Santa Fe Churches & Cathedral Procession

About a week ago I said that I would try to avoid church hopping in the future. That lasted about a week, before I found myself taking part in a mile long Catholic procession in honour of a the help of the Virgin Mary in retaking Santa Fe for the Spaniards. No, really. Go read about it here.

My only defense is that, first, I did not intend to do any such thing, I just kind of got pulled into it and went with the flow, and, second, it has art historical interest in that they were carrying the oldest Madonna statue in America with them.

Holy Trinity Iconostasis

Holy Trinity Iconostasis

But, starting over. I went to Liturgy – left my dorm at a quarter to eight, and stayed at church until 2. Holy Trinity has a really elaborate “coffee hour” featuring discussions of saints, lunch, and parish meetings. Then I walked into town, hoping to come across some of the famed Santa Fe coolness.

San Miguel Mission

San Miguel Mission

After about a mile and a half, I came across the San Miguel Mission, said to be the oldest church in the US (Santa Fe seems to have this thing for “oldests” – oldest capitol, oldest Mary statue, oldest mission…). As it happened, they were having a Latin Mass, which was cool – and wouldn’t let people come in late, so I couldn’t go. Having famously beautiful or historic churches is something of a double-edged thing; on the one hand, they’re beautiful and historic; on the other, there comes a point where they cease to act like normal churches; they start charging “admission” to people who really just want to come in and pray – because there are so many more people who want to come in and gawk. I’m probably doing more of the latter, but even so.

The staircase at the Loretto Chapel; renound for having no visible means of support

The staircase at the Loretto Chapel; renound for having no visible means of support

The next church, about half a block away (really, why did they need three large Catholic churches within a quarter mile of each other?) is another neat church, this one even worse off. The Catholic Church sold this lovely chapel, now named the “Loretto Chapel” to, as far as I can tell, a hotel company. A chapel that is said to have a miraculous staircase built by St. Joseph! Currently it’s being used mostly for weddings and as a tourist attraction (with an admission of $6 or so). So I didn’t go in – anyway, they were having a wedding, and I’m a little indignant about the whole thing (who sells miraculous staircases to hotels? Really? This is almost as bad as making it a mosque – maybe worse, because even then people would be worshiping God there, after a fashion).

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

After another block of ritzy hotels and snobby art galleries, lo and behold, another church! This one, actually associated with a Church. Seeing as it was open, not charging admission, and people could go in even when a service was going on, in I went, and was slightly confused to see that there were a number of people sitting quietly, waiting for something to happen. The service bulletin said “The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi Celebrates Vespers of Our Lady of Peace La Conquistadora; Knighting of Don Diego De Vargas; Coronation of Santa Fe Royalty; Procession to Rosario.” Unfortunately, this was a paper bulletin, and there were no links, so I was left to wonder what on earth it meant to combine a Vespers, church procession, knighting, and coronation; especially those last two. Well, there was a Vespers of sorts, presided over by Archbishop Sheehan (first, they get a bishop just for the city, while we Orthodox only get one for the entire West, and, second, bishops get a coat of arms? Really?), and at the entrance processional, probably 200 people came in; the archbishop and entourage, alter servers, and priests, of course, along with fellows wearing the stereotypical Spaniard costumes with white blouses, black pants, and wide pleated red belts; women in fancy lace dresses; men with ostentatious tricorn feathered hats; and a whole ensemble of people, in and out of costume. It was a case of over the top liturgical pageantry meets the Society of Creative Anachronism.

Men in Spanish costumes carrying statue

Men in Spanish costumes carrying statue

There was Vespers – which was unlike the Vespers I know; it had some songs to organ and trumpet, some readings, some read and response sections, and lots of Hail Mary’s. Then the festival re-enactors were introduced, and either crowned or knighted by the archbishop. No, really. It was completely surreal. a real bishop is knighting a re-enactor to play a Spanis don? Yes. Indeed he did. I still don’t know what to make of that. And he crowned a fiesta queen, “Indian princesses,” and Fiesta princesses for the September fiesta. Whenever one of these people was introduced, everyone clapped, and the four guys held their fancy feathered hats out and shouted something I couldn’t make out (I wouldn’t be surprised if it was “huzzah!”). Then everyone walked in “solemn procession” out to the graveyard and chapel about a mile away; there were maybe 100 people; I tagged along in the back, with my curiosity warring against heat, thirst, and a sense that the whole thing was completely inappropriate. As they (we?) walked, people said the rosary, and then sang

Dios te salve, luna hermosa:
Dios te salve, luz del día:
Dios te salve, sol y estrella,
Y Dios te salve, María.

A very old statue

A very old statue

I don’t actually know what that means, but I suspect I’m not altogether comfortable expressing it (much as I’m not altogether comfortable with the Paraklesis service, “most holy Theotokos, save us!”). We walked into this chapel, people said some prayers, they installed the statue above the alter, sang another some, and then left. On my way out a fellow wearing a Spaniard costume gave me a bag with a rosary, a Jesus card with how to say the rosary on the back, a card with prayers to Mary, and a small plastic bag of dirt. I haven’t the foggiest idea where the dirt came from.

This is what the procession looked liked, although this may be of a different occasion

This is what the procession looked liked, although this may be of a different occasion

The procession from where I was (the archbishop was also in the rear, so I guess it wasn't such a bad place to be... (that's him under the blue and white umbrella)

The procession from where I was (the archbishop was also in the rear, so I guess it wasn't such a bad place to be... (that's him under the blue and white umbrella)

The chapel we ended up at

The chapel we ended up at

So – I don’t know what to think. It was all very weird to my sensibilities, but fun and interesting nonetheless.

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