Modernization erased a lot of Albuquerque’s Spanish colonial history. Like many large metropolitan areas in the southwest, the city expanded based on an organized grid of roads, which gives it a recent, modern appearance. The old adobe homes around Old Town, and dominance of earth tones, are a testament to the architectural traditions of the past.

Villa de Albuquerque

Albuquerque was the third villa to be established in New Mexico, created to serve the Spanish farmers and ranchers along the Rio Grande. Technically, it was an illegal settlement. The king of Spain was responsible for gubernatorial appointments and land grants, but communication between New Mexico and Spain was slow.

Don Diego de Vargas led the small army that reconquered the province on behalf of the Spanish crown in 1692. He became the Governor of New Mexico, until his death in 1704.There was turmoil after Diego de Vargas’s died in 1704. The viceroy, Duke of Alburquerque, appointed Francisco Cuervo y Valdés as the interim governor. Unfortunately, Valdés promptly overstepped his temporary authority and decided to resettle thirty to thirty-five families on the Rio Grande between Sandia and Isleta pueblos in 1706. He named it “La Villa Real de San Francisco de Alburquerque,” hoping to curry favor with the Duke. The Duke was unimpressed with the flattery and reprimanded Valdés. Spanish law required approval from the viceroy or the king for new settlements; however, the villa remained intact and they kept the name. They did change the patron saint from San Francisco to San Felipe de Neri.

San Felipe de Neri

The villagers constructed a church, San Francisco Xavier, in 1706. It was at a different location on the plaza than the current chapel. Floods associated with summer monsoon rains destroyed the church in 1792. Water damaged the roof and eroded the adobe walls. The church collapsed.

San Felipe de Neri was built to replace San Francisco Xavier. Residents of Tome and Valencia did most of the work. They started construction in 1793, building the chapel in the shape of a cross, with 5-foot thick adobe walls, and a one-story convento on the east side for the Friars.

Mexico ceded the New Mexico territory to the Americans in 1846. The signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo impacted Albuquerque and San Felipe de Neri. Ecclesiastical ties with Mexico were severed and the bishopric transferred to Santa Fe. The arrival of the railroad provided access to a larger variety of materials and supplies.

Jean-Baptiste Lamy

New Mexico’s first bishop, Jean-Baptiste Lamy, did not appreciate the simple beauty of traditional Hispanic churches. He authorized the replacement of traditional pueblo inspired structures with medieval gothicism. Father Lamy encouraged the priests to add gothic touches to the simple adobe structures, because he thought it projected a more polished, worldly, modern image.

The railroad provided milled lumber, metal for roofs, Eastern styles and fashions, and stock ornamentation. Father Joseph P. Macheboeuf, who had accompanied Bishop Lamy to New Mexico and served as parish priest in Albuquerque renovated San Felipe de Neri. When the Italian Jesuits assumed administration of the church in 1868, they continued the renovations initiated by Macheboeuf, adding a porch to the entrance. A photograph from 1881 shows the dramatic transformation. Louvers over the belfry, like those at San Miguel in Santa Fe or the old Isleta church, reflect the change in architectural style. There are two small end towers on the porch, similar to the twin towers on the Santuario of Chimayo.

San Felipe de Neri
San Felipe de Neri sits on the plaza in Old Town Albuquerque. There is no fee to enjoy this historic church in downtown Albuquerque, though parking is one dollar in the Old Town lot. They hold mass every Sunday and host numerous activities and extra services around the holidays.

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