In this episode, we venture beyond Santa Fe Plaza a few blocks, gawk at art inside the New Mexico Capitol and dive into history at Fort Marcy, the Cross of the Martyrs, Loretto Chapel, and the oldest house and church.
New Mexico Capitol
On the trolley tour, we heard about the art that graces the walls of the “roundhouse.” I don’t know why it doesn’t appear when searching for art museums and galleries. It should.
W.C. Kruger designed the round building using the Zia Sun symbol as inspiration. Robert E. McKee constructed the territorial-style building with neoclassical influences. The 1966 building was renovated in the 1990s, and since then has amassed upwards of 600 pieces of art created by New Mexican artists through the state’s Capitol Art Foundation. Artists donated many of the paintings, sculptures, and other art pieces, or the foundation purchased them through private donations.
The art display begins outside with sculptures. Self-guided tours inside are available Monday through Friday year round and on Saturday from Memorial Day to the last Saturday in August.
Enter on the second level, grab a pamphlet, and take a walk along the curved walls. Be sure to check out the skylight in the rotunda. On the north side of the building is the Senate gallery where visitors can watch proceedings, on the south side, the House gallery. The chambers are on the first level, which is underground.
The third level contains most of the Capitol Art Collection. This level has a bird’s-eye view of the state seal in the rotunda.
We passed on seeing the fourth level where the governor, lieutenant governor, and Legislative Council Service are housed and where the Governor’s Gallery and governors’ portraits are located.
The U.S. Army arrived in Santa Fe in August 1846, during the Mexican-American War. Led by General Stephen W. Kearny, 1700 troops seized Santa Fe and staked claim to a flat-top hill with a view of the town.
Although the fort remained during the Civil War, the troops never had to defend Santa Fe during the war. In 1868, the Army abandoned the fort. Reports of gold coins found in the ruins attracted treasure hunters who destroyed the remaining walls. Was the report a hoax? Perhaps since it appears no one else found treasure.
In 1961, the City of Santa Fe purchased the site for use as a park and scenic overlook.
Cross of the Martyrs
A trail from Fort Marcy Park led us to The Cross of the Martyrs. Visitors can also climb the stairs from Paseo Del Peralta, where plaques detail Santa Fe’s history. The Caballeros de Vargas, a fraternal organization, owns the land and cross.
The Cross of the Martyrs we visited is the second cross to commemorate the deaths of 21 Franciscan friars in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. The Original Cross of the Martyrs, erected in 1920 in a different location, is owned by the Historic Santa Fe Foundation.
The 1680 Pueblo Revolt successfully exiled the Spanish colonists until General Don Diego de Vargas returned twelve years later with settlers to recapture Santa Fe.
On September 16, 1712, the Villa of Santa Fe designated September 14 a day of “celebration with Vespers, Mass, Sermon, and a Procession through the Main Plaza for the purpose of recalling how this Villa had been reconquered on September 14, 1692 by General Don Diego de Vargas…”
Over the centuries, the one-day celebration expanded into multi-day activities, introduced commercialization, and added parades and an Entrada reenactment. Controversy developed over the story told in the reenactment depicting a “bloodless” reoccupation by Vargas and colonists.
Native tribes and historians expressed their opposition to the reenactment’s version of history. They worked for at least fifty years to correct the narrative without success. After angry protests and a large police presence during the 2017 fiesta, the Santa Fe Fiesta Council and the Caballeros de Vargas agreed to discontinue the reenactment. In subsequent years, except 2020, the celebration has continued without the Entrada.
On the last day of celebration, St. Francis Basilica holds mass, followed by a candlelight procession to the Cross of the Martyrs, preserving the original intent of the proclamation of 1712.
Loretto Chapel and the Unsolved Mystery
For five years, the sisters of Loretto Academy watched the Gothic Revival style building take shape until its completion in 1878. With its spires, buttresses, and stained glass windows imported from France, it was the perfect building where the sisters could hold services and sing hymns.
There was just one problem. No one figured out how to build a staircase to reach the choir loft twenty-two feet above the floor. So they prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. Following the ninth day of prayers, a man appeared with a donkey and a toolbox, looking for work.
The man toiled for months, cutting planks, fitting them together like puzzle pieces, joining them with dowels, no nails. When the carpenter completed his work, he packed up his tools and disappeared, leaving without compensation and depriving the sisters of their expressions of gratitude.
Some people thought the man was St. Joseph, answering the sisters’ prayers. Carpenters and engineers inspected the staircase with its 360-degree turns and no visible means of support. They marveled at the wood and other materials used and at the relative height of the risers to the height of the choir loft.
Scary stories circulated of frightened nuns and students using the staircase built without handrails. They were added in 1887. Nuns and students used the chapel until 1968, when the academy closed.
Today, the chapel is privately owned. Open 364 days a year, the chapel hosts over 100 weddings and events each year, and guests line up to tour the building and photograph the staircase.
San Miguel Chapel
San Miguel Chapel is billed as the oldest Catholic Church in the continental United States. Franciscan friars constructed the church between 1610 and 1626 to serve the small community of soldiers, laborers, and Indians who lived in the Barrio de Analco. It was partially destroyed in 1680 during the Pueblo Revolt.
Archeologists believe an early pueblo settlement from 800-1300 CE is underneath the church. The current 1710 building has needed structural changes over the centuries and a major preservation project began in 2008. During the project, cement stucco was removed, adobe repaired, and a finishing coat applied. If interested, their website includes videos of the process. The church is open to visitors throughout the week and is available for live performances and video and sound recordings.
Signs for the oldest house led us down a narrow path toward an adobe building. We stepped inside the attached 1800s building to the right, which houses the Oldest House Gift Shop, selling Indian gifts and art. Inside to the left was the entrance to De Vargas House, the oldest house.
The actual build date of the house is unknown. A few of the lower wall sections resemble pre-Spanish pueblo construction. The best guess is 1610 before Spanish colonists arrived.
And finally, we’ve reached the end of this long post. How about a bit of whimsy?