Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 14, 2005
Pueblo adobe bricks honour Christ the King
Church incorporates a variety of divergent styles, sculptures
Christ the King – November 20
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Santa Fe, N.M.
Those in search of Christ the King will find his image in the solid church that bears his name in suburban Santa Fe. Cristo Rey is large, spacious and airy, as only the flat ceilinged mission style churches of the Southwest can be.
The activity level of the parish is attested to by a professional, youthful choir whose sounds integrate fully with the liturgy at either of the Sunday Masses. Their unique house of God dominates the landscape on the city's historic Upper Canyon Road near the outskirts of the New Mexican capital, sited appropriately enough, at the foot of the Rocky Mountain's Sangre de Cristo range.
Following Mass, the welcoming people of Cristo Rey are anxious to explain to visitors the importance of their church's short history and its art treasures.
It was built in 1939 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Coronado Expedition to New Mexico, to provide a home for an ornate stone reredos, and to fill the need for a new house of worship in the expanding suburb.
Parishioners prepared the sun-dried mud and straw adobe bricks by hand and put the structure up in a remarkable 14 months. They also contributed other materials required for this amazing building, said to be the largest mud-brick church in the U.S. It's of Pueblo style, adapted from the adobe homes that comprised the pueblos or towns of New Mexico's original inhabitants.
Across the church fa‡ade, a shaded, second-storey balcony connects a solid four-sided campanario or bell tower with a corner bastion for balance. Unusual for this style though, is the presence of transepts or lateral chapels in front of the sanctuary.
The nave is plain, its off-white mud-plaster walls interrupted only by a half dozen high windows and the stations of the cross. The heavy, dark brown wooden vigas or beams that support the flat roof were cut locally and are a traditional and functional feature of this architectural style.
Our Lady of Light reredos or retablo, originally carved in 1791 by artisans from Old Mexico, dominates the nave. For many years it languished in storage until finally installed as the focal point for Cristo Rey. This sculpted story in stone honours many of the great personalities of the Church, from Santiago to St. Ignatius Loyola.
No image of Christ the King appears on the famous reredos. He is however represented in a niche to the left of the sanctuary in the form of a polychrome bulto, a wooden statue hand carved by a local santero (carver), gessoed and painted. Cristo Rey is depicted in a contemporary style, robed and seated as if blessing his subjects. He wears a crown and holds a book of eternity and his right arm is raised in a gesture of blessing.
The eternal ruler
The concept of Christ as the eternal ruler goes back to the beginnings of the Christian era. Initially, it appears in reference to the people's disappointment in Jesus as a hoped-for Messiah who would rid them of Roman domination and his trial by Pilate - "Are you a king?" Mocked with a robe and crown of thorns, he dies on the cross beneath an insulting proclamation that he is a king.
Later, it's apparent that his kingship surpasses anything imagined in the earthly use of the term. Scriptural readings for the feast of Christ the King, celebrated on the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, allude to the end time and final judgement and separation of people by the King (1 Corinthians 15:20-26,28; Matthew 25:31-46).