Magazine article Sunset

Faith, Works, and Adobe

Magazine article Sunset

Faith, Works, and Adobe

Article excerpt

San Jose de Rociada Arriba sits beneath the eastern flanks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It resembles a child's drawing of a church: umber adobe walls, pitched roof, a bell tower raising a wooden cross to the sky.

"When our church was condemned," Antonio Martinez says, "the priest told us, `Remember, it is sacred to let things return to the earth they came from."'

Martinez heaves open the church's front doors. "That," he says, "is not what we wanted to hear."

You have probably seen churches like San Jose, even if you have never set foot in places like Rociada Arriba-or, for that matter, New Mexico. They are pared-down and austere, the antithesis of the gargoyled and Gothic ecclesiastical architecture of Europe. Built in the mid-1800s, they were so simple that Santa Fe's learned Archbishop Lamy dismissed them as being like "the stable of Bethlehem." Yet their simplicity inspired generations of devotees, and some of this century's greatest art. In Ansel Adams's Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, San Jose de Chama glows at the left of the frame. Georgia O'Keeffe painted San Francisco de Asis in Ranchos de Taos to the point of obsession.

Now these monuments to faith and artistry are crumbling. Well, not all.

"We pulled off the Sheetrock-this whole wall was slumped," says Antonio Martinez, as he walks around inside San Jose de Rociada Arriba.

Martinez teaches high-school shop. He's the kind of quiet but firm teacher kids learn not to mess with. He doubles as an adobe expert and organizer for Cornerstones Community Partnerships, a nonprofit organization in nearby Santa Fe that preserves adobe churches, other historic buildings, and, it hopes, the village life that created them.

Both are fragile. Adobe-that mixture of mud, sand, and straw-is cheap, readily available, and beautiful. But churches need remudding every couple of years. When ranching villages like Rociada Arriba were thriving, church caretakers-called mayordomos in New Mexico Spanish-organized such efforts. But villages like Rociada Arriba haven't thrived much lately. Their young people move to Albuquerque, to Denver. Those remaining are too old to haul buckets of mud. Churches dissolve. Then there is one less reason to live in Rociada Arriba. …

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