santa fe churches
Santa Fe

Santa Fe Historic Churches

The creator of this website's family heritage dates back to before Santa Fe was recognized as a State. That combined with her world wide travel experience make this website one of the most informative that you will find. In addition to links to Santa Fe's preferred lodging, dining, theater and more, you will find special notes on this page about Santa Fe Historic Churches that make it interesting, unique and delightful. Enjoy!

saint francis cathedral


On the site where St. Frances Cathedral stands today there was originally a small mission church. That mission was burned down in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. After the Spanish regained control in 1692, a more substantial adobe church, La Parroquia, was built on this site. That church served for almost 200 years. In 1884, La Parroquia was replaced by St. Frances Cathedral. Jean Baptiste Lamy brought architect Antoine Mouly and his son, Projectus Mouly from Paris, France to Santa Fe to be architect and builders. The new Cathedral, intended for the ages, was constructed of stone from local quarries and from the La Bajada Mesa, west of town, and took 10 years to build.

From A BRIEF HISTORY of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico
"On July 19, 1850, Pope Pius IX created the Vicariate Apostolic of New Mexico and appointed Father Jean Baptiste Lamy as its first Bishop. Bishop Lamy arrived in New Mexico in the summer of 1851. His early efforts were directed to the building of more churches, the creation of new parishes and the establishment of educational and medical facilities.

"By 1853, the Vicariate Apostolic had become a See in its own right, the Diocese of Santa Fe, and on February 12, 1875, the Diocese of Santa Fe was elevated to an Archdiocese with Bishop Lamy as its first Archbishop.

"In 1869 Bishop Lamy began building a stone cathedral, to replace the old adobe church, parts of which had served the parishioners of Santa Fe since 1717 (the Conquistadora Chapel is all that remains). The new stone Cathedral was built around and over the old church, in the style of the Romanesque churches of France familiar to Bishop Lamy. By 1884 the main part of the Cathedral was finished and the old church was torn down from under it. Archbishop Lamy died on February 14, 1888 and is buried under the sanctuary floor of his beloved St. Francis Cathedral. He was succeeded as Archbishop of Santa Fe by John Baptist Salpointe. Archbishop John Baptist Pitaval, fifth Archbishop of Santa Fe, dedicated the bronze statue of Archbishop Lamy which stands in front of the Cathedral on May 23, 1915."

No downtown building may rise higher than the bell towers of the St. Francis Cathedral.
This church is shown in the 1988 movie "Twins" with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito.
PERSONAL NOTE: Many of my family members, including myself, were baptized in the St. Francis Cathedral.

loretto chapel
loretto chapel
Home of the Miraculous Staircase
loretto chapel
At the end of the Old Santa Fe Trail stands the Loretto Chapel. The history of the small Chapel began when Bishop Jean Baptisite Lamy was appointed by the Church to the New Mexico Territory in1850. Bishop Lamy, seeking to spread the faith and bring an educational system to this new territory, began a letter writing plea for priests, brothers and nuns to preach and teach. In one of his letters he is said to have written, “I have 6000 Catholics and 300 Americans.” The first acceptance of his general plea was from the Sisters of Loretto.

In 1852 the Sisters of Loretto responded to Lamy’s pleas by sending seven sisters who agreed to make this arduous journey to Santa Fe. Their trek was through St. Louis, then up the river to Independence, Mo. This small group was beset by a cholera epidemic, the Mother Superior died, and another nun was too ill to continue the journey and returned to Kentucky. The remaining nuns traveled by wagon through bad weather, and Indian country. They arrived in Santa Fe in 1852 and opened the Academy of Our Lady of Light (Loretto) in1853. The campus covered a square block with 10 buildings. The school was started and grew from very small beginnings to a school of around 300 students, despite the challenges of the territory (smallpox, tuberculosis, leaky mud roofs and even a brush with the rowdy Confederate Texans during the Civil War). Through tuition’s for the girls schooling, donations, and from the sisters own inheritances from their families, they built their school and chapel. The Loretto Academy was closed in 1968, and the property was put up for sale. At the time of sale in 1971, Our Lady of Light Chapel was informally deconsecrated as a Catholic Chapel.

PERSONAL NOTE: My mother was a boarding student as a young girl at Loretto Academy (now the Inn at Loretto). She was often encouraged by other Loretto Academy boarding students to sneak out to buy candy at the nearby drug store on the Plaza.. Being of small physic she could easily get through spaces in the wall but more often than not she was caught by the nuns upon her return, arms and pockets loaded with goodies, and as punishment she had to polish the famous Loretto Chapel's Miraculous Spiral Staircase by hand with cotton balls!

During the first period of construction of the St. Francis Cathedral, and as an apparent afterthought, Archbishop Lamy advised and encouraged the sisters to utilize architect Antoine Mouly and his son, Projectus Mouly (whom he brought from Paris to design the St. Francis Cathedral), to design and build their dream chapel. The older Mouly had been involved in the renovation of San Chapel, in Paris, in the early 1800’s. Mouly was encouraged to fashion the Loretto Chapel after the San Chapel. It was the favorite chapel of the archbishop from his early days in Paris, France. It is reported that the sisters pooled their own inheritances to raise the $30,000 required to build this beautiful Gothic chapel. Property was purchased and in 1873 work began on the Loretto Chapel. Undoubtedly influenced by the French clergy in Santa Fe, the Gothic Revival-style chapel was patterned after King Louis IX's Sainte-Chapelle in Paris; a striking contrast to the adobe churches already in the area. Stone for the Chapel was quarried from locations around Santa Fe including Cerro Colorado, about 20 miles from Santa Fe near the town of Lamy. The sandstone for the walls and the porous volcanic stone used for the ceiling were hauled to town by wagon.

The ornate stained glass in the Loretto Chapel also made part of its journey to Santa Fe via wagon. Purchased in 1876 from the DuBois Studio in Paris, the glass was first sent from Paris to New Orleans by sailing ship and then by paddle boat to St. Louis, MO. where it was taken by covered wagon over the Old Santa Fe Trail to the Chapel.

The Chapel was completed in 1878 and has since seen many additions and renovations such as the introduction of the Stations of the Cross, the Gothic altar and the frescos during the 1890s.

Loretto Chapel is now a private museum operated and maintained, in part, for the preservation of the Miraculous Staircase and the Chapel itself.

miraculous staircase

spiral staircase

The Miraculous Staircase (also called The Spiral Staircase)

Only as the chapel neared completion did the Sisters realized that the only access to the choir loft, which is 22 feet from the ground, was by ladder (a staircase would take up too much space in the small chapel). Climbing a ladder would be a great difficulty for the Sisters. No architect or carpenter could figure a solution. According to legend, the Sisters, seeking an answer to their dilemma, made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of the novena, a man on a donkey showed up at the chapel with a toolbox looking for work. More than six months later the sisters found the magnificent circular staircase finished and the carpenter had disappeared without asking for payment. Some believe that he was St. Joseph himself. The Spiral Staircase was built sometime between 1877 and 1881.

The Miraculous Staircase is an inexplicable and marvelous work of craftsmanship that confounds architects, engineers and master craftsmen. It makes over two complete 360-degree turns, stands 20’ tall and has no center support. It rests solely on its base against the choir loft. The types of woods used in it's construction are still questionable and it is constructed only with square wooden pegs. No glue or metal nails are used.

SPECIAL NOTE: The staircase has been the subject of many articles, TV specials, and movies including "Unsolved Mysteries" and the Kraft movie called "The Staircase".


The oldest church still in use in the United States, this simple adobe structure and altar were built by the Tlaxcalan Indians of Mexico, under the direction of Franciscan Padres, in 1610. It was partially destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The thick adobe walls remained unharmed in 1692 De Vargas ordered the church rebuilt. In 1710 the church was was reconstructed and a sacristy added. In 1955 archaeological investigations were made, the altar redone and artwork restored. Stone buttresses have been added to strengthen the walls and the tower has been remodeled. An 800 lb. bronze bell situated in the gift shop once hung in the bell tower. An inscription on the bell reads "San Jose - ROGAD - por nosotros 9 De 1356" (St. Joseph, pray for us December 9, 1356). It is believed to have been cast in Spain in 1356.

This church is located next to the Oldest House in the USA (built in early 1200), and is across the street from The Pink Adobe Restaurant and Dragon Room Bar (check out my Best Santa Fe Restaurants page).

san miguel mission

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