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El San Miguel Mission

El San Miguel Church

The city of Santa Fe was founded in 1610, and El San Miguel (St. Michael's) Mission Church was built between 1610 and and 1628. Foundations of the first church remain observable under the sanctuary of the present structure. Archaeological investigations beneath these foundations reveal evidence of Native American occupation of the site as early and 1300 A.D. In 1680, during the pueblo rebellion, the church vigas in the ceiling were burned, and in 1692 De Vargas ordered the church rebuilt. In 1710 the church was reconstructed and a sacristy was added to its south side in 1714. Repairs to the structure were made between 1798 and 1805 and again in 1830. In 1853 Archbishop Lamy installed the altar stone.

In 1859 the church served as the chapel for the newly arrived Christian Brothers who took over control of St. Michael's School. In 1881 the Christian Brothers purchased the church, a recently completed school building, an adobe building and the land upon which they were situated from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Over the years repairs were effected to the roof, walls and floor. In 1955 archaelogical investigations were made, the altar reredos and artwork were restored.

Since its creation, San Miguel has been used as a chapel and shrine to St. Michael, a military chapel, an oratory for the Christian Brothers, a school chapel and a barrio church. Today, in addition to being an historical treasure, cultural heritage and tourist attraction, it still serves as a shrine to St. Michael and a chapel where Mass is celebrated weekly.

The reredos or altar screen in San Miguel Church

Some Features of San Miguel

Reredos - The reredos or altar screen (as seen in picture at right) dates from 1798 and is the oldest wooden reredos in New Mexico. The top rectangular painting is of St. Michael flanked by St. Teresa on the left and St. Gertrude on the right. In the center is a painting of Christ the Nazarene with St. Francis of Assisi to the left and St. Louis on the right.

St. Michael the Archangel Statue - The carved wood statue of St. Michael the Archangel celebrates his victory over Satan. This gilded and painted statue dates from at least 1709 when it was brought from Mexico. It occupies the center niche in the reredos.

The San Jose Bell - The bronze bell situated in the gift shop once hung in the bell tower. An inscription on the bell reads "San Jose - ROGAD - por nosotros 9 De 1356" (St. Joseph, pray for us December 9, 1356). Some claim this Spanish bell was brought by the Ortiz family from Mexico in 1712. There is also some speculation that it was cast in 1856 in the Parroquia in Santa Fe or in Cerrillos in 1836.

When in Santa Fe, be sure to visit the historic El San Miguel Mission--
"The Oldest Church in the United States"

Source:Johnson and Nestor. San Miguel Chapel Historic Structure Report and Master Plan. Santa Fe: 1978.