The Tlascalan Indians
The Tlascalan Indians aided the Spanish conquistadors and missionaries as they conquered what is now New Mexico. They worked as miners, soldiers, scouts, and colonists. Based on their support, the King of Spain granted them special dispensation, including land. However, the Spanish didn’t perceive them as equals. The Spanish administrative authorities relegated them to a parcel of land at a distance from the central plaza.
The Tlascalan called the neighborhood Barrio Analco. Analco is a Nahuatl word meaning “across the water.” It was a reference to the district being on the other side of the river from the plaza. The Tlascalan built San Miguel for themselves at some point after the provincial capital moved from San Gabriel to Santa Fe in 1610.
Tension in the Capital
The relationship between the civil authorities, the military, the clergy, and the indigenous population was volatile. The Spanish accused each other of antagonizing and abusing the local population, which was true, but they were all equally guilty. Rather than working together to address the problems, they blamed one another, often exacerbating the situation. Churches were frequently caught in the crossfire of conflict. For example, Governor Luis de Rosas demolished the San Miguel mission during an incident in 1640.
The Spanish became more demanding and intolerant over time and the pueblos and nomadic tribes responded by becoming more defiant. The pueblos united, coordinating a simultaneous attack on August 10, 1680. When the rebellion broke out, the pueblos killed the Spanish missionaries and settlers in their communities and descended on Santa Fe. The Spanish gathered in the mission to defend themselves, but the pueblo warriors allowed them to leave. The refugees embarked on a long trek south to El Paso.
The Spanish returned to the region twelve years later. Diego de Vargas reconquered Santa Fe in 1692. He wanted the priests to rebuild San Miguel quickly, but he didn’t care about the quality of the work. Members of the congregation were upset by the shoddy craftsmanship and a fellow named Agustín Flores Vergara took action. He raised the funds to repair and upgrade the church. He hired 15 laborers, none of whom were native and they completed the remodel by 1710.
Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy
Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy authorized renovations on missions throughout New Mexico. Based in Santa Fe, he took personal interest in remodeling the churches under his purvey. He added a stone altar to San Miguel in 1853, followed by a new communion railing in 1862. He authorized roof repairs in 1887. Workers stabilized the lower part of the tower and capped it with a metal roof, which was Bishop Lamy’s design flourish of choice. Archbishop Lamy renovated New Mexico’s missions with a notably anglicized style during his tenure.
Bishop Lamy authorized the sale of the San Miguel mission to the Brothers of Christian Schools on July 31, 1881. The Brothers founded Saint Michael’s School on land just south of the church, utilizing it as a school chapel. They added a wooden floor in 1927 and installed pews by 1950. Fortunately they removed the pitched metal roof and Victorian adornment during renovations in 1955. The diocese takes preservation efforts seriously. In 1978 church authorities requested a “Historic Structure Report and Master Plan,” including a comprehensive history of the chapel and proposals for restoration and maintenance.
John Gregory Bourke, an army captain with a penchant for documenting his experiences and observations in voluminous diaries, visited Santa Fe in 1881. He wrote:
In this church are paintings hundreds of years old, black with the dust and decay of time, which were brought from Spain by the early missionaries. With a feeling of awe we left a chapel whose walls had re-echoed the prayers of men who perhaps had looked into the faces of Cortés and Montezuma or listened to the gentle teachings of Las Casas.
One of the Oldest Churches in the Nation
Centuries of mudding have added mass to the walls, which were thick when the building was originally constructed. Only two square ceiling beams in the chancel remain from the original construction, with a majority of the vigas added during renovations in the 1800s. The full-height reredos, which fill the front of the sanctuary, are the oldest in New Mexico. A small figure of Saint Michael the Archangel serves as the centerpiece. The reredos date back to 1709. Settlers brought them from Mexicoand they have been at San Miguel since at least 1776.
The Barrio Analco is a historical district, with the “Oldest House in the United States” across the street. The San Miguel church is a popular destination for tourists visiting the Santa Fe Plaza.
San Miguel Chapel
401 Old Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Open to visitors. No fee.
Latin Mass on Sundays at 2pm, Traditional Sunday Mass at 5pm.
Vespers and a Gregorian chant Mass on the third Sunday of every month at 4:00 pm.