Santa Fe boasts several world class museums, but I was unprepared for how incredibly informative the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture is. We were under time contraints and could only allocate 90 minutes, but we could have spent many hours. The place could use a little more light, however, it could be due to the frail baskets and woven goods. Exhibit after exhibit was enlightening. We especially found heart-warming the custom of whoever makes the baby laugh the first time must have a baby laugh party. Pretty awesome. Unfortunately, no photos inside.
Admission costs:$6/New Mexico residents (Sundays free for NM residents)
Museum members and children 16 and under are always free
Hours:Regular hours: Tuesday - Sunday 10 - 5
Summer Hours (Memorial Day - Labor Day): Monday-Sunday 10-5
Even if your don't go to any of the four wonderful museums that make up Museum Hill, the plaza between the SW Indian Arts Museum and the International Folk Museum is interesting in and of itself. Plus the area surrounding Museum Hill is pleasant to walk around as you feel you are in a pine forest. Only two miles from the Old Town and there is regular city bus service.
This beautiful, French, Romanesque style cathedral in the center of old town is quite inspiring. In addition to the architecture, there are many wonderful statues surrounding the cathedral. In 1850 the church was deemed too small so a French architect and Italian stone masons to build the facility. On the site of the original adobe church built in 1610.
A short two miles from Old Town Santa Fe are four outstanding museums. Surrounded by desert and pines, just walking around the museums is a pleasure. Near the entrance is the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, then a simply mindblowing Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, and next door is the mesmerizing Museum of International Folk Art and then the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. One could easily spend an entire day. Fortunately there is a nice cafe on the grounds.
On the opening night of the Santa Fe Fiesta held in early September, the night ski is lit up by the burning of Zozobra, AKA Mr. Gloom... as a symbol to wash away anything bothering you...old bills, divorce papers....bad karma.... The 50 foot tall marionette is teased and insulted, then danced around by ghosts and fire dancers. Then a great fireworks show. At the end of the show Old Man Gloom goes up in a hail of hellfire, fireworks and chants from the crowd. In 2012 a donation of $20 was required to get in, however, it can be seen from outside the park. There is no alcohol, or other party enhancers allowed and revelers must go through tight security controls.
Built by Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy between 1869 and 1886, the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi was built on the site of a much older adobe church from the early 1700s. Sited in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico, it is the mother church of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
Commonly known as St Francis Cathedral, it was designed in Romanesque Revival style and features characteristic round arches which are separated by Corinthian columns with truncated square towers (see pic 4).
On 4 October 2005, the Cathedral was officially elevated to a basilica and became the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi.
The Cathedral is open from 06:00 to 18:00 daily.
Sunday 08:00 (Spanish), 10:00, 12:00 and 17:15.
Saturday 07:00 and for Sunday Obligation 17:15.
Holy Days 07:00, 12:10 (at Cristo Rey Church) and 17:15.
Weekdays 07:00 and 17:15.
Saturday 15:00 to 17:00.
Other days by appointment.
Built in the late 1700s the Santuario de Gaudalupe is a fine example of Spanish Colonial architecture and the oldest shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe in the United States.
The altar painting (Our Lady of Guadalupe) was completed in 1783 by Jose de Alzibar, a famous Mexican artist. The church has beautiful adobe walls which are up to five feet thick in places.
My visit here was short but the church was impressive with a beautiful, tall interior.
Mass is still held here on a monthly basis. At other times the Santuario hosts art and cultural events including musical programs.
With an office next to the Rail Runner station in Santa Fe, its Visitor Centre offers excellent information on the town with leaflets, brochures and maps.
The helpful staff can help you with information on things to see and do, places to eat and shopping options during your visit in Santa Fe.
In the homogenous adobe world of Santa Fe’s downtown area, the Cathedral of San Francisco seems somewhat incongruous. How did such a European-looking place of worship come to be here? Well, it was, unsurprisingly, due to one particular European, a French priest – Jean Baptiste Lamy. Apparently when he first arrived here in 1851 he was shocked at some of the religious practices, including the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and also horrified by the church buildings, finding it impossible to believe that anyone could reach heaven while praying on a dirt floor inside a building made of mud! So he commissioned this new cathedral for Santa Fe, and all of the old church was demolished, apart from one small side chapel. But it seems that he ran out of money, and the two spires that should have topped the towers either side of the front porch were never added – hence their rather odd stumpy appearance.
Inside it is light and rather lovely, but you can’t help but wonder whether the ancient adobe would have held more atmosphere and sense of the spiritual? To find out, head to the left of the altar where you will find the one remaining adobe chapel, which houses a small statue (photo two). This is La Conquistadora, a statue brought to Santa Fe from Mexico in 1625. She was carried away by the retreating Spanish during the Pueblo Revolt, but reinstated in 1693, and has been honoured ever since for inspiring the Spanish to stick with their colonizing project. Whether such colonial “smirking” is appropriate in a church I am not so sure, but the little statue is a marvel indeed. Elsewhere in the cathedral though, the native influence is apparent, for instance in the dreamcatcher-like bell that hangs above the lectern (photo three). This and many other elements of the decoration and ornamentation are quite modern, such as the windows of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel to the right of the altar, the altar screen and the great bronze doors. All of these were added in 1986 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the cathedral. I very much liked these modern touches, which added to the sensation of lightness and airiness.
Back outside, and in front of the cathedral are a couple of interesting statues. One is naturally of the patron saint, St Francis. The other is more unusual and depicts Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint (photo five). She was a 17th century Mohawk-Algonquian woman, who converted to Christianity at an early age.
The cathedral is open daily between 7.00 am and 6.00 pm, although access is restricted during Mass times. There is no fee to pay, though it would be good to leave a donation. Simple leaflets describing the architecture and various monuments are available for a suggested donation of 50c.
To the left of the cathedral as you face its great west doors is a small park. This was established in 1998 to mark the 400th anniversary of the first European, i.e. Spanish, colonisation of New Mexico. There are some lovely trees there and it offers a quiet, restful spot away from the bustle of the streets. In the centre is this monument commemorating the anniversary. The inscription on it reads:
“The year 1998 marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival in New Mexico of about 560 valiant men, women and children to establish one of the earliest permanent European settlements in the United States. Their leader and first governor, Don Juan de Oñate, led this intrepid band north over hundreds of desolate, dangerous miles to the green valleys of northern New Mexico. It was there the colonists established themselves by introducing European crops and the first horses, sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys and poultry – thereby establishing European culture and technology in the United States, where they had not previously existed.
With the settlers came the Franciscan priests and brothers who ministered to the colonists and to the native inhabitants of the region. It was this unswerving devotion to their faith and to their families that consoled and inspired those settlers and their descendents to endure and prevail over 400 years of isolation, abandonment, hardship and cultural challenges. It is to those heroic precursors that our community joins in raising this monument to our forefathers’ continuing contributions to the history, culture and values of today’s America. May they serve as an inspiration to all who pass this way.”
The monument includes sculptures of different types of settler – Franciscan monk, a colonial settler family (man, woman and two children), and a Spanish soldier. They surround a column which is topped by a statue of Mary La Conquistadora. At its base are many of the fruits, vegetables, tools, music instruments etc. brought to New Mexico by these colonialists, and it is supported by a cow, a pig, a sheep and a donkey.
This adobe mission chapel claims to be the oldest church in the United States, having been built between around 1610 to 1626. Whether that claim is true or not, this old building certainly has plenty of character and is well worth the $1 charged for admission (September 2011 price). Slightly oddly, you enter through the gift shop, so that it feels rather like a shop with a church tacked on to the back. But once inside you find a little gem. The beautiful wooden altar screen or reredos (photo three) dates from 1798 and is the oldest of its type in the state. The statue in its centre is of the chapel’s patron saint, St Michael the Archangel and was brought here from Mexico in 1709.
In front of the altar, glass panes in the floor allow you to peer down at the original foundations of the church and of the Native American structure formerly on this site. At the other end of the little chapel, near the door, is a large bell. This once hung in the bell tower and has an inscription dedicated to San Jose and dating it to 1356.
There are several picturesque old houses in the area immediately around the chapel, including one that claims to be the oldest in the US, supposedly built around 1646.
At the heart of downtown Santa Fe, as of every Spanish colonial town, is its Plaza, which is a National Historic Landmark. It is nicely laid out with lawns, trees and plenty of benches where you can relax and watch the world go by.
The Plaza originally marked the end of El Camino Real (the Spanish Royal Road from Mexico City) and the Santa Fe Trail, an important trade route. In those days it would have been surrounded by a large defensive wall that enclosed residences, barracks, a chapel, a prison and the Governor's Palace. Of these just the Governor’s Palace, on the north side, remains, and where there were once barracks and defenses today you find restaurants and shops.
In the centre of the Plaza is the Indian War Memorial (photo two), which was dedicated in 1867 to those who died in “battles with…Indians in the territory of New Mexico”. As this inscription suggests, the monument was erected during times of conflict between colonists and natives, and the space between “with” and “Indians” originally carried the word “savage”. But this has thankfully been removed in these more enlightened times, although the monument itself still seems something of an anachronism.
We had walked past this museum several times before deciding to visit, as it was just round the corner from our little casita in Chapelle Street. We didn’t know a lot about O’Keeffe before coming to Santa Fe, but we were keen to find out more. We had been warned by our Moon Handbook that the museum had perhaps fewer of her works than might have been expected in one dedicated entirely to this single artist – unfortunately by the time it opened in the late 1990s many of her pieces were already in collections elsewhere. But as the guidebook explained, this had been partly rectified in 2005 when the museum received the collection of the Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, so lovers of her work, or the curious such as ourselves, should at least find it worth a visit.
The gallery is modern and light, with six of its rooms now given over to the O’Keeffe collection. Of these I liked best the large flower pictures, such as white jimson weed, for which she is perhaps best known, and the landscapes painted in the immediate vicinity of Santa Fe, evocative of her love for this red sandstone country. No photos are allowed inside, but you can see some good examples, including those beautiful lilies, on the museum’s website here, and the landscapes here. I also liked the way the exhibition was curated, with some fascinating quotes from O’Keeffe painted on the walls alongside the paintings.
The remaining rooms are devoted to temporary exhibitions featuring O’Keeffe’s contemporaries or artists influenced by her. At the time of our visit this meant a travelling exhibition called “From New York to Corrymore: Robert Henri & Ireland”. I didn’t previously know the work of Robert Henri, and sadly after seeing this exhibition I was not inspired to do so. Apparently he is regarded as “the leader of the urban realists group known as the Ashcan School,” but the portraits of (mainly) Irish children were not really my thing I’m afraid. Nevertheless I was really pleased to have seen the works by O’Keeffe and that was, after all, the purpose of our visit.
The next day we drove to Abiquiu to see the scenery that so inspired O’Keeffe. Unfortunately it was a dull afternoon so my photos don’t really do the landscape justice, but you can still sense some of the wildness if the scenery and can see the distinctive flat top of Cerro Pedernal that featured in so many of her works (photo two).
We paid $10 admission, although I note at the time of writing, two months later in November 2011, that the website says $12. There are lockers where you can leave your bags, as you aren’t permitted to carry these into the exhibition space. There is also a good gift shop, with cards, prints and some high-quality related gifts (e.g. jewellery, and silk scarves printed with the flower images) – I just bought a couple of cards as I had been unable to take any photos. I see from the website that you can order online and it would be a good place to look for gifts for art-loving friends.
This was, I felt, the best of the museums we visited in Santa Fe – not that we managed to get to anything like all of them though! To start with, it’s worth a visit for the building itself, which is a beautiful example of what is commonly known as “pueblo revival architecture”. It was built in 1917 and originally designed to be the New Mexico pavilion for a world expo in San Diego two years earlier. The wonderfully curvaceous building “borrows” motifs from pueblo mission churches, such as the bell towers seen in several of my photos. It has a lovely tranquil inner courtyard, festooned with ristras (the distinctive strings of chillies).
There is a good variety of exhibits and it’s likely that everyone will find something to their taste. We were originally lured in by posters promoting a major photography exhibition, Earth Now”, with a focus on photographers who highlight environmental issues in their work. But with a few exceptions we both found these more didactic than inspirational. However there was plenty that appealed to us more, in particular another temporary exhibition of New Native Photography 2011 (ends in January 2012 though, so hurry if you want to see it!) There were some really excellent images here, by 19 photographers from across North America. Some are reproduced on the website below, but I won’t put a link in here in case it becomes broken when the exhibition ends – you could try Google if you’re interested after that date perhaps.
The other exhibition that I really liked was “How the West is One”, which is a more or less permanent one. The website explains that the exhibition,
“organizes key objects from the museum’s collections so that they outline an intercultural history of New Mexico art, from the arrival of railroads in 1879 to the present. This long term exhibition presents 70 works by Native American, Hispanic, and European-American artists which illustrate the changing aesthetic ideals that have evolved within southwestern art over the last 125 years. The exhibition allows viewers to discover the one-ness of New Mexico Art. Unique, unpredictable, often contradictory unity developed from the interactions of the Native American Hispanic, and mainstream American aesthetic traditions.”
Have a look at the website here if you’d like to read more or to see some of the works – highly recommended.
Entry costs $9 (adult non-residents, September 2011 prices) but if you plan to visit several museums you can get various passes, e.g. two in one day costs $12.
This church, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe to give it its full name, lies just south of the downtown area. It is the oldest shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the United States and was built in the 1780s; the exact date uncertain, though some guidebooks appear to think that they know! Certainly our Moon Handbook let us down on this point, and on its description of the church, which it says in the late 19th century “got an odd makeover, with a New England–look wood steeple” and “tall neo-Gothic arched windows”. This is not strictly true, as you will see if you visit and find, as we did, two church buildings on the site – one the original (and now restored) 18th century adobe one and one a New England style church which was built as a new parish church and opened in 1961.The 18th century church was restored in 1976 as part of the US Bicentennial celebrations. Although decommissioned for a while, the church was reintegrated into the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in February 2006 and is now used again for a monthly Mass and for choir performances etc.
Inside you will find the church relatively plain in some respects, with its three foot thick adobe walls painted white and hung with simple paintings of the Stations of the Cross. The dominating features are the beautiful viga ceiling and the large painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe above the altar (photo two). This is considered one of the largest and finest oil paints of the Spanish Southwest. It is dated 1783 and signed by Jose de Alzibar, who was one of Mexico's most distinguished artists. Elsewhere there are some of the typical New Mexican santos, carved images of the saints.
To the left of the altar a small doorway leads to a little museum, which is well worth visiting. A series of old photos shows the various appearances of the church over the years. This is where I learnt the facts about the neighbouring white-steepled building (maybe the author of the Moon book should make a visit here?!) I also learnt that the church was built originally as a mission church, to mark the northern end of the Camino Real from Mexico City, and only later became the parish church for this part of the city.
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