The idea of writing a book on the Spanish Mission Churches of New Mexico is far from new. For many years I have had in mind such a publication, which should embody something of their history, with descriptions of those still standing and of the ruins of those which ended their course of usefulness generations ago, together with as full a collection of pictures both of exteriors and interiors as it is possible to obtain.
Books almost without number have been written on the Mission Churches of California; they have been pictured hundreds of times in pamphlets and magazines, and there seems to be an unfailing interest in their quaint architecture and the story of their establishment; but outside of the boundaries of New Mexico, practically nothing is known of the far more interesting structures that render the Sunshine State the paradise of the tourist, the antiquarian, and the religious enthusiast.
The elements which unite to make the Missions of New Mexico of much more real interest than those of California, will be treated of in the body of this work, and require only this brief reference here. Both in antiquity and variety, the former have a very great advantage.
Within the last quarter of a century many of the most interesting have disappeared, from natural causes or the hand of man. In Santa Fé itself, the old parish church of San Francisco, which served as a cathedral when a resident bishop was first provided for New Mexico, has given place to the new cathedral, which is a stately and beautiful building, but without any flavor of antiquity; and the old Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, so quaint in its form and its adornments, has been modernized into an ordinary structure with a wooden steeple, that reminds one of New England instead of New Mexico. The old church at Fernandez de Taos, so noticeable for its massive buttresses which apparently would have stood for centuries, has been replaced by a modern building, no doubt more beautiful and more commodious, but which has taken away the precious associations with the heroic past; and San Juan, where the Christian faith was first proclaimed to the Pueblo Indians, has had a similar experience. Here the venerable parish priest, one of the earliest recruits brought from France by Bishop Lamy, has devoted not only his entire life, but also his ample means, to the people he loves so well; and caring more for their comfort than for matters of sentiment, first remodeled the ancient structure so as to be almost unrecognizable, and has since erected an entirely new edifice, of which he may be justly proud, but which to the lover of antiquity can scarcely compensate
Thus seven of the most important of the old religious landmarks disappeared in less than a generation, and it was evident that if the memorial of the ancient missions was ever to be written, or even their pictures preserved, it must be done at once. The collection of these pictures has been a labor of love, but one requiring patience and perseverance. Of some of those that had perished or been materially changed by vandal or modernizing hands, it seemed almost impossible to obtain a correct representation. The final success, however, is found between the covers of this volume.
While at first it was intended to include only the churches which strictly came under the head of Missions, yet it was plain that this would leave aside a number of the most interesting of our churches. None of the churches in Santa Fe, for instance, unless possibly “Old San Miguel,” was technically a mission church. Neither Albuquerque nor Santa Cruz was ever a mission, nor was the Santuario at Chimayó; nor could the parish church at Taos be included under that name. Yet all of these are interesting in their architecture and more interesting in their history; and the differences between a parish church and a mission have long since ceased to be practical.
It was decided therefore to include all of the old Spanish churches of interest; and a chapter is added on the Penitentes, in order to include among the illustrations, pictures of the Moradas in which this peculiar religious society holds its meetings.