A Visit to the Archbishop

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September 25, 2011

About a block from the Santa Fe Plaza lies a famous Cathedral with quite a bit of history behind it. Well worth a visit during your trip to the city is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. While the current structure was erected in 1886, the first church was built in this site as early as 1610.

The Catholic faith came to New Mexico in 1598 at the hands of the Franciscan Friars, who had accompanied the Spanish colonists when they migrated north from Mexico. However, it was only when Santa Fe was founded in 1610 that a church was erected at the site of the current Basilica. An Indian revolt in 1680 destroyed much of the first church; the only part still existing is the Chapel of Our Lady, La Conquistadora. This chapel was built to honor a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was brought to Santa Fe in 1626.

When New Mexico was conquered by the United States in the Mexican American War in 1846, jurisdiction of the Santa Fe Catholic Community was transferred from the Bishop of Durango (Colorado) to the first Archbishop of Santa Fe, a Frenchman named Jean Baptiste Lamy.

By the creation of this new diocese, the adobe church became a Cathedral, as it was now the main church located in a city that serves as the center of the diocese. Lamy eventually replaced it with the large stone structure which stands today. He had come to Santa Fe in 1850 and when appointed Archbishop, he accomplished major achievements on several levels.

One of his greatest accomplishments, other than building the large stone structure we may visit today, was creating an education system for Catholic children by bringing in the Sisters of Loretto and the Brothers of Christian Schools. He resigned from his position in 1885 and retired to his country house north of the city where he died in 1888. He is buried in a crypt beneath the Cathedral floor.

A statue of Archbishop Lamy was erected in front of the Cathedral in 1915. His name was made famous by the book, “Death Comes For the Archbishop” written by Willa Cather in 1926. For anyone looking for a lovely book, well written and a terrific read while camping, you would do well to pick up this book. It evokes a wonderful sense of time and place while instilling a feeling of peace in the reader.

When visiting Santa Fe this summer, we took the time to tour the Basilica. It remains an impressive structure, both inside and out. It is worth a trip when you are in the area. Even if you are not Catholic, the Cathedral evokes a sense of a time long past that is difficult to comprehend unless you are present in person.

Read more about New Mexico camping and things to do in New Mexico.

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