Capitols & churches: How old is holy faith?

The New Mexico State Capitol

The New Mexico State Capitol building/photo by Gary Flanagan

By Gary Flanagan

The “Land of Enchantment” has a one-of-a-kind Capitol. “The Roundhouse” was designed to resemble the Zia Sun Symbol seen on New Mexico license plates. Finished in 1966, it connects an indigenous tribe from the past in Zia Pueblo with a modern-day government. The City of Santa Fe (meaning “holy faith” in Spanish) has a long history of being the center of government. In fact, it is the only capital in the U.S. that has housed the governments of three different nations.

Santa Fe also is home to the oldest Capitol in the U.S., the Palace of Governors, built in 1610. It is still standing as a museum located at one end of Santa Fe Plaza. The plaza was home of the original Pueblo villages founded around 1100 C.E. At the other end of the plaza is where I found St. Francis Cathedral. The city’s full name when founded was La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis (The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi). Not only old, but a breath-taking name. Santa Fe is much easier.

I found this church in the city center, but could not locate the Roundhouse Capitol. Looking up was useless since the Capitol was only a few stories high. I followed the signs to the visitors center and parked. This time luck was on my side. The new Capitol was directly in front of me and a few hundred steps to my right was a very old church.

The New Mexico State Capitol is very impressive but simple in design. A statue called “Morning prayer” stands at the front entrance. The back entrance has a statue of four children, hands clasped, playing a game. A very cool art piece contains a mosaic of all the New Mexico counties. Finally, The Zia Sun symbol reminds you of the four seasons and four compass directions.

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The San Miguel Church/photo by Gary Flanagan

A quick walk from the Capitol brought me to the oldest church structure in the United States. San Miguel Church was built in 1610 by the Tlaxcalan Indians from Mexico. The original Adobe walls are standing behind the stucco exterior. It has gone through numerous changes over the years but is still an active church. Daily Latin Mass at 2 p.m., Ordinary Mass on Sunday and a Gregorian chant every third Sunday of the month. Even more astonishing is the wooden altar screen, or reredos, inside at the front of the chapel. It was erected in 1798. I highly recommend researching this amazing building at SanMiguelChapel.org.

In a corner of the chapel was an information table with a man acting as a tour guide. Our conversation discovered much in common. We were roughly the same age, born in upstate NY, moved to New England and fans of the 1967 “impossible dream” team of the Boston Red Sox. Two strangers, standing in the oldest church in America, a couple of Red Sox fans talking about the good old days while in the city of holy faith, Santa Fe. It is indeed a small world.

Once again, it was time to continue my journey. I thanked him for the conversation and information, jumped back in my car and headed east. The wind was still at my back and little did I know, old faith was cooking up a surprise for me. My days drive ended in Shamrock, Texas on the Oklahoma state border. I was exhausted, but satisfied that the Rocky Mountain Capitols and churches were behind me.

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