Friday, April 3, 2015

Visiting the Villages of Northern New Mexico: Chimayo for art, scenery and faith

Northern New Mexico is scenic, historic and a destination for people of faith. Taking a day trip from Santa Fe will bring you to the interesting villages and churches as well as beautiful scenery.

Visit the picturesque village of Chimayo and you will be taken back to the time of the colonization of northern New Mexico by the Spanish in 1610. Chimayo, a historic village in the foothills of the Sangre de Christo Mountains, is known for the Chapel or Shrine, the Santuario de Chimayo, visited by pilgrims seeking benefit from the healing powers and for the Chimayo artisans and weavers of the area. Chimayo is not all that far from Santa Fe and I highly recommend a drive through the beautiful countryside to visit this quaint and colorful village.

Santuario de Chimayo (the Chapel or Shrine)

What a beautiful photo opportunity! The chapel, with it's adobe walls, wooden crosses and heirloom gardens is beautiful. But take a moment to reflect on what you will see. As you approach the chapel from the lower parking lot you will see a chain link fence dotted with makeshift crosses. Go a little further and you will see a shrine with little baby shoes and rosaries. You'll find out that this is an usual place with a powerful draw for the faithful who leave these momentos.

The church was originally built in 1814 as private family chapel for the Abeyta family. The chapel is built in the traditional adobe style. The ceiling is lined with large vigas cut from the forest nearby.

Santeros (carvers of religious figures) were hired to paint altar screens and figures which you can see today inside the chapel. Remember that this is a quiet place of reflection and prayer and that no cameras are allowed within the chapel.

Enjoy the religious carvings and art and make your way to the altar. What is very unusual and is a draw for both pilgrims and tourists is the room to the left of the altar. You will see religious pictures, photographs brought by the faithful and a figure of El Nino, the child Jesus, as well as crutches and other evidence of those who have come to this special place. This is a place of healing. Be sure and enter the small room to the right of this entrance. There are many who believe that the earth in this room holds magical healing properties. Hundreds of visitors come to this room carrying bags and small containers. In the middle of the room is a circle filled with soft reddish dirt (El Posito, the "sacred sand pit"). Visitors take a trowel and fill their containers with the dirt to take back to their homes, their families, and those who would benefit from it's healing properties.

When you visit the chapel, you will find the interior noticeably peaceful. Take a moment to sit and reflect on the history, the simple beauty, and the spiritual journey that many faithful make in search of healing. You too, may experience something special in this beautiful place of worship.

During Holy Week, before Easter, pilgrims can be seen walking to Chimayo, some carrying crosses.

The Village of Chimayo

When you finish visiting the chapel, climb the short hill and walk the little streets of the village. You'll notice the water rushing along in the narrow acequia (irrigation canal) typical of villages and ranches founded by the Spanish. There are a few places to get something to eat and a gallery or two. All are worthy of a photo as they are in historic adobes and are very picturesque.

I enjoyed the historic Vigil Store (El Potrero Trading Post). The store was established 1921 and remains in the family. You can purchase religious objects, tinware, local wood carvings or a soft drink. It is a good place to find locally made religious gifts.

The Weaving Traditions of Chimayo

ChimayĆ³ is known for the weaving traditions of the Ortega and Trujillo families, who have been
weaving in the early Spanish tradition since the 1700's. Their work differs from that of the Navajo weavers although the artists admit that there has been sharing of styles and materials. Their work is termed, "Rio Grande" style. Chimayo weaving is part of this tradition. I have visited both workshops and noted that they were part of the New Mexico Fiber Arts Trail

Heirloom Chile

When I was in the Vigil Store in Chimayo I notices people buying packets of dried chili. I soon found out that the town is famous for its heirloom chile (capsicum Annum Chimayo.) The Chimayo Chile Project works with local farmers, and artists in order to preserve the native strain of chile and to keep the cultural assets alive in the community. More on Chimayo Chile.

When You Go

Chapel Hours: October - April, 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM. June - September 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM. See the chapel website for more information and times when mass is celebrated.

Location: ChimayĆ³ is located 40 miles south of Taos and 24 miles northeast of Santa Fe, and about ten miles east of Espanola on highway 76. Map

Pilgrimages to the Churches of Northern NM

Photography copyright: Elizabeth Rose Photography