Ruth won’t pay to enter a church. When she walked into San Miguel and learned that there was an entry fee to see the oldest church in the Continental United States, she refused to pay the dollar on principle. Not as principled, I paid and entered. Ten minutes later I was back in San Miguel’s gift shop looking for Ruth. Even though she had no problem with a church gift shop, Ruth had already left and was waiting for me outside. “You have to see it!” I insisted, taking a dollar out of my wallet. “The money goes to a good cause, the church is really worth seeing, and there’s a mystery.” Intrigued, she followed me back inside.
It’s actually probably more accurate to say that there has been a church where San Miguel stands since 1610. The original adobe walls and altar were built by the Mexican Tlaxcalan tribe on the site of an ancient kiva in what is now Santa Fe under the supervision of Franciscans. Actual documentation didn’t occur until 1628 and the church has undergone many restorations over the centuries, so how much of the original San Miguel remains is a mystery.
An elaborate bell tower was added around 1848, but then a major earthquake occurred and the installed San Jose bell is now in the church. San Miguel’s website called was happened a strong storm, but Laura said it was an earthquake. So here’s a 2nd mystery. In any event, something bad occurred in 1872 and the local community, rather than demolish San Miguel, buttressed it and put in a smaller bell tower. Another major restoration to San Miguel, which is on the corner of Old Santa Fe Trail and East De Vargas Street, occurred in 1955. It’s no mystery that it looks incredibly old and is definitely worth seeing.
While Ruth was looking at religious charms made of cheap metal called milagros in the gift shop, I was talking to Laura, an enthusiastic volunteer who is dedicated to San Miguel, and she explained a 3rd mystery. Whether it was a severe storm or an earthquake a number on the bell was damaged, so the bell’s year of creation was either 1356 or 1856. Laura made a good case for the latter before Ruth returned and the subject turned to plants. Laura’s in charge of improving San Miguel’s landscaping. What she will plant is yet to be determined, a 4th mystery.