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New Mexico’s Catholic Heritage and Its Missions

Are you a pilgrim looking for holy and inspirational sites to visit? Come to New Mexico! Not only is New Mexico the "Land of Enchantment", it’s a historic holy land of miraculous shrines and things divine! What’s more, New Mexico is the birthplace of Christianity in the American Southwest, and its missions are 170 years older than the missions in California!

The story begins more than 400 years ago, in 1598, when Franciscan friars and Spanish colonists arrived at present-day Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. The colonists quickly erected a chapel and celebrated their first Mass on September 8 - Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Around 1610, the Spanish colony relocated 30 miles south to found Santa Fe (Spanish for "Holy Faith"), the nation’s oldest capital.

Centuries came and went. In 1850, New Mexico became a territory of the United States, and Jean-Baptiste Lamy became the first bishop of the Diocese of Santa Fe. His cathedral was an adobe church! A native of France, Bishop Lamy had his own ideas about proper churches. He began fundraising and in 1873 laid the cornerstone for his French Gothic-style cathedral. But Bishop Lamy ran out of money and never finished the spires. Today, the stone cathedral with its truncated spires is a Santa Fe icon!

Officially known as the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the church is also famous for another reason: It houses the oldest Marian statue in the country, La Conquistadora.

There’s much more to see in Santa Fe. Consider these gems:

The Loretto Chapel. Completed in 1878, the Loretto Chapel is famous for its Miraculous Staircase, a winding staircase erected by a stranger. Learn why some call it "Saint Joseph’s Staircase!"

San Miguel Mission. Touted as the "Oldest Church in the U.S.A.", San Miguel Mission was erected of adobe around 1610. The church boasts a centuries-old Spanish Colonial altar screen and deer hide paintings of religious scenes that were used by Franciscan friars to teach the Gospel to Pueblo Indians.

Santuario de Guadalupe. North America’s oldest extant shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the santuario houses a stunning altar screen, circa 1783, depicting Our Lady’s apparitions to Saint Juan Diego. Outside the church, pilgrims stop to pray before an exquisite, larger-than-life statue of Our Lady and to venerate a rock from the site of her second apparition to Juan Diego.

Let’s journey north to visit more spiritual wonders:

El Santuario de Chimayó. Known as the Lourdes of America, this National Historic Landmark is famous for its "holy dirt", known for its healing properties. El Santuario de Chimayó dates from 1810 when Bernardo Abeyta found a mysterious crucifix down by the Santa Cruz River. Nearby is a chapel dedicated to the Santo Niño de Atocha (the Holy Child of Atocha), where many pilgrims leave tiny shoes. It’s said the Santo Niño wanders the countryside at night, healing young and old alike.

Taos Pueblo. Designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, this pueblo has been continuously inhabited for more than 1,000 years! The pueblo’s historic San Geronimo Church has no electricity - the church is illuminated with gas lights!

San Francisco de Asis Church at Ranchos de Taos. Completed in 1816, this adobe church was made famous by Georgia O’Keefe paintings and Ansel Adams photographs, and is reputedly the most photographed church in the world!

Mysterious Image. Adjacent to the Church is a "mysterious painting". In daylight, a life-size Jesus stands on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. In darkness, Jesus is carrying a cross and seems to be walking toward you!

Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. Nestled along the Rio Grande, this pueblo is also a land of spiritual waters. In 1598, after a miraculous rainfall that ended a drought, Franciscan friars baptized the pueblo’s Indians - the first pueblo to be baptized! The pueblo’s San Juan Bautista Church boasts an altar screen featuring 23 scenes from the life of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the first canonized American Indian saint. Across the road is the absolutely stunning French-Gothic Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, not something you would normally see on a pueblo!

Intrigued? Want to learn more about this "Holy Land of America?" Contact us to set up your New Mexico Pilgrimage. Come, see, and experience "the rest of the story!"

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