Sunday, April 21, 2019

Laurie Beth Zuckerman's Plaza del Cerro Oratorio Photos, Chimayo, New Mexico

How many times have I visited the Santuario de Chimayó in northern New Mexico? I assumed that this was the most historic district since I began visiting in the early 90s. I thought I had photographed everything about this world famous Hispanic region, but the most significant area was actually just down the road between the Santuario and the High Road to Taos. Apparently I hadn't done my research well over the years. My husband and I have stayed multiple times in local Bed and Breakfast Inns, and no one ever clued us in. We had been passing that little right-hand turn more times than I would want to count.

Last August, while I was wandering around in my car hunting for the Chimayó Museum, I stumbled upon the nearly abandoned Plaza de San Buenaventura de Chimayó, known as the Plaza del Cerro, the oldest intact Spanish Plaza in the United States. Begun in the 1700s, this 1.6 acre fortified plaza was built to protect Spaniards from raids by the Apache, Comanche, Navajo, and Ute Indian tribes. I walked the old plaza lanes lined with the crumbling adobe walls of rundown homes, a post office, a general store, and the tiny chapel, known as the Oratorio. It seemed so sad that the plaza was overgrown with weeds. Only a handful of residents still live on the plaza, and one building even offers lodging, if it is still open this year.

Allow me to tour you through this private Oratorio with my own cellphone photos taken last August 2018. This chapel was built around 1830. The wooden altar (reredo) is thought to be painted by José Rafael Aragón, the New Mexican Santero whose altar panels are the distinguishing feature of the world-renowned Santuario de Chimayó, in the neighboring community of Potrero. The inside walls are covered in a mud gypsum mixture known as yeso. It was recently restored by the Chimayó Cultural Preservation Association, which was cofounded by Don Usner, local writer, photographer, who grew up in the area and established the wonderful Chimayó Museum. I believe he is the man who invited us to join his tour of the Oratorio and Plaza. Ask for him at the museum if you should visit there, as the chapel is locked.

Read more about the history of the Plaza del Cerro and its restoration projects at:

Pasatiempo Santa Fe New
Art of Space
A little place I know: Chimayó’s Plaza del Cerro
By Paul Weideman
September 22, 2017


1 comment:

lorettatollefson said...

Ms. Zuckerman,

Thank you so much for these photos! Do you have a closer shot of the hanging in the far left hand corner by the altar? I'm assuming this is Santiago (St. James The Great). Is that correct? I'd love to find out how old that hanging is.


Loretta Miles Tollefson