Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Santa Fe--Churches, Labyrinths and Incredible People

How can it be possible, that every day is so wonderful?  When I start out writing a new post, I find myself usually starting with some sort of superlative, and sometimes I think it may sound old, but it's just been this way.  Every day brings something new and different, and it's an absolute blast!  Anyway, yesterday was no exception.  We started out the day visiting Santuario de Guadalupe.  It is an old mission church, and is the oldest church devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Like most of these old churches, it has gone through many phases, sometimes being partially destroyed, sometimes being abandoned, but you can still see much of the original woodwork and adobe brickwork.  There was a time when it was not being used by the diocese anymore and it was taken over by a private organization, and used for cultural events, both religious and secular.  Eventually, it came back into the church hands and is now an active parish.  The icons are beautiful, and the Spanish/Mexican style of ceilings and woodcarvings are just so beautiful.  After we finished walking through and reading the story of the church, Trisha noticed a woman setting out new candles down near the altar, so she went to speak with her to ask directions on how to get to another church we wanted to see.  Well, the woman was so very nice and helpful--she took Trisha back to her office and copied a map for her, and laid out the walking routes for us.  She asked if we were Catholic, but didn't mind when Trisha explained that she is a Presbyterian pastor, and was just so cheerful and happy.  Then she asked Trisha where we were staying, and when she told her we were in our RV, the woman asked where we were parked.  When Trisha said we were in a metered spot on the street, she said that they weren't having any funerals or other functions at the church that day, so we were welcome to bring it to the church lot where we could leave it all day--what a lovely gift!

So we walked down toward the Plaza, to see Loretto Chapel, built in the 1870's by the Sisters of Loretto.  It's a relatively small church, but just amazingly beautiful.  On the way, we walked along the Santa Fe River, or at least the river bed--completely dry now, but they have it walled in some places along the side where there are buildings, and along the other side it's like a city park, with benches and tables along the edge, and is just so pretty.  Anyway, the most unusual thing about this chapel is the "Miraculous Staircase."  Apparently when the chapel was built, they built a choir loft up above the back of the sanctuary, but built no staircase!  How this happened is not explained, but the story goes that as they were puzzling about how to access the loft, carpenters and architects said that the only way to do it would be to put a conventional staircase, but that would have required so much room that it would have taken up too much of the pew area of the sanctuary main floor.  So, in 1878, one day a carpenter showed up, saying he could handle it, and he built this incredible wooden spiral staircase, using no nails, but only wooden pegs, and used only a handsaw, a mallet and an auger to drill the holes for the pegs.  It has two complete 360 degree turns, but no central post or beam, and no visible way of supporting it, like you see in every spiral staircase you've ever seen.  Then he just vanished, without asking for or receiving any pay, and no one ever knew his name.  Legend has it that Joseph, patron saint of carpenters, inspired the work.  In its original construction, there were not even bannisters or railings, but the sisters regularly used the staircase.  In a couple of years, a visiting monsignor had someone construct a balustrade, with bannister and railing for support--itself no mean feat.  It is no longer in use, due to concerns about preservation, in light of vibrations resulting from more modern construction nearby, but it is an architectural marvel.  Architects have long come to inspect it and no one can figure out how it was done, as it defies all conventions on how a spiral staircase can be supported.  Now it is no longer an active church, but rather is owned by a nonprofit, historical preservation organization, but is often rented out for weddings, funerals and other similar services.  Just stunning.

Next we went to the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, just off the historic Plaza in old downtown.  Rebecca had told us that there was a labyrinth there, so we wanted to walk it and see the old church as well.  When we got there, however, there was a funeral in progress so we were not able to go into the church, but we still wanted to walk this beautiful labyrinth, laid out in contrasting colors of stones in the plaza area in front of the church.  As we walked over to the labyrinth, we were shocked to see that someone had parked a motor scooter on the labyrinth itself.  Trisha was not at all happy about this so she went to the gift shop to ask if they knew whose it was, but they said they did not; she told them she was going to move it off the labyrinth, but they seemed concerned about her doing that, so she didn't.  We walked the labyrinth anyway, and just made our way around the scooter as best we could.  It was a unique setting, as here we were, in the middle of downtown, with tons of tourists all around, loud talking and some people wondering out loud what this was, what these two crazy people were doing walking around in circles, lots more distractions than we had been experiencing on the other labyrinths we had encountered.  But, we were under the protective gaze of this lovely bronze statue of St. Francis, dancing on the water--a representation we've never seen before--with happy feet and happy face, and wonderful inscriptions all over the statue, so it was a good walk.  After we finished, Trisha did write a note to the scooter owner, explaining how sacred the space was, and hoping that in the future the owner would find another place to park it, and left it in the helmet that was hanging on the handlebar!

As we were walking around the area afterward, it was getting to be lunchtime so we took the recommendation of a shopkeeper and had lunch at a place called the Plaza Cafe, right on the Plaza, that had black and while checkerboard tile floors, an old fashioned lunch counter with red vinyl covered stools, but it was sooo good!  Had an Indian taco--Indian fry bread, with beans and peppers and lots of red and green chiles--yummy for the tummy!

After lunch we walked to St. Michael's Mission Church, purportedly the oldest church in the US, having been built in 1610, by Spanish priests, using Indian labor of course.  It fell into disrepair over the  years, but they've done some restoration, and in the 1950's did some archeological excavation and discovered some of the original work.  There are still masses being held there regularly, and it was really interesting to visit.

We visited the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts downtown, as they were having a show of Native American women's work.  It was a powerful exhibit, but often quite disturbing, with multimedia forms exploring themes of marginalization of minorities, and especially domestic violence, through a video of this haunting interpretive dance by two women.

Then we drove out to Museum Hill, a cluster of several museums out from town a bit.  We knew there was a labyrinth there, so we found this beautiful labyrinth, of a style that evoked images of some of the Aztec designs we've seen, using bricks of green and a red similar to the red rocks we've seen all over the southwest.  We also visited the Museum of International Folk Art, where we were particularly taken with an exhibit of Japanese kites--some gorgeous, intricately painted paper kites, and a very interesting video about the art of kite making, how important it is in Japanese culture.  Never knew it was such an art form, but there are people in Japan who are renown for their kite painting designs, as well as this one place where there is a big annual kite festival.  People spend weeks building and hand painting these incredible kites, then they have teams who not only fly them, but engage in battle across this small river, the object being to ensnare the strings--rather ropes in most cases--of a competing team's kite and try to bring it down, resulting in most of the kites being destroyed by the end of the several day competition.  Fascinating!

Then, to cap off this remarkable day, our new friend Rebecca came and picked us up to take us to spend the evening with this most amazing couple, Marge and Bob.  Rebecca had met them through labyrinth work, and both Rebecca and Marge have been long serving members of the board of Veriditas, Lauren Artress's organization.  Marge and Bob had been instrumental in forming a labyrinth society in Santa Fe, and were the primary movers and shakers who helped get the labyrinths at the museum and the Basilica constructed.  Well, this was the most amazing, and unexpected, blessing to meet these wonderful folks.  Rebecca had told us they were in their 80's, but had we not known, when we met them we would have pegged them for not much older than we are--both are in fabulous shape, but the most remarkable thing is their spirit and just their entire countenance.  Hard to describe, but when you find yourself in the presence of people like this you just are once again convinced that there really are no coincidences in life--our meeting them was just meant to be---preordained, to use some Presbyterian terminology ( they happened to be Presbyterian).  They live in this gorgeous retirement community, with lovely flowers in the common courtyards of the three quad like buildings, a pool in their courtyard, and a very nice dining facility.  They welcomed us warmly into their home, and the time just flew by, as we shared so many of the things we found that we have in common--their love of labyrinths, a daughter who danced ballet in New York, a deep and profound spirituality in all aspects of their lives, and an openness to new adventures in life.

The most incredible part, though, was that they have walked the Camino de Santiago, the famous pilgrimage that starts in France, crossing the Pyrennes  and ending in Santiago, an 800 km journey that pilgrims have been walking for centuries.  People often walk parts of it, in different stages, and they did the last 111 kilometers, bringing them into Santiago, ending at the cathedral where there is a Pilgrim's Mass, celebrating the successful journey of all who walk.  When you begin your pilgrimage, you get this large scalloped seashell with a red cross emblem on it, with a red cord you wear it around your neck or put over your backpack.  And then at the end, if you've done at least 100 km, you get a certificate.  How they came to do it--Bob asked Marge what she wanted to do to celebrate her 80th birthday a few years ago, and, without hesitation she replied, to walk the El Camino--The Way.  So this lead to several months of serious preparation, and then they did it!  They described the incredible spiritual journey this was, the sense of community with all the walkers they met along the way, and it just convinced us both that this is definitely something we will one day do ourselves.  What an amazing way to end another great day!

Santuario de Guadalupe

 Original window woodwork
Santa Fe River bed, to the right of the table

Loretto Chapel

 The Miraculous Staircase
 While no photos exist of the staircase before the railing was added, this is a photoshopped rendition of what it must have looked like before

Basilica of St. Francis and labyrinth

 St Francis, Dancing on the Water

 St. Michael bulto behind the altar

 Original doorway and figurines discovered in the archeological dig in the 1950's

Beautiful wind sculpture--we've seen many of these throughout the southwest, all done by an artist named Lyman Whitaker--would love to have some of his work!
 The labyrinth at the Folk Art Museum

 Unique stone bench at the museum

 Amish quilt exhibit
 One of many beautiful log cabin quilts

 Quilts showing the influence of more outside contact when some of the Amish began migrating from their original, more insular, setting in Pennsylvania

Another gorgeous Santa Fe sunset!

1 comment: