Historical records indicate that Santa Fe’s San Miguel Mission was built between 1605 and 1608. The church was built by the Franciscan missionaries on the south of the Santa Fe River. The area of its location was known as the Barrio de Analco, the Aztec word meaning “the other side.” The San Miguel Mission is reputed to be the oldest church in the United States. In 1680 during the Pueblo Revolt the church was set ablaze but not completely destroyed. The fire did not affect the thick adobe walls. Only the wooden roof and framework were destroyed. In 1692 the church was restored. Throughout its long history, the church has served as a mission, a barrio church, a military chapel and an oratory for the Christian Brothers. Most recently the church has been a revered shrine to St. Michael, the patron saint of the dying.
The legend of the first church bell goes back to Spain and its eight-century-long battle with the Moors. In the small hamlet of San Jose in Andalucia, the villagers prayed to St. Joseph for protection. They promised that if they were saved from the Moors they would honor him. With their prayers answered, a bell was cast as a tribute of appreciation. Through their unrelenting faith and prayers, they believed that each time the bell rang, the power of the Moors declined. Therefore, the Christians had gained victory each time the bell rang triumphantly. With the prayers of the people answered their enemy was finally expelled from Spain.
A Home in Santa Fe
During the 17th century the bell was brought to Santa Fe by ship from southern Spain. It was transported by wagon up the Camino Real by Nicolas Ortiz Niño Ladron de Guevara. The bell was placed in a capilla (small chapel) he built for his family. After the Pueblo Revolt it was placed at San Miguel Chapel. In 1872 the bell was damaged by a storm and removed to the interior of the church for protection and preservation where it resides today.