Hispanic & Native American Churches in Albuquerque

Tour the Walls of Faith in Albuquerque—
churches that hint at our rich Spanish Colonial legacy

The history, architecture and art of New Mexico is rooted in the strong ties to the faith of the Hispanic and Native American peoples. While Santa Fe and Taos can boast of churches that are known internationally, Albuquerque has a large number of churches with impressive credentials both of an artistic and historic nature. For the first-time visitor or researcher, you don't have to travel north to find some impressive testaments to New Mexico's dedication to its spiritual past and present. Although many of the signs and symbols of the Spanish Colonial traditions in the Albuquerque area are no longer visible, there are several churches that can give us a hint of our past.

The most widely photographed church in Albuquerque is San Felipe Neri in Old Town. The original church in Old Town was built sometime around 1706 on the west side of today's plaza to serve the needs of the original 252 settlers who were guided by Fray Manuel Moreno. The church was originally named for San Francisco after Francisco Cuervo y Váldez, who established the villa of Alburquerque (originally spelled with an extra R). This first church, the third oldest Hispanic church in New Mexico, must have been quite a sight for visitors to Albuquerque in those days, for the adobe roof of the thick-walled church stood about twenty-five feet above the level of the plaza and an adobe arch holding two bells — gifts of King Felipe V himself — reached another six or eight feet into the open sky. Due to several attacks from the Comanches and heavy rains and floods in the mid-1770s, this old church began to fall down. Between the annual Comanche visitations and the lack of maintenance, Governor don Fernando de la Concha called for a new church to be built, which was completed in 1793 on the north side of the plaza.

The feast day of San Felipe Neri is celebrated each year on May 26 with processions and other religious activities. The church is also the center of activities during the San Felipe Fiestas held each year the end of May/first of June in the Old Town Plaza. A traditional procession of the patron saint is part of the three days of entertainment, food and fun.

The first school in Albuquerque was located on Romero Street on the west side of the current church. Opened in 1877-78 by the Jesuits, Our Lady of the Angels school operated until 1927. Today, the school building houses shops and the Church Convent.

There is a great deal of discussion as to the correct name for this church. Is it San Felipe de Neri or just San Felipe Neri? According to Father Thomas Steele, who wrote a book on the church in celebration of its bicentennial in 1993, the correct name is San Felipe Neri.

One of Albuquerque's most photographed events is the Christmas Eve farolitos in the Old Town Plaza followed by midnight mass at San Felipe Church. Hundreds of people tour the plaza by the light of the farolitos and frequently they spontaneously form a group to sing Christmas songs.

Queen of Angels Church

Image: © Queen of Angels Indian Chapel
1100 Indian School Road NW

A short distance from Old Town is the mission church of Queen of Angels Indian Chapel across from the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center on 12th Street at Indian School Road. This tiny church is the center of an active parish.

On the University of New Mexico Campus is the UNM Alumni Chapel designed in 1954 by John Gaw Meem. The nondenominational chapel, based on Franciscan Mission style, was built in 1960 by Bradbury and Stamm Construction from money raised by the alumni through donations. In May and June, it is a busy place and the best time to slip in is before or after the many scheduled weddings. The altar screen was designed by UNM Professor John Tatschl from drawings by Meem. It was installed in 1963 and the retablos were painted by John M. Gonzales of Las Vegas, New Mexico in 1984.

Iglesia de San Ysidro

Image: © Iglesia de San Ysidro
"The Old Church", Corrales

A short drive north to the village of Corrales and a mile off the main road is the Iglesia de San Ysidro. No longer used for religious services, it is the location of many fine arts and crafts exhibits as well as weekend concerts. The Church was built in 1868 following a flood that destroyed an earlier church on the same site. The "Old Church" was built from materials found after the flood. It is managed by the Corrales Historical Society and is lovingly replastered and repaired every spring by volunteers.

To the south of Albuquerque, Valencia County has many historic churches. This area is known as the Rio Abajo and has a rich history from the Hispanic settlers and the Native peoples that goes back to the Anasazi. Tomé is a village that seems lost in time but comes alive on Good Friday with hundreds of faithful climbing Tomé Hill to repent for their sins. Our Lady of the Conception Church in Tomé, built in the early 1700s, has withstood many floods of the Rio Grande and today houses a museum of the history and artifacts of the area.

St. Augustine Church on the Isleta reservation was built in 1613 and is one of the oldest Native American mission churches in America. There is a parish museum at the church that displays historic vestments and church furnishings. Proper visitor etiquette must be followed when visiting this church or anywhere on Pueblo Indian lands. Usually one may never photograph cemeteries and the insides of churches may not be photographed without special permission.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Peralta was built in 1879. The Stations of the Cross at the church are European chromolithograph prints from the nineteenth century.

Other Churches in the Albuquerque Area

Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (9502 4th St NW in Albuquerque). Celebrated each year on September 8, this feast day recalls the sorrows experienced by Mary as the mother of Christ. This celebration has been a part of the church calendar since 1814.

Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel is at 333 58th St NW in Albuquerque). The feast day is celebrated on October 7. Our Lady of the Rosary is the patroness of peace and protector against danger and accidents. One version of Our Lady of the Rosary is La Conquistadora in the Saint Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe. The image itself is surrounded by controversy since it is associated with the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and the Reconquest of 1692-93. She is part of the Santa Fe Fiesta celebration held in Santa Fe in early September.

Santuario de San Martin (8321 Camino San Martin SW in Albuquerque) contains numerous interesting wood carvings by santero Juan Sandoval. Upon a recent visit, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe remarked: "There will never be a place like this anywhere!"

Our Lady of Perpetual Help (1837 Alvarado Dr NE in Albuquerque). This is the only Byzantine Catholic Church in New Mexico. It contains many beautiful orthodox icons, including several retablos by santero Charlie Carrillo. Churches of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows) in Bernalillo and at Sandia Pueblo. There are 47 churches in New Mexico named for Nuestra Señora de los Dolores. The patroness is celebrated on March 29 and on September 16.

San Felipe Church at San Felipe Pueblo, built in 1605, is the third oldest church in New Mexico. The patron saint, San Felipe de Jesus, is celebrated with processions and dances on February 5. San Felipe Pueblo is about 30 minutes north of Albuquerque, just off Interstate 25.

To get the true feeling of the importance of religion in the lives of New Mexicans, you might want to consider a visit to one of the many churches on a Sunday or on a feast day. Even if the ceremony and religion is not familiar to you, the importance of the family coming together to worship will give you a special insight into how New Mexicans have celebrated their faith for almost 400 years.

Thanks to Barbe Awalt and Paul Rhetts who are the publishers of Tradición Revista remote site, a magazine focusing on the traditional arts and culture of New Mexico, as well as the authors of Charlie Carrillo: Tradition & Soul. They can be reached in Albuquerque at 505-344-9382.

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Albuquerque Metro Area - Volume 11

Related Pages

Hispanic Arts & Crafts Tour of Northern NM article
Traditional New Mexican Hispanic Crafts article
Relicarios: Devotional Miniatures

Acoma Pueblo – Sky City article
Collecting Milagros article

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LAST MODIFIED: September 24, 2007

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