Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 3, 2005
Prelate designed Santa Fe Church
Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy's life is the basis of a novel
St. Francis of Assisi — October 4
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Santa Fe, N.M.
Dominating the east end of an important San Francisco street in the old city centre, the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi honours one of the best known of Christian saints and houses the oldest Marian shrine in the U.S.
It's on Cathedral Place, a short two blocks from Santa Fe's main plaza and, ironically as one of the city's most prominent buildings, defies historic ordinances that require downtown buildings to conform to low rise Pueblo or territorial architectural styles.
Classed as French Midi-Romanesque and designed by the first Santa Fe Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, it resembles a cathedral in his native Clermont-Ferrand in France.
The first church on the site was built in 1610 in the new Spanish Villa de Santa Fe and dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption. A second church was destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.
Thirteen years later, the Spanish resettled in New Mexico and by 1714 were worshipping in a third church, now named for St. Francis. It in turn was rebuilt in the 1800s shortly before the area became part of an independent Mexico under the bishop of Durango.
Then, when Santa Fe was acquired by the U.S. following a war in 1848, the sudden transfer of ecclesiastical authority proved to be a challenging undertaking. Today's elegant cathedral provides a fitting memorial to the man who undertook this laborious transition.
Appointed bishop of the new Vicariate Apostolic of New Mexico, Lamy arrived at the designated see of Santa Fe in 1851. In addition to solving many organizational problems over a broad area where isolation had resulted in irregularities in Church procedures, he soon undertook to replace the old adobe cathedral with one of his own design.
His church and life provided the inspiration for the Willa Cather novel Death Comes for the Archbishop.
Since 1915, the forecourt of his cathedral has been dominated by an heroic-scale statue of the founder of the New Mexican church. Also outside, in the south portico of the building, the cathedral patron is depicted in another large sculpture.
Francis is noted as the founder of the religious order named for him and as an early advocate of nonviolence and care for the poor. He is honoured today in the full name of "his" city, La Ciudad Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis, that is the Royal City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi.
The 13th century saint is known for his reverence of all creation. He is said to have been the first to develop the concept of making crŠches, the manger scenes with animals attending the birth of Christ. In many places, domestic animals are formally blessed in his name on his feast day.
Patron of ecology
Francis was named patron of the ecology movement by Pope John Paul II in 1979 and is the patron of Texas.
His Franciscans, followers of a simple rule of material poverty and consecration to Christ are active worldwide. Prayers he composed are familiar - his Canticle of Creation where he sees the sacramentality of all things, Sister Moon, Brother Sun, and his famous plea, "Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace."
Dominating the expansive interior of his cathedral, a huge reredos displays an image of Francis, surrounded by 14 other saintly personages.
The object of much reverence, a statue of Our Lady La Conquistadora dominates a separate chapel, a part of the old parish church.
This image, originally brought from Old Mexico in 1625, survived the destruction of the church during the Pueblo Revolt and after an exile in El Paso, has continuously been an object of veneration here.