Taos is this small church in the hamlet of Talpa. I won’t forget this stop as a bunch of loose not so friendly dogs came to check out what I was doing. Pretty soon their owner showed up, either drunk or a little off, I couldn’t tell. I quickly took some photos and moved on. How many crosses do you see in this photo? Answer at the end of this post.

This church, located in Ranchos des Taos, was the subject of several paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe and photographs by Ansel Adams. San Francisco de Asis Mission is considered one of the most photographed and painted churches in the world. That statement might be a stretch but I appreciate and endorse it’s appeal. While in Taos, I stopped by there four times for photos. Even had a chance to chat with the priest as he watered the plants in the church yard.

One of my favorite photos stops during our workshop was at this church out in the middle of nowhere, the San Rafael Mission near Rainsville. It also is often the subject of photographers. I was looking for a different angle so got down low to include the short grass in the foreground. The third photo was taken from the cemetery across the road. Fortunately, it was cool and April because there was a sign at the entrance to watch for rattlesnakes!

Don’t know the name of this church, it’s out in the middle of a field north of Taos. The doors were open with a clear plexiglass wall to allow viewers to see the sanctuary but not enter the church. 

The two photos below are of the La Morada de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe aka Penitente Morada or Taos Morada. The Penitente’s are a confraternity of lay Catholic men common in parts of New Mexico and Colorado. Sometimes called a secret society due to it’s history of self flagellation especially during lent. These practices caused bishops to attempt suppression of their gatherings as the church began it’s campaign for modernization in the 1800’s. During our photo shoot, a guy came by and yelled at us to quit taking photos. There was a huge No Trespassing sign that we honored but we told him were standing on a public road. After he vented at us and took off, we continued photographing. 

After the workshop ended, I headed back to Albuquerque by way of the back roads. On the drive, I came across this church (Scared Heart Catholic Church) near Pojoaque with a most unusual cloud formation in the sky. After stopping to make some photos, I saw a plein air painter creating a painting of this scene. I asked her if I could take her photo making the painting. She agreed and I chatted with her a bit. I was about ready to leave when this inebriated guy came stumbling by. He was pretty aggressive so I stayed with her until he got tired of us ignoring him and moved on. The top photo is my favorite of the whole trip.  

Thanks for coming along this brief tour of the churches of central New Mexico and Taos.

Until next week, happy virtual travels!



PS: The answer is 10!

6 thoughts on “The Churches of Taos

  1. Very nice. Sounds like you also ran into some interesting people! I’ve always wanted to visit Taos. We’ve visited friends in Albuquerque and Los Alamos and toured Santa Fe, but never got to Taos. If I ever make it I can use this to help me find some interesting churches!

    1. Thanks for checking in. The area is awesome, stay off the main highways and don’t be afraid to take the backroads, that’s where the good photo ops are found.

  2. What a great workshop Tom. Do you live in the area now? Mary and I will be meandering our way from Texas to Sedona in January and trying to decide whether to pass through Santa Fe and environs, go South to White Sands or continue West to the Grand Canyon or Joshua Tree. Your images are great and I imagine you are putting a book together if you haven’t already. Take care and good shooting.

    1. Thanks Chris. No, I’m here in Madison waiting for the all clear to get back on the road. I long to spend more time in NM to see more of the sites especially the back roads.

  3. I recognize some of these churches but you did a great job of getting more of them. That one with the magnificent cloud has a mystical feel to it. That was such a fun trip and I can’t wait for our next group adventure!

    1. Thanks Paul. Yes, there seemed to be a lot of churches in my archives, especially old ones. I’m anxious to do more traveling and photography.

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