Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 10, 2007
Artists interpret Christ on the cross
New Mexico sanctuary offers a spiritual journey set in the biblical past
Exaltation of the Cross – September 14
By TED FITZGERALD
Santa Cruz de la Cañada owes its name to the holy cross on which Christ was crucified,
Santa Cruz Church, which has provided more than 250 years of uninterrupted service to the people of the area, is two miles east of the larger Rio Grande centre of Espanola in New Mexico highway 76 northwest of the state capital of Santa Fe.
The second Spanish town established in New Mexico - Santa Cruz - began in 1695 and for more than 100 years was the government administrative centre for the area north of Santa Fe. The second church built here was dedicated in 1776 and has been served for the last 87 years by priests of the Congregation of Sons of the Holy Family.
Santa Cruz was the temporary repository of the statue of Our Lord of Esquipulas discovered at nearby Chimayo in 1814.
Today, it's still an active community centre with all attendant religious and lay organizations. Mass is celebrated twice daily and six times on weekends. Since recent restoration, it's been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
El Santo Entierro (Christ in the tomb) in Santa Cruz Church dates from 1776.
The entrance to the church compound is by way of a broad, arched opening in the traditional low adobe wall that surrounds the landscaped churchyard. One large doorway gives access to the building's interior.
Inside, the church is the repository of dozens of old examples of the santeros' (wood carvers and painters of religious subjects) art, mainly relating to Christ's death on the cross. Dominating the nave is a large retablo behind the main altar that includes a priceless crucifixion by a noted area carver and several oil paintings, gifts of the Spanish king when the church opened.
A life-size, glass enclosed entombment dates from 1776. Christ in the tomb (El Santo Entierro) is a familiar adjunct to many southwestern churches. To its right stands another example of early santero art, a statue of Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno. This is a traditional image of Jesus the Nazarene being abused by the Roman soldiers.
In Mark 15:16-20 it is recorded how his tormentors placed a royal purple robe on Jesus, crowned him with thorns, proceeded to mock him as King of the Jews and strike him on the head with a reed.
They then led the suffering Christ out to carry his cross to his death on Calvary. The image of the Nazarene is another popular item in many southwestern and Mexican churches as a brutal reminder of the passion.
Many will find a visit to his New Mexico sanctuary a contemplative and restorative experience, an immersion in the very old, both biblically and historically.
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