Arroyo Seco icon makes state cultural preservation list

By Jerry Padilla
Posted 1/30/09

The original La Santísima Trinidad Church in Arroyo Seco and its campo santo has been given a place on the official New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties. This beautiful old church, an Arroyo Seco area icon for generations, was declared …

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Arroyo Seco icon makes state cultural preservation list

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The original La Santísima Trinidad Church in Arroyo Seco and its campo santo has been given a place on the official New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties. This beautiful old church, an Arroyo Seco area icon for generations, was declared worthy of preservation, Dec. 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“It was a fitting day for such an honor. The feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe was auspicious. She (Mother Mary) has been a guiding light, urging us on through all kinds of difficulties,” said Patsy Dale Allen.

Allen and Judith Spehar, among those who worked more than four years researching and assembling material and completing the application, helped bring about this designation.

“This is a joyous occasion,” Allen said. “Our wonderful church and its community are finally receiving the recognition they deserve.”

Being placed on the State Register not only provides recognition of important prehistoric- historic sites, but helps in the preservation of New Mexico’s cultural heritage. Such designation also helps provide financial assistance and advice for approved restorations and rehabilitation. Marina Ochoa, director of the historic/artistic patrimony, Archdiocese of Santa Fe, said, “This is an honor not given to every old church in the state.” Dr. Estevan Rael-Gálvez, state historian who is a member of the New Mexico Cultural Properties review board, was on hand when the honor was granted.

Among those also acknowledged for their efforts and assistance in the process, are Arroyo Seco native and educator Larry Torres, Joe T. Martínez, and Manuel and Beva Medina, among many others. Many of these same individuals joined friends, relatives and neighbors in Arroyo Seco restoration efforts of the old church. Always the center of the community, the congregation outgrew the building in the 1960s, when the newer, larger building was constructed. Efforts at restoration took place over the years.

When Father Vincent Chávez was pastor, the restoration, considered a labor of love by many who volunteered, was completed in the 1990s. Lucy Carrico of Albuquerque said she was pleased to know the original Arroyo Seco church had received this designation.

“My mother is from the Arroyo Seco/Des Montes area, and I took her for a visit there a few years ago soon after the renovating was finished,” Carrico said. “I asked her if she had married my father in this beautiful old church, and I was a little bit disappointed with her answer. Even though she had attended Mass, funerals and weddings there as a young person, she and my father eloped in 1951. I wish I could say my parents were married at the original Holy Trinity, but it was still her home parish.”

The effort was a learning experience for the young and elderly. Trudy Healy, water rights activist and community leader from Arroyo Hondo, found out she had a personal connection to the church. Her great-grandfather, José de Gracia Gonzales had painted the altar screen in the early 19th century when the church was built. Healy’s family donated the new roof during the restoration.

She worked alongside local artists guided by Claire Munzenrider restoring the reredo, or altar screen. Robin Martin, owner of The Taos News and The New Mexican, donated a magnificent crucifix that hangs on the west wall of the nave. The 19thcentury style santero art work, was included as a contributing resource for the listing.

Reconsecrated in 1997 by Archbishop Michael Sheehan, daily Mass is celebrated during warm weather, and it has become popular for weddings, church functions and a favorite location for Taos Community Chorus concerts. This year marks the 175th anniversary of the church, completed in 1824, and Father Augustine Titus, rector, has plans for a jubilee festival June 27 and 28 commemorating the joyous occasion. Archbishop Sheehan also plans to be on hand to concelebrate the Mass.

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