Western Trips

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Spanish Missions of New Mexico / San Felipe de Neri Church

san felipe de neri church
San Felipe de Neri Church
Found in Old Town Albuqerque New Mexico is the very historic old Spanish Mission, San Felipe de Neri Church. This religious mission church is an excellent example of the old Spanish architecture found so abundantly in New Mexico on the El Camino Real, the southwest and in California. Whether you're religious or not, this is an excellent site to admire some good local art and architecture. The architecture and furnishings give an excellent glimpse as to how the Mexican/Spanish culture has influenced the southwest.

This Spanish Mission church was built in 1793 and the history concerning it's founding and the historic events that took place in and around the church is quite interesting. The mission is truly a western trip into history.  The focal point of Old Town Albuquerque is the San Felipe de Neri Church, the oldest building in the city, which was built in 1793. The church was first named San Francisco Xavier by Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdez, who founded the city of Albuquerque in 1706. Valdez named the church after the Viceroy of New Spain. Later, the Duke of Albuquerque ordered that the titular saint for the church be changed to San Felipe de Neri in honor of King Philip of Spain. The original church on the site was founded back in 1706, at the time of original settlement, by Franciscan priest Manuel Moreno. The church collapsed in 1792 due to extremely heavy rains in the area. A new mission church was rebuilt the very next year.

Mission portico
The rebuilt adobe church was built in the traditional colonial style with Spanish overtones of 18th and 19th century decorative and building elements. The interior has wood paneled wainscoting, a stamped metal ceiling, an elaborate altar and plaster walls painted to resemble marble. Outside of the mission is a beautiful garden and patio area with sculptures and a fountain.

San Felipe de Neri Church presents a combination of the old and new building traditions of New Mexico. Over the centuries there have been additions to the church including a rectory, school and convent. Centered around the plaza, Albuquerque's Old Town consists of about ten blocks of historic adobe buildings. The El Real de Tierra Adentro, the Royal Road which ran through the interior lands from Mexico City to Santa Fe, went directly through Old Town and past the mission church.

san felipe de neri entrance
Mission entrance facing plaza
At the time of the mission's founding, the area around Albuquerque was mostly agricultural. The settlements were fairly well spread apart. The plaza area of Old Town Albuquerque directly in front of the church came about with the settlers and farmers wanting some measure of protection from the Indians. The result is that homes and other structures are built around a plaza.

In Old Town Albuquerque, San Felipe de Neri Church is on the entire north side of the plaza. Some years after the Mexican Revolt in 1821 when the Spaniards were expelled from their North American colonies, the missions were all secularized. The Mexican rule however was short lived as the territories of Nuevo Mexico and Alta California were ceded to the United States after the Mexican American War of 1846.  

After American rule was established, a French priest, Father Joseph Machebeuf, was named pastor of Albuquerque by Bishop Lamy of Santa Fe in 1853. Jesuit priests from Naples, Italy, came in 1867 at the invitation of Bishop Lamy. The Jesuits oversaw a major renovation to the church and adjacent buildings. In 1878 they built a school for boys on the northwest side of the church. At the same time, the land to the east was enclosed for a playground, stable, and corral. More renovations occurred in 1916. The inside of the church was painted, a pressed tin ceiling was added, and a new wood floor was laid. Today, the former school building is leased for use as retail shops. 

Two other articles with photos you'll find interesting regarding Spanish missions are is the Mission San Juan Bautista, just south of San Jose California and the San Francisco de Asis Mission is Rancho de Taos just 4 miles south of Taos New Mexico.

Exploring Old Town Albuquerque

san felipe de neri mission gardens
Church garden area
Take your time exploring historic Old Town; sites, shops, restaurants and more are there to keep you busy and intrigued.Visitors are welcome to tour the church every day from 8 a.m. to sundown, while the museum is open Monday through Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

San Felipe de Neri mission church is very accessible to the tourist and anyone traveling through Albuquerque New Mexico. If you're traveling through Albuquerque on Interstate 40, this Spanish mission is a must stop. Old Town is just south of Interstate 40 and just west of the downtown area. Off Interstate 40 take the Rio Grande Blvd. exit 157A. Turn right on Rio Grande Blvd. and then a sharp left on the same street and you will see the signs for Old Town.

Another fun way to visit San Felipe de Neri Mission church if you're vacationing in Santa Fe is to take the New Mexico Road Runner commuter train south to Albuquerque. Bus service from the Albuquerque train station, which is just a couple of miles east of Old Town, will take you right to the edge of Old Town Albuquerque with the plaza about one block north.

(Photos are from author's private collection)

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