A highlight of my recent visit to the beautiful historic district of Santa Fe, N.M., is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, named for the patron saint of the city.

Franciscan friars entered New Mexico in 1598 and founded a church in Santa Fe in 1610. Spaniards were forced out of the area from 1680 to 1693.

While they returned in the 1690s, a new church wasn’t built until 1714, when one was built on the site of the old building. This new church was named for St. Francis.

When the area’s first bishop arrived in 1850, he ordered a new building, which was built around the old adobe church. As the walls were finished, the old building was demolished and removed.

The city’s surrounding buildings are traditional adobe, but the church contains three styles:

  • Original adobe, which remains in the 1714 Conquistadora Chapel, which houses the country’s oldest Madonna.
  • French Romanesque, the style of the 1800s part of the building, because the bishop was from France, and he brought in French and Italian workers.
  • Modern, because the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was added in 1967.

Additions and restorations have continued on the building through the years.

In addition to statues of several people, the church has a labyrinth to the side of its entrance.

The cathedral was named a basilica in 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI. A basilica is considered an important building and carries some ceremonial privileges.

For information about the church, visit its website at http://www.cbsfa.org/.

As expected, the church has many art pieces of St. Francis of Assisi, including two statues out front.

Another piece is a statue of Kateri Tekakwitha, who is slated to be canonized a saint in October. Marianne Cope, a Sister of St. Francis from Syracuse, N.Y., who took care of the lepers in Hawaii after the death of St. Damian of Molokai, is also scheduled for sainthood in October.

Tekakwitha will be the first Native American to be recognized as a saint. Just as St. Francis is, she is a patron for the environment and ecology.

She was a 17th-century woman from Upstate New York who died at age 24. She was the daughter of a Mohawk chief and Algonquin Christian mother.

Most of her family was killed by smallpox when she was young. She was left scarred and partially blinded. She became a Christian as a teen and was baptized at age 20, which didn’t please the relatives who took her in.

Known as “Lily of the Mohawks,” she took the name Kateri, which is the Mohawk pronunciation of the name Katherine. She lived a life of prayer, performed penances and cared for people’s needs.

Believers say her smallpox scars vanished at her death in 1680 and many people were cured at her funeral, the first of the two miracles needed to be declared a saint.

A second miracle attributed to her is said to have come in 2006 when a 5-year-old Native American boy in Washington contracted necrotizing fasciitis. Someone placed a Kateri medal to his pillow and that day, the disease stopped.

Nearby sites

In addition to the basilica, Santa Fe features:

THE LORETTO CHAPEL: Built in 1878, this chapel is known for its staircase, sometimes featured on television.

Legend holds that after the chapel was built, there was no access to the choir loft, 22 feet above the floor. Carpenters said a ladder was the only solution. After the sisters prayed to St. Joseph, an unknown carpenter arrived and built the staircase for free. The elaborate construction has two 360-degree turns with no visible means of support. Website: http://www.lorettochapel.com/.

OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE SHRINE: Our Lady of Guadalupe was a popular devotion used by colonists who moved from Mexico. A shrine was built in the area in the 1770s. The shrine has a long, varied history and has been rebuilt several times. It was named a parish in 2005. The building is used for cultural events as well as prayer and Mass. It houses a Perpetual Adoration chapel and shrines for Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima and the Divine Mercy. Website: http://www.ologsf.com/

SOURCES: http://www.visitsantafe.com/, http://www.santafenewmexican.com/, http://santafe.org/, http://www.hotelstfrancis.com/, http://www.travelandleisure.com/, http://www.usatoday.com/, http://www.npr.org/, http://www.catholic.org/

Send ideas to Leila Pitchford-English, The Advocate, P.O. Box 588, Baton Rouge, LA 70821-0588; or email lenglish@theadvocate.com.