Adobe Missions of New Mexico
The adobe churches of New Mexico were built as part of the Franciscan missionary campaign in the New World. They were modest, lacking architectural embellishments like vaulted ceilings, and they were constructed with massive adobe walls. Typically the space of the church was a single long nave, slightly taller than it was wide, without a transept or side chapels. The churches had limited windows, but light was often carefully organized to illuminate the altar to dramatic effect. Adobe buildings require frequent re-mudding to prevent the rapid deterioration that ensues when they are exposed to the elements. In the 20th century, mass exodus to the cities in the region of younger community members seeking more job opportunities resulted in a decline in the maintenance of these structures and the loss of familiarity with long-lasting traditional construction techniques. Inappropriate use of cement-based materials dramatically compounded the problem of maintenance. Cement, while durable, is highly incompatible with earthen materials, as it adds significantly to the weight of the building and can contribute to the deposit of harmful salts on the surface.
How We Helped
WMF formed a partnership with the New Mexico Community Foundation to work at two sites, the church of San Rafael in La Cueva (c. 1862-65) and the church of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria in Doña Ana (c. 1845-52), to serve as models for a wide range of preservation activities, from research, planning, and documentation to intervention and maintenance, with training as a central component. WMF also provided assistance toward the fourth phase of a major survey of historic churches in New Mexico.
Why It Matters
Many of the oldest continuously occupied communities in the United States are found in New Mexico, and the richly diverse religious architecture of the region constitutes a historic resource of the highest importance. The church of San Rafael represents the aesthetic influence of Jean-Baptiste Lamy, the first Archbishop of Santa Fe. San Rafael has been part of the La Cueva Historic District of the National Register of Historic Places since 1973. The church of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria was built c. 1845-52 on the plaza of Doña Ana, a historic community in southwestern New Mexico. The church, designed in a cruciform plan with a symmetric front façade, was traditionally covered with adobe plaster, with painted decoration and brick trim. Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1985.