Traces of New Spain

It is a truth universally acknowledged that to the victor go the spoils. In the wake of Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America in 1492 for the King and Queen of Spain, the colonial realm “New Spain” supplanted the Aztec Empire. It comprised much of the land mass north of the Isthmus of Panama and included vast stretches of the future United States. After Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821, those lands became Mexican, but only two and a half decades later were ceded to the U.S. following the Mexican-American War (1846-48). Portions of the yet-to-be-founded states of Colorado and New Mexico lay in this ceded territory.

During Spanish rule, no time was lost in sending expeditions north in search of gold. In 1540, Coronado traveled as far as modern-day Kansas. In the early 1600s, the invaders commenced the Christianization of the Native North American tribes with the help of Franciscan missionaries and Catholic colonists. In the process, Christian churches were erected, usually with the sweat of the local “infidels” or recent converts. These edifices were built from local materials and plastered with the traditional adobe also used in the construction of Indigenous pueblos. Catholicism became the sole “tolerated” religion and continued to be practiced by its believers even after they became US citizens practically overnight.

This history comes alive in October, when my husband and I journey from Colorado Springs southward. After crossing the Arkansas River, the former dividing line between Mexico and the United States in this part of the country, most towns in Colorado’s San Luis Valley and in New Mexico abound with names that harken back to this Hispano heritage. Catholic churches and symbols dominate the scenery, such as the crucifix in the featured photo above, which towers over Colorado’s oldest town, San Luis, founded in 1851.

My photos represent a small selection of places of worship where the Virgin Mary reigns supreme. Her various and varied representations are typically bedecked with flowers or other tokens of appreciation. As strange as her adulation appears to this non-Catholic, I can’t help but respect the sincere faith that seems to be at the center of this veneration, which is coupled with the hope to have her intercede on behalf of us hapless humans.

San Miguel Church, Santa Fe, New Mexico, circa 1610, considered the oldest church structure in the United States

Interior of San Miguel with altar and wooden ceiling, typical of many churches

Ruins of the former church and “convento” at Pecos National Historic Park, New Mexico, circa 1717, which replaced an older structure destroyed in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680

San Jose de Gracia, Las Trampas, New Mexico, circa 1760

San Miguel del Vado, near Villanueva, New Mexico, circa 1806

Mosaic on the wall surrounding San Miguel del Vado

Santuario de Chimayó, near Taos, New Mexico, circa 1816

Mary statues at Chimayó

Santo Tomas El Apostol, Abiquiú, New Mexico, circa 1935

La Capilla de Todos los Santos, San Luis, Colorado, circa 1997, part of the the Stations of the Cross Shrine

A small shrine inside this chapel

Stained-glass window inside this chapel

Click her for the German version/klicken sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

Auf den Spuren von Neuspanien

14 thoughts on “Traces of New Spain

  1. Religious or not, those are some amazing places to visit! I’ve been to the ones in Colorado and Santuario, but have always wanted to see the others!

    Liked by 1 person

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