© 2020 History in Santa Fe
Website images courtesy of the Palace of the Governors and La Herencia Photo Archives.
Shaped by early volcanic activity, the Sangre De Cristo and Jemez Mountain ranges surrounding Santa Fe create a uniquely spiritual landscape. Centuries ago, the Anasazi and their Pueblo Indian descendants believed the land was sacred and established communities in the area. In the early seventeenth century, the Spanish brought Catholicism to Santa Fe and christened it the City of Holy Faith. Other European faiths arrived in the mid-nineteenth century. By the twentieth century, religions from the East, along with New Thought and New Age practitioners, had established a foothold in the capital city. Sikhism, the fifth-largest religion in the world, was introduced to the western hemisphere from Santa Fe. The nature-based UDV religion of Brazil founded its first center in the United States in Santa Fe, which also includes the four major lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. Santa Fe city historian Ana Pacheco documents the rich religious and spiritual history of this high-mountain metaphysical community.
Spirituality in Santa Fe began more than four hundred years ago. In 1610, the capital city of New Mexico was christened La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís. Santa Fe is the fourth of 13 official commemorative cities named Santa Fe, which means Holy Faith in Spanish. It’s also the first city in the world outside of Spain to bear the name. I’m sure our founding fathers had no inkling of the ramifications that name would conjure four centuries later. Catholicism was the first religion introduced to the area, but Native American spirituality had been entrenched in the land for thousands of years. The presence of ancient religions of the East, old European faiths, American-made religions, mysticism and New Age, are all found in Santa Fe. Just as the earliest settlers began their own type of worship in small groups in private homes, people continue to gather in a similar fashion as they hone in on a spiritual foundation to fit their needs and lifestyles. And just like the early days, these new missionaries reach out in the Spanish language to the state’s burgeoning immigrant community from Mexico and Central America.
Since the mid-20th century, Santa Fe has been referred to as The City Different because of our “anything goes” attitude. This mindset includes the diversity of its spirituality. In a city with a population of some 70,000, it’s a place of refuge not just for spiritual seekers but also for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Having lived in exile from his beloved Tibet for more than half a century, he has been instrumental in establishing a strong Mahayana Buddhist presence in Santa Fe, including all four major lineages: Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug traditions. The presence of such a strong Buddhist community might not be uncommon in large metropolitan cities like New York or Los Angeles, but for a small town like Santa Fe, it’s unprecedented.