Ansel Adams found beauty in the little old church at Cañoncito. And, I was not surprised. It is one place that I stop each time I pass by. The beauty of the small church and old graveyard on the historic Santa Fe Trail lures me. The end of the little road shaded by trees and graced by this simple church is a place that refreshes my soul. I won’t say that the rush of the traffic on I-25 is not noticeable, but if you concentrate on the beauty before you, and the history, the noise seems to disappear. This is Nuestra Señora de la Luz, a mission church. Look up at the bell tower and you will see a likeness of Nuestra Señora.
Paul Weideman, writing for The New Mexican, describes the area in a history, Journeys to the past: Cañoncito and Ojo de la Vaca. ” Up in Cañoncito (which at some point in recent history inherited the romantic-sounding moniker Cañoncito at Apache Canyon), the oldest graves in the community’s cemetery date back to 1846. The adjacent, adobe church was built in the 1880s. Nuestra Señora de la Luz, a mission of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Pecos, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been faithfully maintained by parishioners, but they were handed a new challenge when the interstate was built about 40 years ago. Vibrations from rumbling traffic caused cracks in the adobe walls. The organization Cornerstones Community Partnerships worked with the community during the last decade to strip off cement-based plaster (which tends to trap moisture in the walls), make structural repairs, and add fresh coats of lime plaster.” The article is worth reading to get a sense of the historical importance of this area just south of Santa Fe.
Generations of artists have painted this lovely church. Artist Roberto Cardinale painted a three dimensional likeness of the mission church. In the description of the work, he gives a little architectural history of the church. “This traditional adobe church was built between 1880 and 1891 about 13 miles SE of Santa Fe, NM at the entrance to Apache Canyon. It originally was a flat roofed structure with about 4 feet of earth over the beam and plank ceiling. The pitched metal roof was added in the early 1890’s. It had a wonderful stone buttress to the left of the front door, a tall, striking red orange wooden cross in the fenced church yard and a distinctive pitched cupola belfry.”
I always find the quiet of the church, and the old gravestones, enticing me off of I-25 at the Canoncito exit and feel that the place is a special one. Map
National Register of Historic Places in Santa Fe County
Historic Churches of New Mexico
History and Photographs of Nuestro Senora de la Luz