Blog >> A Short History of Santa Fe’s Santuario de Guadalupe

  •    Marian scholar Jacqueline Dunnington compiled the following history on Santa Fe’s Santuario de Guadalupe:

       The sanctuary is the oldest continuously standing shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the United States. The original Santuario de Guadalupe in Santa Fe, built on a Latin cross plan, had three-foot-thick adobe walls and a bell tower at the southeast corner. It was an active mission church serving the immediate area populated by farmers and their families. The chapel was once surrounded by a camposanto (cemetery); however, during the 1800s, many parishioners buried their dead under the Santuario floor. This was a common practice at the time, intended to ward off grave robbers in search of jewelry and other memorabilia that were buried with the dead.        Excavations in 1989, undertaken to locate the stress points created by the bell tower and heavy walls, produced unexpected results. Diggers unearthed the remains of 63 people who had been buried underneath the Santuario between 1820 and 1890. The dig did not turn up any religious articles pertaining to Guadalupe.

       In June of 1922, a disastrous fire engulfed the Santuario de Guadalupe: the roof was destroyed, the steeple was left a hollow shell, the new interior wall paintings were ruined, and fire-fighting efforts left the nave flooded. The altar and outer walls remained mostly unharmed. Repairs were made in the popular California Mission style. Cement was smoothed over the adobe bricks, a bell tower replaced the charred steeple, a massive stone wall supplanted the picket fence, and stained-glass windows featuring Marian themes decorated the interior walls.

       The great fire spared a portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which now hangs behind the area where the altar once stood. Jose de Alcibar (Alzibar), a Mexican baroque master, signed and dated this monumental work in 1783. It is the largest painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the United States and presents a central, full-body image of the Virgin surrounded by four illustrations of the main events of the 1531 apparition story. The painting made the journey north by cart and in sections, up the Camino Real from Mexico City to Santa Fe, where the pieces were rejoined. It has found safety inside Guadalupe’s Santuario in spite of the epic journey and near-fatal fire.

     Photo caption: Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe from the Northeast in Santa Fe, 1880. Photo by Ben Wittick. Courtesy Palace of the Governors [NMHM/DCA]. No. 015847.