Adobe Missions of New Mexico

Completed Project
World Monuments Watch
Various Locations

1996 World Monuments Watch

Many of the oldest continuously occupied communities in the United States are in New Mexico, frequently noted for their  adobe missions, which were built as part of the Franciscan missionary campaign in the New World. The churches are simple in form and frequently have limited architectural embellishments, but are notable for their remarkable durability and fusion of European and indigenous construction techniques. . Although the churches have few windows, light through transverse windows illuminates the altars to dramatic effect. Adobe buildings require frequent re-mudding to prevent the rapid deterioration that ensues when they are exposed to the elements, something that was not heeded in the twentieth century. Maintenance declined as young community members, those familiar with long-lasting traditional construction techniques, left to seek more job opportunities in the cities. Inappropriate use of cement-based materials dramatically compounded the problem. 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.

A model for a wide range of preservation activities

With support from the Kress Foundation, we 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). The work there served as a model for a wide range of preservation activities—from research, planning, and documentation, to intervention and maintenance, with training as a central component. We also provided assistance toward a major survey of historic churches in New Mexico.

The church of 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 on the plaza of Doña Ana, a historic community in southwestern New Mexico. Designed in a cruciform plan the church has a symmetric front façade. Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria and was been listed on the National Register of Historic Places  in 1985. The richly diverse religious architecture of the region constitutes a historic resource of the highest importance, and one very much worth conserving.

Last updated: July 2017.

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