Friday, January 21, 2011

City of Faith

Just a block off the Plaza in Santa Fe is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. The massive Romanesque structure was consecrated in 1887, built under the direction of Bishop Lamy. The first church on the site was built in 1610.

A number of impressive sculptures stand on the grounds. One would expect a statue of St. Francis. This one is quite traditional -- sculpted by Betty Sabo. Another representation, more contemporary, is St. Francis of Assisi Dancing on Water by Monika Kaden. Its exuberance makes me smile.

Also in front of the church is a statue of the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indian of North America to be promoted toward sainthood. Here's what I learned about that. There are four steps to sainthood. The first step is an intial investigation. Completing the second level, the candidate is declared Venerable. The third step is beatification and the candidate is called "Blessed." The final step is canonization. It made me wonder -- we talk about St. Joseph but what about the Blessed Virgin? Any Catholics have the answer? The Blessed Kateri statue is by sculpture Estella Loretto. I love it that all these statues were by women artists.

On our visit to the cathedral, we (the press trip participants) spent most of the time in the St. Joseph Chapel. We were honored to meet the santera who was responsible for painting the reredo behind the altar. (Old school teacher digression -- excuse me if you already know this. A santero or santera is a maker of sacred images. These images, common in Spanish colonial art, are called santos. Paintings of saints on flat panels are called retablos; three dimensional carvings are called bultos. The reredo is the decorated screen behind the altar. This one, like many others, is made up of retablos.)

Arlene Cisneros Sena didn't discover the art form until she was an adult. Now she is one of the foremost painters of santos. "It's teaching the faith -- telling the stories," she says. Her work is widely sought after and she has pieces in a number of museums. In addition, a reliquary, which she made in collaboration with a local jeweler, is in the Vatican.

We had little time to see the rest of the cathedral but I was able to snap a quick picture down the main aisle.

And we made a short visit to another side chapel, a remnant of the 1625 church, dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, La Conquistadora.

This is the oldest Madonna in America. She arrived in Santa Fe around 1625 and has remained an important icon for the community.

The cathedral is a lovely spot for worship and reflection. We tried to be inconspicuous as we snapped away like frantic tourists!