Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

Despite very deliberately not belonging to any organized religion, I am fascinated with church architecture and Christian art.
(The highlight of actually living in Aurora was that my regular run took me through a cemetery past a gothic chapel built in the 1800s). Otherwise, I mostly pay attention only when I am in tourist mode, and it's hard to compare American churches (especially Western ones) to the deep history of foreign ones. I should like to make more of a concerted effort to visit notable American churches.

So even though we've been to Santa Fe a handful of times, I'd never actually been in the Cathedral. The first time or two, in fact, it was closed due to renovations for Santa Fe's 400th anniversary. Of course, the Loretto Chapel is worth a visit, and a few dollars admission, to peer at the wooden circular staircase.
But today, St. Francis, the patron saint of animals and the environment, beckoned us inside:

The low sun on a bright winter afternoon was perfect for illuminating the 12 Apostles, 6 on either side:

This church was rebuilt several times after prior destruction. The latest incarnation still dates to the 19th century, on an original site that was hundreds of years older, and had the honorific status of basilica bestowed by the current Pope in 2005. In a chapel (an older portion of one of the original churches) to the side of the altar lies several historic artifacts. A glass-enclosed case contains several relics, notably a bone relic of St. Francis, but the most important is La Conquistadora, a 400-year old statue of the Virgin Mary, the oldest in the New World. The statue, in fact, has a separate wardrobe of hundreds of pieces of ornate clothing, and is changed regularly.

A kindly woman was explaining the history to myself and another woman, a photographer from Colorado. With surprising, graphic detail, she stated how that, although La Conquistadora was not enclosed in any protective casing, it was highly protected by electric alarm systems.
"If you were lying, bleeding to death in the street," she said to the woman, "and he jumped over the fence to get that statue" (I appreciated the compliment to my assumed stealth), "the police would rush right past you toward the statue. That's how important the statue is!"

To some, or maybe just her. As much as I do appreciate history, the photographer from Colorado was lovely enough, so I know my decision would have been different. And easy. Ironically, my faith was reaffirmed.

By the way, among the veneration of images is a hierachy of (in order of precedence):latria, hyperdulia, and dulia. This means that the honor bestowed to Mary (hyperdulia), and the relative honour bestowed upon relics, lies between the highest honour bestowed to God alone (latria), and a lesser honour bestowed upon saints (dulia).

This, I expect, to be helpful in Scrabble sometime.


  1. Mike, your perspective is always interesting to read. Thanks for sharing.

    Have you ever read the historical novel "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett? I read it years ago and can still vividly remember the detailed descriptions of Gothic and Romanesque architecture as the protagonist goes about building a cathedral in a fictional town in England. Follett uses the backdrop of historical events to explore medieval architecture, civil war, secular/religious conflicts and shifting political loyalties.

  2. Thanks Ean -- I haven't read it yet...ironically, I borrowed it from a former boss at work probably 7 or 8 years ago (I asked him several times if he wanted it back and he said to keep it) who said it was his favourite book of all-time. I just couldn't commit to the length of it! That was also before we ever traveled and I started wandering around churches, so now I'll have to look for it again, THANKS!