Santa Fe, New Mexico
San Miguel Chapel is sometimes referred to as the oldest continuously used church in the United States, a fact sometimes in dispute.
What is not in dispute is that sometime between 1610 when the Spanish founded Santa Fe and 1628 when the first reference to Hermita de San Miguel is made, a church was built on the present-day site of San Miguel Chapel in the Barrio Analco. This original site is now covered over and investigation has found that the foundations of the current San Miguel Chapel were constructed above the remains of this earlier church.
Over the past four hundred years, major events have altered the original structure, including the Pueblo revolt of 1680 during which the church roof was burned, leaving only the adobe walls. These walls, approximately 25’ high, deteriorated without a roof. The walls and roof were rebuilt in 1710. Although the extent of the repairs is not known, there are records indicating that 21,100 adobe bricks were donated.
The original dirt floor was replaced with wood in1861 and replaced again in 1927. The original roof was a foot or more of dirt over wood planking resting on vigas. The current roof was installed in the 1970s on top of an earlier one.
Beginning in 2001 and continuing through 2007, 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 CAPP, the ensuing preservation plan and how Cornerstones could help. In the spring of 2007, Cornerstones received the first of several grant awards made for the specific purpose of completing an assessment and preservation plan. A CAPP was produced by Cornerstones’ in 2008.
These grantors 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 among many others.
In September 2009, Cornerstones and St. Michael’s College entered into an 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. Currently, with funding from Heritage Hotels, plans are underway and construction drawings are being completed for rebuilding and re-roofing the sacristy and gift shop area.