‘Historic Catholic Churches Along the Río Grande in New Mexico’
(2022, 124 pp.)
‘Historic Catholic Churches of Central and Southern New Mexico’
(2022, 149 pp.)
Both by David Policansky
Old churches are disappearing, and that worries the author, a South African-born biologist who has been in the U.S. since 1964, and lives part time in New Mexico. Policansky is determined to photograph all the old Catholic churches in New Mexico — built pre-1955.
His first volume covers the churches of the Río Grande, from Pilar to Las Cruces, and his second explores central and southern parts of the state, moving county by county. The author’s coverage of the churches in our neck of the woods is coming out this summer. In the meantime, let’s look at Policansky’s method.
Catholic history in our area is an uneasy one, and it has contributed to both an “ugly” cultural interaction with the Indigenous people here as well as a rich one. Franciscans accompanied Juan de Onãte when he and Hispano families settled in Española in 1598. The author notes that although Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico churches tend to be older than others in the state, the oldest Catholic church still in use is probably San Esteban del Rey in Acoma Pueblo (Cibola County), dating to around 1640.
Policansky does not offer much descriptive detail of each of the churches he photographs, and in the case of San Esteban del Rey, only notes that it “survived the 1680 Pueblo Revolt.” With a little digging about the church on its website, we learn that the Catholic Church built missions “to control and acculturate the people at the Acoma Pueblo,” and that “for more than two centuries of colonization, Spanish missions in New Mexico, backed by the power of the Spanish military, imposed European culture and Christian beliefs on the Pueblo, Zuni and Hopi groups throughout the territory.” The inaccessibility of Acoma Pueblo allowed the Acoma to repel Spanish invaders until 1699. The mission is now a National Historic Landmark.
The author does include a fairly precise location and address for each church, and the year he photographed it, usually in the last several years. Some of the more out-of-the-way rustic churches required delicate permission to find and photograph, and only a few won an interior shot, such as the stately neo-Gothic stone church of St. Joseph’s Apache Mission in Mescalero, designed by Philadelphia architect William Stanton. The northern-most church that appears in the Río Grande volume is Nuestra Señora de los Dolores in Pilar, built in 1892, and perched right at the river’s gorge.
Policansky explains that the first Baptist church appeared in Santa Fe in 1853, as Catholicism remained the only Christian religion in the state until then.
These volumes certainly contribute to the historical archives. Motivated more by a cultural angle rather than spiritual, the author notes that in his upcoming title he discusses “how each church has a story, and how those stories, involving people, places, maintenance, restoration … seem to help the churches survive against all odds.” We eagerly await the next volume.
Welcome to the discussion.
All comment authors MUST use their real names. Posts that cannot be ascribed to a real person
will not be moderated.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.