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Santa Fe’s Oldest Guadalupe Sanctuary

The Santuario de Guadalupe in Santa Fe, built in 1777, is the oldest sanctuary to the Madonna in the United States. The church has three-foot-thick adobe walls and a bell tower at the southeast corner. The mission church served the spiritual needs of farmers and their families in the immediate area. Like other churches of that era, it was surrounded by a cemetery. Some of the parishioners and clergy were buried under the sanctuary. The common practice was reserved for the wealthy and church higher hierarchy. It also prevented grave robbers in search of jewelry buried with the dead.  

20th Century Discovery

In 1989 an excavation took place and an underground cemetery was discovered. The remains of 63 people were found. With closer examination archeologists found that the people buried underneath the Santuario were laid to rest between 1820 and 1890. While trying to determine the viability and strength of the church foundation the workers found the subterranean cemetery.

The Church Fire of 1922

A disastrous fire engulfed the Santuario de Guadalupe in 1922. The roof was destroyed, the steeple was left a hollow shell and the new interior wall paintings were ruined. The fire-fighting efforts left the nave flooded. Fortunately, the altar and outer walls remained mostly unharmed. Repairs were made in the popular California Mission style. A bell tower replaced the charred steeple and a massive stone wall supplanted the picket fence. Stained-glass windows featuring Marian themes decorated the interior walls.

Historic Portrait Saved

The great fire spared a portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe created by José de Alcíbar. The Mexican baroque master signed and dated this monumental work in 1783. It is the largest painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the United States. The portrait presents a central, full-body image of the Virgin. The artwork traveled on the Camino Real in sections from Mexico City. Once it reached to Santa Fe the pieces were rejoined. Today the painting is featured inside the Santuario de Guadalupe, the oldest sanctuary to the Madonna in the United States.

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