Santa Fe, New Mexico
San Miguel Chapel is believed to be the oldest continuously used church in the United States.
In 1610 when the Spanish founded Santa Fe, San Miguel was constructed, or soon thereafter. The first written reference to Hermita de San Miguel occurs in 1628. The church served the community of el Barrio de Analco. The very first constructed church was partially destroyed in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. It was rebuilt in the same location with a completion date of 1712. It is unknown how much of the original structure remains within the rebuilt walls. While to roof was likely burned, the thick heavy walls would have been very difficult to destroy. Archeology conducted in the 1950’s found remnants of Native American structures as well as early architectural elements from the first church.
Over the past four hundred years, major events have altered the original structure before and after Pueblo revolt. These walls of San Miguel are approximately 2 and ½ ‘ thick and 25’ high. Although the extent of the repairs made in early 1700 are not known, there are records indicating that 21,100 adobe bricks were supplied for the repairs.
The original dirt floor was replaced with wood in1861 and replaced again in 1927. The original nave roof had a foot or more of dirt over wood planking set on vigas. Over time the roof has been modified and most recently in the 1970s. All of the dirt has been removed from this roof. The apse has an elevated roof section with a clerestory window facing west which bathes the alter in sunset light.
Beginning in 2005 and continuing through 2008, Cornerstones was contacted by St. Michael’s High School, owner of San Miguel Chapel, regarding the general condition of the chapel, the need for a Conditions Assessment and Preservation Plan (CAPP), how to fund the ensuing preservation work required. The High School requested that Cornerstones enter into a partnership to preserve the Chapel. In the spring of 2007, Cornerstones received the first of several grant awards made for the specific purpose of completing the assessment and preservation plan. The final CAPP was produced by Cornerstones’ in 2008.
These grantors for the CAPP and the subsequent preservation effort included The Getty Foundation, The Catholic Foundation, The National Park Service, The National Endowment for the Arts, The History Channel and Save America’s Treasures, Heritage Hotels among many others.
In September 2009, Cornerstones and St. Michael’s College entered into a new Agreement for Implementation of The Preservation Plan for San Miguel Chapel and planning was underway throughout the balance of that year, with the goal of beginning restoration in 2010. This included consultations with the owner, the City of Santa Fe, the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division and obtaining the necessary permits and waivers, including for archaeological investigations in the front courtyard where new drainage needed to be installed.
Restoration began in June of 2010 and continued through 2014 during all the warmer months of the year, generally from mid-May until mid-October. All cement plaster on the exterior was removed, wall and basal repairs were made, and the entire surface was covered with 3 to 6 layers of mud plaster. During the summer of 2010, the west (front) side was completed; in 2011 the north and east sides; and in 2012 the south side. In 2013 most of the work was confined to the inside of the gift shop, and in 2014, using funds contributed by the St. Francis Hotel, of the Heritage Hotels chain, the bell tower was completely restored and made secure. The tower bell rang in October 2014 for the first time since 1872, more than 140 years.
The entire restoration process involved 7,095 hours of labor contributed by 1,415 volunteers, without whose help the urgently needed restoration of this historically significant chapel could not have happened. Volunteers came from the local community and other areas of New Mexico, from states across the country, and from other countries. Tourists walking through the area often stopped to inquire about what was happening, and then stayed or returned to help; church, school, and college groups arranged to volunteer for a day or days or a week at time. St. Michael’s students volunteered to contribute to their school’s share of the costs.
Adobe requires on-going maintenance and, in a sense, it is never “done”. For cosmetic reasons, in 2015 slight repairs were made to the west (front) side of the chapel and the entire front was re-mudded. Recently re-roofing the sacristy and gift shop area was completed. With funding from a Richard Moe Family Foundation Grant, Remy’s Good Day Fund and the San Miguel Preservation Program supported by St Michael’s High School planning is now underway to introduce solar energy on site to reduce utility costs, save funds for preservation and serve as an example of adapting historic structures to modern times in a sensitive manner. In addition, plans are being made to re-mud the entire chapel in 2021 celebrating 10 years since the north and east walls for mud plastered. This public and volunteer event will be demonstrating the efficiency and durability of traditionally applied mud plaster. Heritage Hotels is expected to continue to be a part of the partnership going forward.