Welcome to the San Miguel Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. San Miguel Chapel is known in Santa Fe simply as “The Oldest Church”, and it is referenced in Wikipedia as the oldest church in the continental United States.
San Miguel Chapel is the key site to the Barrio de Analco Historic District. Oral history holds that the barrio was founded by a group of Mexican Indians from Tlaxcala. The adobe church was constructed under the direction of Franciscan friars to serve a small congregation of soldiers, laborers, and Indians who lived in the Analco Barrio. It was partially destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. By the early-eighteenth century, San Miguel had become one of the principal ecclesiastical buildings in the provincial capital. The present building dates from 1710, although it has undergone significant structural changes.
The Chapel is open during most of the week for prayer and for visitors.
Few people question whether or not the San Miguel Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is the oldest Church in the United States, but many do question just how old it is. It is no easy task to sift historical fact from traditional belief. The earliest documentation we have of the existence of San Miguel Chapel is from 1628, so we know it was built sometime before then. Oral history holds that San Miguel Chapel was built around 1610, and it has been rebuilt and restored several times over the past 400 years. The original church, the “Hermita de San Miguel,” was built on the site of an ancient kiva of the Analco Indians. It is believed that it was constructed by Tlaxcalan (Tas-cal’-en) Indians, who came to New Mexico from old Mexico in 1598 with a Spanish contingent led by Don Juan Onate. In its early years, the church served a small group of Tlaxcalan Indians, laborers, and Spanish soldiers who lived in this area on the south side of the Santa Fe River.
The church was partially destroyed in 1640 at the hands of Luis de Rojas, a provincial governor who feuded with church authorities. It was reconstructed but was severely damaged again during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Twelve years after the Pueblo Revolt drove them out, the Spanish returned to Santa Fe, led by the Governor General Don Diego de Vargas, who ordered the repair and restoration of San Miguel Chapel. By the end of 1710, the work was completed and a new roof was in place. In 1798, the mayor of Santa Fe helped fund major repairs and the construction of the beautiful altar screen in the front of the church. An elaborate three-tiered bell tower was erected around 1848, followed by the installation of the 780-pound San Jose Bell in the bell tower around 1856.
In 1859 Archbishop Jean Baptist Lamy purchased the Chapel and adjacent land for the De LaSalle Christian Brothers, who developed a school on the adjacent site. Repairs were initiated again in 1862 by the Christian Brothers. A wooden floor was added, as well as the Communion rail and a large door at the entrance. In 1872 a strong storm struck Santa Fe and brought down the bell tower and, along with it, the San Jose Bell, which is now on display inside the Chapel. By 1887 the Chapel was in serious need of repair, but with no funds available, the Christian Brothers came to a painful decision to demolish the structure. When the local community learned of its plight, many people came to the rescue. At this time, the first of two stone buttresses were built on the front of the building to shore up the adobe walls, and the interior and exterior walls were plastered. A tar and gravel roof replaced the old mud roof, and a new, smaller bell tower was added. Two years later, two additional buttresses were added on the north wall.
In 1955, a major restoration was carried out under the direction of Ms. E. Boyd, a Santa Fe painter and Spanish Colonial art expert. The original dirt floor and sanctuary steps were uncovered and can be seen today just beyond the Communion rail. During this investigation, many human remains and pieces of pottery were found buried under the church floor.
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The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 — also known as Popé's Rebellion — was an uprising of most of the Pueblo Indians against the Spanish colonizers in the province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México, present day New Mexico. The Pueblo killed 400 Spanish and drove the remaining 2,000 settlers out of the province. Twelve years later the Spanish returned and were able to reoccupy New Mexico with little opposition. - Wikipedia
San Miguel Chapel is one of the best examples of preserved adobe architecture in Santa Fe. St. Michael’s High School, which used San Miguel as its chapel from 1859 to 1967, is the proud owner and caretaker of this historic treasure. In 2008, St. Michael’s entered into a collaborative relationship with Cornerstones Community Partnerships for the preservation of San Miguel Chapel. Cornerstones has provided the technical and grant expertise for a major preservation effort. Starting in 2010, the Portland cement stucco was removed, adobe was repaired, and an adobe plaster finish coat was applied.
Now that San Miguel is a totally adobe building again, ongoing maintenance and preservation work will be needed. With the volunteer labor and financial contributions generously given, San Miguel Chapel will continue to be preserved by the Santa Fe community and guests and visitors throughout the United States and the world. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the preservation of San Miguel over the past 400 years and into the future!
We have to match Federal grants of $285,000. Financial contributions are needed and appreciated.
Interested community members may join in the actual restoration work, applying mud plaster and repairing adobe walls.
Please Contact Us if you are interested or can help in any way.
OUR INTERACTIVE SAN MIGUEL CHAPEL DIGITAL iBOOK IS COMING SOON!
The wooden altar screen, or reredos, at the front of San Miguel Chapel is one of the oldest in New Mexico. The inscription on the lower left-hand corner reads: “This altar was erected through the piety of Don Jose Antonio Ortis in the year 1798.” It is reputed to be designed by the “Laguna Santero”, an anonymous but hugely influential artist who worked in New Mexico between 1796 and 1808. Its twisted “Solomonic columns” on either side are thought to be the first examples in New Mexico and are very typical of the Laguna Santero. The altar screen was painted over with several layers of house paint in the late 1800s but was restored under the direction of Ms. E. Boyd, artist and the first Spanish Colonial Art Curator at the Museum of International Folk Art.
In the center of the reredos is a statue of San Miguel (St. Michael), the patron of San Miguel Chapel. It was carved in old Mexico around 1700 and was brought by Franciscan Friars to Santa Fe. Above the statue of San Miguel is a large painting of Christ the Nazarene that dates from the mid-18th century and was rediscovered behind the altar screen by archeologists in 1955. The painting of St. Michael the Archangel above it dates from 1745. The artist is Bernardo Miera y Pacheco (1713-1785), who is best known as the foremost of the early cartographers of this region. Among his artistic works is the beautiful stone altar screen in Cristo Rey church in Santa Fe. Many art historians consider him the first New Mexican santero and a great influence on the early santeros of the 19th century. Both of these paintings had been painted over, and extensive cleaning and artistic restoration were required to return them to their current appearance.
The four oval paintings on the reredos date from the early 18th century and originated in Colonial Mexico. The painting at the top left is St. Teresa of Avila; on the bottom left is St. Francis of Assisi. At the top right is St. Gertrude of Germany; on the bottom right is St. Louis IX, King of France.
To the left and right of the altar are two similar paintings of the Annunciation, both believed to be the work of one of the disciples of Bartolome Esteban Murillo, one of the greatest 17th century Spanish artists, who exerted a large influence on Christian art in the Americas. These two paintings, as well as the four oval paintings, were painstakingly cleaned and artistically restored in 1955.
As you turn and face the main doors at the back, the painting on the right on buffalo hide is of Christ on the Cross. The one on the left on deer skin is of St. John the Baptist. These were painted by Franciscan Friars in about 1630 and were used as teaching aids in their work converting the Pueblo Indians to Christianity.
Fourteen lovely stations of the cross line the walls of the Chapel. They were carved by a very talented Mexican artisan named Ramon Rochas in 1956. He spent three months in Santa Fe working on the project.
At the back of the chapel is a showcase which was once a door. Here the very thick walls of the adobe structure are revealed. Above the showcase is a reproduction of Our Lady of Guadalupe, believed to be one of the first copies from Old Mexico.
As you stand in the back of the Chapel facing the altar, above you is a large hand-carved beam supporting the front of the choir loft. The beam has an inscription in Spanish carved on it, which reads: “El Marques of Penuela had this construction erected by his royal ensign, Agustin Flores Vergada, in the year 1710.”