Architecture: New Mexico
San Francisco de Asis
Rancho de Taos, New Mexico
(Interior photography prohibited)
By the mid-18th century, this Catholic agricultural village founded the San Francisco de Assisi Mission. The Franciscans supervised the construction of the historic church between 1772 and 1816. A National Historic Landmark, the Spanish Colonial San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church is a well-preserved adobe building in the heart of the community at the center plaza of the Ranchos de Taos Historic District.
The Spanish colonists were well established in New Mexico by the 18th century, a period when Spain was at the height of its imperial power in North America. Around this time, civilian Spanish and Mexican families began to settle permanently in Ranchos de Taos, in northern New Mexico
To defend themselves against Comanche raiders, who were attracted to the rich Taos Valley, the settlers built their adobe homes and other buildings close together around a common plaza. The church sits on this plaza.
Completed in 1816, the San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church is a large, sculpted Spanish Colonial church with massive adobe buttresses and two front-facing bell towers. The architecture of the church is an impressive blend of native and Spanish styles. Three white crosses adorn the two towers and church entranceway. Four “beehive” shaped buttresses support the back of the church structure and two buttresses in front of each bell tower support the front. Inside the church, stairs lead to a choir loft above the entrance. The large sanctuary provides ample space for worshippers and visitors, and the altar is decorated with original Spanish woodworking and religious iconography. A thick adobe wall surrounds the church, cemetery, and forecourt.
Because of its imposing form and sculpted body, the church is a favorite subject for artists. Ansel Adams photographed the church for his Taos Pueblo art book and Georgia O’Keeffe painted a series of perspectives of the church. O’Keeffe once described it as “one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards.” The beautiful colonial-era church continues to attract artists and the Ranchos de Taos plaza is home to several galleries.
The Church remains an important center of community life and the citizens of Ranchos de Taos ensure it stays in good condition. During major restoration in 1967, workers applied a hard plaster to protect the exterior and prevent future damage, and added a new roof. They also replaced the church doors with accurate replicas of the originals, and the vigas -- wooden ceiling beams-- and 60 percent of the corbels with historically accurate reproductions. Despite this attempt to protect the church, the hard plaster proved to be damaging. Since this time, citizens of Ranchos de Taos, parish members, and visitors gather for two weeks each June to re-mud the exterior of the adobe church with a mixture of mud and straw.
San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church is part of an active parish in the Santa Fe Diocese that continues to serve the Ranchos de Taos community 1