By Lt. Col. Enrico Miguel Velasquez U.S.M.C. (retired)The San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos is an architectural masterpiece from Fray Jose Benito Pereyro, who designed it, and …
The San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos is an architectural masterpiece from Fray Jose Benito Pereyro, who designed it, and the original settlers who built it over a long period of time with their bare hands, craftsmanship and determination.
The intimate connection between faith and everyday life was the inspiration for its creation and preservation - a living church of faith and prayer. Centuries of hands have touched the exterior walls of this adobe church to "enjarrar" (mud replastering) for preservation.
The annual "enjarre" of the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church will commence Saturday (June 1) and continue through Saturday (June 15) from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. This beautiful church will once again be restored and in a way reborn by faithful parishioners and friends with leadership and guidance from Pastor Dino Candelaria.
San Francisco de Asis parishioners from Talpa, Llano Quemado, and Los Cordovas during the 19th and first half of the 20th century would walk to Ranchos de Taos to restore and refresh the mud walls of the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church. They would bring their own tools and a packed lunch. These people loved this church so much that walking long distances to get there was like a jubilation and renewal of their faith.
This architectural masterpiece of adobe, with its massive buttresses and soft lines, was built more than 200 years ago following the design created by Fray Pereyro. In 1815, the then Archbishop of Durango, Mexico gave permission to celebrate Mass and perform all the sacraments of the Catholic faith at the church. It has endured and evolved into a well-maintained and admired church. It is part of Ranchos de Taos' heritage and daily life shared with visitors from around the world.
The San Francisco de Asis Mission Church was designated a National Historic Landmark on April 15, 1970. Prior to being designated, a survey was conducted during February and March 1934 as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey of the National Parks Service as a relief project under the Civil Works Administration.
Benjamin J. Blosser from Denver, Colorado, was the lead architect assigned to survey the San Francisco de Asis Church. His team of four architects created a total of 32 (finalized during March and April 1934) hand-drawn architectural drawings, all of which are in the Library of Congress and the church's archives. These drawings are extraordinary because this adobe structure does not have straight lines - baselines and other methods were used to capture the church's irregular shapes.
The preservation of the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church is a massive effort requiring detailed planning and organization. One must experience the significant vertical and horizontal lengths of the exterior walls and buttresses to understand the amount of labor and time involved. The dimensions of the exterior walls are approximately 138 feet long and 35 feet wide with walls that are 29 feet high on the rear side of the church.
The main effort of remudding/plastering with a final coat of "alis" (liquified mud) requires tons of select dirt, straw and water all mixed by hand to create an ideal mud plaster - just the right amount of water and straw. The actual plastering requires experienced hands of enjarradores/enjarradoras who learned from their parents and grandparents. The walls must be sprayed with the right amount of water so that the mud will stick.
This year's enjarre will be more challenging because there are simply fewer enjarradores and enjarradoras to accomplish a complete restoration of all the walls. Therefore, an "enjarre plan" has been written with a list of volunteers who have made a commitment to at least one day's work.
A survey has been completed to identify the areas requiring the most attention and restoration. Most of the wall areas of the church are in good condition and will not be replastered. However, the overall goal is to apply a finish coat of alis on all the walls of the church.
When all the tools are put away and the grounds around the church on the final day is cleared, there is always a calmness and quiet as the sun setting in the west casts shadows on the giant buttresses with a new coat of mud. The color of the walls is always slightly different than the year before. The result of all the hard work is another successful preservation effort and immense beauty for all to enjoy.
As the weeks and months pass by, we all look at the areas we plastered to see how well the mud is holding up whenever we visit or attend Sunday mass.
This article is dedicated to the memory of master enjarradore Juan Rivera whose daily presence and enthusiasm made a difference, especially his mentoring of our youth.
Lt. Col. Enrico Miguel Velasquez U.S.M.C. (retired) lives in Ranchos de Taos.
The Spanish version of this story is on Page C4.
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