Las Maravillas de Navidad

Las Maravillas de Navidad is a Christmas tour of some of Northern New Mexico’s beautiful and ancient adobe churches and chapels. Maintained with a deep devotion, they hold stories of great love and even miracles.

AIRED: December 21, 2019 | 0:28:29

Funding for COLORES was provided in part by:

Frederick Hammersley Foundation

...and Viewers Like You







(Bells Ringing)

>> Scattered among the snowed capped mountains of

northern New Mexico, are some of the most

remarkable and oldest churches in the United States.

Seeing these beautiful churches at Christmas

time, the tradition of giving is personified by

stories of great love and even miracles.

>> Made hundreds of years ago, these ancient

churches were constructed and maintained over the

years with a deep devotion.

Today, they are symbols of the rich, cultural

heritage, New Mexicans share.

Remote, beyond compare.

Early settlers in this rugged landscape found few

resources and received little support from distant Spain.

Here, there is an old saying, "muchos pocos hacen mucho".

A lot of nothing, makes something.

Using simple, local materials, Nuevo Mexicanos

developed an exceptional architectural style.

They used adobe, stone and timber to make marvelous

handcrafted churches that are uniquely New Mexican.

>> On September 29, 1979, we experienced the collapse

of one of the walls here in the church due

to water damage that seeped in from beneath, from groundwater.

Once the church began to be rebuilt, they began to

realize that as their ancestors had one time

used to come together as a community to replaster the

church with mud or fix the roof, they were retying

those minds that made the community what it was,

they were relinking themselves one to the other and to god.

One of the things that really impressed me about

building this church is that as we were getting

near to its completion, we had found the footprints

of children, bare footprints of children

that had been used by early settlers to run

across the adobe of the forms to the tamp the earth

down into the forms so that the brick would come out perfect.

When we discovered those, it was marvelous, because

it was like that little child 150 years ago, could

have been the great, great grandparent of some of the

people living here today.

It was like that child was impelling us.

This was worth building, you know.

What are you going to do to preserve it, what are

you going to do to make sure it passes on to your

children, and your children's children.

>> I often walk in the door and I stop to bless

myself at the fount and somehow, when no one else

is here, you're immediately in communion

with all the people that have gone before you and

all the people who have just left it, perhaps,

maybe even all the people that are yet to come,

because it is such a very special place, I think,

that it carries all the memories of the past and

the promises of the future.

>> Perhaps the most photographed church in the

united states is the San Francisco de Asis church

located in Ranchos de Taos.

Constructed in 1810, over the years it has at times

been in terrible disrepair, today, it is

well cared for by the community, and considered

one of the crown jewels of New Mexico's adobe churches.

>> I am thinking of a quotation of Bernard

Luzhou who was a Frenchman and he did a painting of

the church and he said that it was a visual experience

and he summed his thoughts up by saying that he felt

that the Ranchos de Taos church was the American

cathedral of the desert and I think that says a lot.

>> In 1980, the framework of the main alter screen was

restored by Santa Fe artists Louise Tapia and Federico Vigil.

The paintings on the main retablo were restored by

an artist who traveled to Mexico and Spain to learn

about the original paintings.

(Choir Singing)

>> The retablo in the east chapel is over 25 feet in

height, it was painted by a master some time before 1818.

(Choir Singing)

As the people build up the church, they also build up

their community.

In 1979, the hard plaster exterior was removed and

returned to the traditional mud plaster.

Each year the community comes together to re-mud the exterior.

Over the years, the community that surrounds

San Francisco de Asis has become a strong and happy one.

The coming together, the good food, the hard work

in caring for one of the most beautiful churches in

the United States, all helps to form a special

bond between the members of the community.

>> I was looking at a list of the people who come and

we have 100 names on one sheet of paper, and we

have nine sheets of paper at least.

And when we finish, there is nothing more beautiful than this

church is when we have finished restoring it in the summer.

The bits of straw gleam in the sunshine.

You want to touch it; you want to move up and put your

hands on it.

And, when you do, you almost feel that there is

a pulse in it, that it's beating with hundreds of

heartbeats of the people who have laid their hands upon it.

(Choir Singing)

>> This beautiful old church in Trampas is

considered to be the most perfectly preserved

Spanish colonial church in America.

The church itself is a work of art, built about

1776, walking in the front door of San Jose de Gracia

is like stepping back in time.

The warm floorboards, the carved wood, the beautiful

paintings, the handwritten signs above the entry, it

is as if your ancestors were right there with you.

(Choir Singing)

>> To many people the Santuario de Chimayo is

the spiritual heart of New Mexico.

Thousands find their way during the year and almost

30,000 pilgrims visit during holy week.

(Choir Singing)

>> The first days I was here came a family from Texas.

They had a daughter with a tumor in the brain, and the

doctors told them, we can try to operate, but we don't guarantee.

This is a lost case, but they decide to have the

operation but before, a few days before, the man

told the wife, let's take the child to Chimayo, New Mexico.

And they came with the little girl, was suffering.

They kneel down here.

They make their voice in here asking and they went back home.

A couple of days later was the time of her operation.

They took her to the doctor, they examined and

there was nothing.

She was able to go back to school.

Nobody could explain.

A real cure.

(Choir Singing)

>> Built in 1860, Santuario de Chimayo is

known for la tierra santa, the healing dirt.

A side room is filled with crutches, canes and other items

as a testament to the remarkable healing powers found here.

The father and his assistants fill the posito with holy dirt.

I bless the soil, he says, and I tell the people that

it is not the dirt that cures, but their faith.

(Choir Singing)

>> Then came one man.

I have here my mother, very, very sick.

I think we have little time to go to pray.

She went and they took this very frail old lady

and short, in his arms, and he entered here, went inside.

I was waiting here, but they finish and a few

minutes, I heard, father, father.

And the man came here, I don't know what happened inside.

And we were coming when the little lady was coming walking.

This is impossible, she hadn't been able to walk for a year.

And she, we stopped to pray over here and then by

herself, she went to the car and they left.

(Choir Singing)

>> I was assigned down here to take special care of this place.

45 years ago, 1954, and I never I had to ender sick.

I consider myself part of this.

I had my 81st birthday late July and my place is here.

Here I feel home.

(Choir Singing)

>> Chapels or capillas, were built in every

village in New Mexico.

Smaller versions of their mission predecessors, each

chapel is an individual act of faith made by the

people of the village.

(Choir Singing)

Each has its own distinct handcrafted style due to

the skills of the local craftsmen.

The designs and saints are as different as the

community each chapel serves.

Located near black mesa, and the Rio Grande, the

tiny la Sagrada Familia Chapel built in 1920 is an excellent

example of how families in small communities maintained

their faith and traditions by caring for a chapel.

>> The history on the chapel is it was built in the early 20's.

My great grandfather and his family and other

community members were having to have mass said

in their private homes, so my great grandfather

donated the property and built the chapel and then

in 1937, I believe, the federal government decided

to turn this valley into Indian reservations but my

great grandfather apparently having some

foresight had deeded this property to the archdiocese.

So, the chapel, the property around the chapel,

stayed with the archdiocese, but it was abandoned.

And it wasn't until, oh, back in the early 80's,

late 70's that we started having our family reunions

that we saw what neglect had done to the chapel,

where there were holes in the walls, ceilings were

caving in, the roof was totally deteriorated.

And, great aunts, my grandmother, my mother,

different relatives kept wishing that someday,

somebody would start a restoration on it.

Driving along the highway, my mother would be sitting

in the car with me and she would say, I would love to

see the la Sagrada Familia Chapel restored.

And, I never forgot it.

The restoration of the chapel has really helped

to bring the family even much closer together.

We're a very close-knit family.

If we hear a distant relative need some type of

help, the family is always there to help out.

But by being here together, it symbolizes,

really, the closeness that we are.

My great aunts show up every Saturday.

One of them literally comes in prepared to do work.

The other one comes to see if any of her children are

here, but the encouragement and

enthusiasm that they give us and seeing the

appreciation about having it done.

>> This is a dream that came up to be truth and

this is not the end of it.

We'll keep on.

Our children will do it and we did it.

Our parents did it, we did it.

Our children will do it and all of them will be here.

Oh, it is a feeling that I wish everybody would get it.

This was falling apart.

Look at it.

>> During the course of the restoration, not a single moment

goes by when you are not thinking about

grandma or grandpa or mom.

I knew my great grandmother as a little

boy, and she was a very loving and wonderful lady.

But, knowing that she had a part in building this

church initially and now myself as her great

grandson having something to do with the restoration

of it, just gives one such a deep sense of love,

which is, it permeates through our whole family.

>>(Praying) Sagrado corazón de Jesús,

cuatro cosas hoy te pido con mucha necesidad.

Paciencia para sufrir, fuerza para trabajar, las

penas que me has de dar, entendimiento sereno para

poder arreglar las cosas con santa calma, así

sentir en el alma perfecta tranquilidad.

Esto tengo que robarte, oh mi Jesús adorado, en este

día consagrado para servirte y amarte.


>> Who brought the hot chocolate?

>> Located close to the high peaks of the Sangre

de Cristo Mountains in the small town of Truchas, is

the Nuestra Señora del Rosario.

Built in 1818, it is a small church that is no

longer used by a growing community.

Although a new church has been built, this church is

still well cared for and with good reason.

Inside is a wonderful alter screen painted by

New Mexico's first native born Pedro San Antonio Frequís.

Frequís was not Hispanic but of Flemish descent.

He worked in traditional fresco methods.

He incised into the doorway while still wet to

create formless figures.

He used rapid strokes, almost abstract in

appearance, creating broad cheekbones, almond eyes,

slender noses and torsos.

The simplicity of his artwork has an effect all its own.

The two dimensional rendering of his figures,

creates a mystic quality and a saintliness.

(Choir Singing)

>> New Mexico governor Diego de Vargas

established one of the original frontier Spanish

villas; la Villa Nueva de Santa Cruz de la Cañada de

los Mexicanos Españoles del Rey Nuestro Señor Don

Carlos II in 1695.

La iglesia de Santa Cruz de la Cañada is a

remarkable church due to its long history,

originally a chapel may have been used by early

settlers as their first church, the building of

the present church was begun in 1733.

Families have worshiped, have been baptized,

married and buried here for generations.

Priests are still assigned from Spain, and there are

traditional masses in Spanish.

In 1995, Santa Cruz celebrated 300 years as a parish.

>> Over the years, the parish has carefully

restored the church, no quick fixes, they took the

time to get it as close to the original as possible

in order to preserve this beautiful church, and have

it inspire future generations.

Many people have remarked how wonderful it is to see

some of the finest colonial New Mexican art,

not in the museum but in their very own church.

The magnificent and elaborated alter screen in

Cristo are by renowned colonial Jose Rafael Aragon.

(Choir Singing)

Ever since it was made, the cherished Santo

Entierro has rested in the main naive in the south wall.

This poignant carving depicts Christ laying in his tomb.

It is by Andres Jose Garcia, a friar who served at the church

from 1765 to 1768 and is considered

one of his finest works.

The church is truly a wonder.

It thrives today with the vibrancy of traditions hundreds

of years old.

(Choir Singing)

>> The churches of New Mexico have been at the

heart of peoples' lives for hundreds of years.

These ancient churches are living churches.

Centuries old, they continue to serve and be

cared for by their communities.

It has been said that the beauty of a church is an

expression of love for god and the people who built it.

New Mexico's beautiful ancient adobe churches are

testament to the great history and culture that

thrives in New Mexico today.

>> Everybody has something to offer.

The old timers had the wisdom and the pacing, the

young guys had the strength.

The women oftentimes would make the mud, they would

provide the cooking.

The children would help with the plastering.

It seemed like everybody has a place, has something

to distribute to preserve these churches.

These were churches built by the people for the people.

And the people can fix them and as each adobe is

important only in its relationship to another

adobe and bonded together to form a wall, and even

as that adobe requires the foundation so that it can

be strong, and the adobe supports the woodwork, the

corbel and vigas on top, so it is with everybody's effort.

>> There is always a doubt in one's mind about what

one can accomplish.

I had helped my father as a young child to build

adobe walls, to do mud plastering, to do minor

carpentry work, but I had never attempted it on my

own as an adult, but, in the restoration, here,

they show you that the need is there to be done

and you do the best you can.

It might come out a little crooked but the sense of

accomplishment of being able to say later on, hey,

I did this, does give you a sense of pride.

(Choir Singing)

>> The church contains really all the dreams and

visions, I think, of the wedding couples who march

up this aisle and with them they have all their

hopes and their plans for the future.

Then I think of all the ones who walk behind the

coffin, because some loved one has died and so they go down

the aisle with them, and you have that great sense of loss.

It contains all of that.

It contains the sides, the needs of all the people

that come to light a candle.

And to pray.

It contains so much that one really doesn't have

enough words for it.

(Choir Singing)


New Mexico PBS dot org and look for COLORES under

What We Do and Local Productions.



Funding for COLORES was provided in part by:

Frederick Hammersley Foundation

...and Viewers Like You


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