Refugee Resettlement

When the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, the government of Mexico appointed Cura Ramón Ortíz, a local priest, to be Commissioner of Emigration. He helped Mexican citizens resettle in Mexican territory. A group of refugees from Doña Ana County, and villages south of present-day El Paso/Juarez, banded together to relocate to the Mexican side of the border. They established La Mesilla around 1850, Spanish for “little table.” By the end of the 1860s, Mesilla was the largest city between San Antonio and San Diego.

Settlers wasted no time clearing a central plaza. Using mud and logs, they built a small, humble church on the south side of the plaza within the first year. Villagers dedicated the church to a 5th century French Christian martyr, Saint Albinus of Angers (Albino in Spanish). By 1852 the small parish had their first permanent pastor, Padre Bernardino Hinojos.

Basilica San Albino Mesilla
Established by order of the Mexican government in 1851, San Albino is one of the oldest parishes in the Mesilla Valley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gadsden Purchase

Mesilla’s tenure as a Mexican village didn’t last long. Mexico sold 29,670 square miles of present-day Arizona and New Mexico, including Mesilla, to the United States in 1854 for $10 million, a transaction known as the Gadsden Purchase.

After the Gadsden Purchase, the Catholic church assigned San Albino to the Santa Fe Diocese. The diocese replaced the original church with a traditional mission style church on the north side of the plaza by 1857. The Mission Style design, with thick adobe walls and high windows, worked well as a fortress during raids. Mesilla’s location on Mexico’s northern frontier, west of the Rio Grande and El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, made it an easy target for Apache raiders.

Mesilla Plaza

The Current Church

Though the current church isn’t the original structure, it is still one of the oldest churches in southern New Mexico. Built in 1906, the tall, imposing brick structure, sits on the foundation of the former adobe church. The yellow-brick structure is eye-catching, visually dominating the Mesilla Plaza, which is indicative of the intrinsic and vital role the church plays within the community. As an integral part of the community, the Basilica of San Albino represents the soul of Mesilla. The Catholic Church honored that historical significance in 2008 when they designated San Albino as one of two basilicas in New Mexico.

The Bells of San Albino

The bells of San Albino are noteworthy. When San Albino parish briefly became part of the Vicariate Apostolic of Arizona in 1872, Bishop Jean B. Salpointe commissioned the first bell, a small copper bell cast at Calle Picacho in 1876. In 1886, two larger bells were cast; christened Sagrado Corazon de Jesus and Maria Albina. Yes, they have names, though I couldn’t find the name of the smallest bell.

The final, and largest, of San Albino’s bells, Campana Grande, was cast in 1887. The church assigned “godparents” to care for them, an honor passed through generations of the same family. A plaque outside San Albino recognizes Manuel Valles. He rang the bells for 60 years, before passing that responsibility to the next generation of his family. The bells still ring out to summon the faithful to Mass.

Basilica San Albino Mesilla

Basilica of San Albino

2280 Calle Principal
Mesilla, NM 88046
(575) 526-9349

Mass Schedule

Saturday – 4:30 PM
Sunday Spanish – 8 AM
Sunday – 9:30 AM & 11 AM
Tuesday – Friday – 9 AM

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