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.


Anonymous said...

An important and necessary statement. Larry Torres might wish to respond since the good father has retreated into the Church c'est moi.

Anonymous said...

Did not intend anonymity. Rupert Chambers, a former Taos photographer, wrote that and stands by his words.

Steve Immel said...

I'm glad you concur, brother. Some may think I've stepped on toes but the essence of what I wrote stands. Hope you're well. Were you in Loreto the past several weeks?

Blacks Crossing said...

The photographs here have received your beautiful tonal treatment, and I am particularly fond of both Cruz Negra and Cruz Blanca. The cross and structure on which the cross sits seems to be floating above the adobe of The Grand Morada. Beautiful! I truly don't think you or your readers want me to go on about the Catholic Church history in New Mexico, so I won't. But perhaps some day, we can chew not only on a good meal and glass of wine, and discuss such things. Thank your for tackling the subject, Esteban, and providing a beautiful blog.

Steve Immel said...

Thanks, Daryl. The Catholic Church here and elsewhere doesn't bear scrutiny I'm afraid. I'm on board for good food, wine and conversation. It's been too long.