Sunday, June 28, 2020

San José de Gracia

San José de Gracia, Las Trampas, NM

For two weeks I’ve done nothing but whine about my broken hip. But now something different.  Photographs. A week ago Saturday Peggy drug my aching butt to Santa Fe to trade a couple of paintings and to pick up BBQ from our beloved Whole Hog on Guadalupe Street. We ordered ahead and picked up $56 of smoky goodness which we figured was just enough for two hungry elders. It was our first take-out meal in three months if you don’t count a couple of supermarket chickens and a loaf of bread from Flour in Durango.

Mailboxes on SR 113A in Nambé, NM
We had already planned to return to Taos on the High Road through Chimayo, Truchas and Peñasco. It was my first outing since my infernal crash. We intended to photograph along the way. We took a side road in Nambé, one we’d never tried. We discovered a remarkably upscale neighborhood replete with ranchos on wooded acreage. A total surprise to both of us. There was a cluster of mailboxes and a stately church, Sagrado Corazon, at the top of the hill. All new to our eyes and all reaffirming that you need to take the random path to who knows where whenever you have the chance.

San José de Gracia

Detail of San José de Gracia with white cross against the diagonal shadow bottom center
The real jewel of our meander however and to some extent our goal was San José de Gracia, the Catholic mission church built in the village of Las Trampas (the traps) between 1761 and 1776. When Las Trampas was established by 12 Spanish families in 1751 northern New Mexico was not settled. Juan de Arguello who was 74 at the time led the founding families from Santa Fe to build a community in this unlikely location in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountains for reasons that are lost in history. Remote villages like Trampas struggled with arid conditions, savage winters and the threat of raids by the Apache, Ute and Comanche. Yet by 1776 when San José was consecrated the community had grown to 63 families and a population of 279.

I have often proclaimed San José as a better example of Spanish Mission design and construction than the better-known San Francisco de Asis in Ranchos de Taos which was built between 1772 and 1816. And, for what it's worth, I find it more imposing and fortress like. In research for my July-August article in Shadow and Light Magazine I learned that the church is thought to be the most original and best-preserved example of Spanish Colonial church architecture in New Mexico. The operating theory is that it has stayed “original” because of its remote location at 8,000 feet on the High Road to Taos and because its traditional Hispano community has been little influenced by the outside world. Certainly, the sleepy village of Las Trampas feels like you’ve taken a time machine back to the mid-1800s. May it remain so.

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