Sunday, November 27, 2022

Whose chapel is this anyway?

Cruz Negro

Cruz Blanca

La Morada de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is the grand morada or mother ship of northern New Mexico’s nineteen Catholic lay chapels called moradas. It’s also a historic site of great significance. Yet four years ago, the Catholic Church in its infinite wisdom curtailed access to the grounds of this extraordinary place of reflection by the larger Catholic community and to the rest of us. Instead, the Hermanidad Penitente, the Penitent Brotherhood, alone can visit, worship, and access the morada and the glorious land on which it sits. That decision by the Church is the subject of much consternation for some who can no longer marvel at one of the jewels of Spanish Colonial history in Northern New Mexico. That access to the Morada grounds is now limited to a handful of Penitente men over interests and, some might say, the rights of others to visit, paint, photograph, and appreciate the Morada grounds seems an imbalanced choice. It appears that, thanks to the Catholic Church, the good of the many has been subsumed by the desires of an insular few.

The Grand Morada

Adobe and Shadow

Outbuildings with Taos Pueblo beyond

The Penitentes are a secretive Catholic sect that established lay chapels throughout northern New Mexico and southern Colorado when the Catholic Church could not or would not provide priests and houses of worship to the rural faithful who were usually mestizos or mixed race. To fill the void left by a feckless Church the Penitentes built their own lay chapels where services combined Catholic and Native American beliefs and practices. The brothers are known to have practiced severe rituals including self-flagellation and mock crucifixions well into the early 20th century. La Morada de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe was the most significant of these lay chapels. Land for the Grand Morada was granted to the Hermanos by the Taos Pueblo in 1797-98. Then construction was completed in 1834 and it was the center of the Hermanos devotions till their number dwindled and the property was sold to the Kit Carson Memorial Foundation in 1977. It should be acknowledged that the sale transacted by two of the Hermanos was made against the wishes of the Catholic Church and, certainly, most of the remaining Hermanos. And that, I suggest, is why the Church awarded the morada to the Penitentes now. The word Reparations come to mind. But at what cost?

The Penitentes revile the encroachment on “their” property by anyone who is not a Brother. They are are deeply resentful of the intrusion of outsiders on “their” morada grounds. Indeed, for the past twenty years examples of brothers challenging outsiders who dare to set foot in the property have grown in frequency and hostility. First signs appeared declaring that No Painting or Photography would be allowed though the Penitentes had no legal right to deny access to the property or artist depictions of the exterior of the Morada, the stations of the Cross and Taos Pueblo land beyond. Indeed, it is my understanding that when the Taos Historic Museums transferred ownership of the Morada and its grounds to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 2008 the agreement between the parties stipulated that public access to the Morada grounds would be assured for future generations. Unhappily, no one at the Historic Museums has seen fit to defend agreement to allow public access if there is one. 

Leading up to the transfer of the Morada to the Church the Historic Museums had an offer from a private citizen to buy the Morada and grounds, to maintain the Morada and to guarantee public access. In the naïve belief that the Church would also assure access to the morada grounds to all the Museums did what seemed to be “right thing” and offered the property to the Church on the similar terms as the private buyer. If there was agreement by the church that public access would continue it has been forgotten or ignored. If access was not part of the agreement, there’s plenty of blame to share.

Once the Church owned the Morada and had given control of it to the Penitentes a locked gate was installed on the access road near the entrance path to the Morada. And now a new locked gate has been installed farther away from the morada so an unknowing visitor can’t even turn around.

When I called Father Daniel Guittiérez, the parish priest of the La Iglesia de la Señora de Guadalupe, to question the closure of the morada grounds and to convey my understanding that public access was to be continued he declared that the decision to place the morada and grounds in the hands of the Hermanos was his alone. He told me, “The decision to give control of the morada was entirely mine. I felt it was the right thing to do." When I pursued my understanding that access to the morada grounds was assured in the agreement between the Church and the Taos Historic Museums he contended that he had not seen such a document. When I asked where I might see a copy of the agreement he said, “Maybe at the Archdiocese in Santa Fe.”

Was there such an agreement or wasn’t there? I don’t know. I do know I can’t get a straight answer.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

New Spot Color

Reflected Sky #1, Old Martina's Hall

North Facing, Fechin Studio

Wagon Wheels, Old Martina's Hall

Not a whole lot of conversation today, folks. This post is the bounty of painstaking research and Photoshop mastery that had me digging for recent images that lend themselves to the vaunted spot color treatment. Spot color, as I have detailed in previous posts, gave my sleepy photographic career a kick in the pants just about two years ago. I delivered a print of Adobe at Ranchos Plaza to Rob Nightingale at his Wilder Nightingale Galley in Taos with the words. “I think this might sell.” He posted it to Facebook that very December afternoon and sold two 30” x 30” inch prints by noon the next day. And the race was on.

Turn Signal, El Prado, NM

Reflected Sky, Old Martina's Hall

Line of Sight, Lama, NM

Two goals set me on the road to creating more spot color photographs. First, I want to ride the spot color wave for a bit longer as in forever and, two, I’m seeking a subject for my January-February article in Shadow and Light magazine. More spot color is on my short list which also includes adobe and snow, vignettes about intriguing people, and Battery Godfrey, World War Two battlements protecting the entry to San Francisco Bay. Other pretenders may join the fray.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Natural Attachment

Adobe and fresh snow are a magical pair. The tufts of fluff attach themselves to the rough spots on the mud and straw plaster as if magnetically drawn. Darts of snow, snowflakes driven diagonally down, punctuate the quiet and bring a layer of complexity to the scene. Even the splotches of wet snow on the camera lens bring vitality to the scene below.

Two miles southeast of the Martinez Hacienda featured in last week’s post resides the most photographed building in the Southwest if not the whole country. Paul Strand and Ansel Adams portrayed the handsome San Francisco de Asis in the 1920s and 1930s and every tourist with a point and shoot camera or smartphone gets their record shot. Having made several thousand shots on, say, fifty occasions I can attest to the challenge of rendering something special. Lenny Foster, late of Taos and now of St. Augustine, managed two doozies, one of the back of the church with crows in flight and another from atop a crane for a remarkable vantage point. My alleged best have been of details of the doors, crosses, canales and, especially, the buttresses taking center stage today.

To me the fine coating of wet snow on the accents the sensuous curves of the buttresses.

Sunday, November 06, 2022

First Snow

Early 1800's wagon

Crumbling buttress with front and north wall.

The first meaningful snow is a delight. It cloaks the landscape in a soft pillow of muted sound and heaviness. We woke to three inches of wet fluff Wednesday morning, and I was compelled to photograph the late fall marvel at two historic locations nearby. A scant half mile south of Casa Immel resides the Hacienda de Los Martinez, the northern most grand hacienda in New Mexico. Built in1804 the sprawling Hacienda is a robust symbol of Spanish colonization with a rich history to tell. The snow fell lightly, and wet puffs clung to the moist earth, the wagon and the canales. The stone body of the front facing northern buttress had given way to the elements. The Hacienda was in grave need of a fresh coat of mud and straw so I figured the cash strapped Taos Historic Museums couldn’t afford its annual mudding or enjarre.

Buttress and long side wall.

Canal #1

Canal #2

The 21 room Hacienda was constructed as a fortress to repel Comanche and Apache raiders. It had two inner courtyards or placitas where the livestock were kept during attacks.

Next week I’ll visit historic San Francisco de Asis Church in Ranchos de Taos two more miles down NM 240.