Santa Fe Historic Walking Tour

This was a very interesting and worthwhile tour, lasting about two hours by the time it was all over. We've included photos here from only a few of the stops, since we were shown so many different sights - this will be a representation of the kind of things that we saw, though. Enjoy!

San Miguel Chapel

The San Miguel Chapel is the oldest mission church in America, built in the early 1600's to minister to the needs of the Indian servents of the Spainards. It's a beautiful old building that is the perfect example of the pueblo mission style of architure.
In the 1680's part of the chapel was destroyed when there was a conflict between the native Indians and the Spaniards. It was soon restored, though, and has served as a church for over two hundred years since. During non-mass times, an audio tape takes you for a tour of the fascinating old sanctuary.

Santa Fe Architecture Styles

There are only three styles of building allowed in the historic Santa Fe area: the pueblo style, the pueblo mission style, and the territorial style. This photo shows two of them. The pueblo mission style is on the left. The territorial style on the right is characterized by rectangular buildings with a few rows of bricks on top that, in the old days, would help slow down erosion of the walls.

New Mexico State Capitol

Santa Fe is the capitol of New Mexico, and claim the oldest as well as one of the newest capitol buildings in the United States. The oldest capitol building, the Palace of Governors, was built in 1610 on the Plaza. The current capitol building was dedicated on December 8, 1966. The circular building was built in Modified Territorial style. Viewed from above, the building forms the Zia sun symbol, which also appears on the New Mexico flag and in the rotunda.
There are numerous statues surrounding the capitol, and our guide took us to many of them and told us the story behind them. This one is called "Morning Prayer," and is by the artist Allan Houser.
Although the capitol building isn't in the classic "dome" style, it does have a rotunda. It is especially beautiful since the top is stained glass in the pattern of an Indian basket weave. The state symbol is on the floor in inlaid turqouise and brass mosaic. The flags of New Mexico's thirty-three counties are on display from the fourth floor balcony. It is a very impressive sight.
Part of the tour took us into the House and Senate chambers. Although they weren't in session, it was interesting getting to see the inside of the capitol. Catching them in session might be a bit tricky, since they convene in the third Tuesday in January, for 60 days in odd-numbered years and 30 days in even-numbered years. All in all, we probably got to see more since no one was meeting there.

Loretto Chapel

Four Sisters of Loretto arrived over the Trail with Bishop John B. Larny on September 25, 1852 to begin their mission of educating young women. Loretto Chapel was built in the 1870's for the Sisters to use. The inspiration for the architecture is the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, France, and this is believed to be the first Gothic-style structure west of the Mississippi River.
When the Loretto Chapel was completed, a design flaw was discovered: there was no way to access the choir loft, 22 feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem but they all concluded access to the loft would have to be via ladder as a staircase would interfere with the interior space of the small chapel. To find a solution to the problem, the Sisters prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.
Legend says on the ninth and final day of prayer, a man showed up at the chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. Months later the elegant circular staircase was completed and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. The Sisters tried to find the man, and even ran an ad in the local newspaper, but there was no trace. They at least wanted to take care of the building costs, but the local lumberyard - the only source of building material in the area - had no record of the man and had supplied no wood for the stairs. The Sisters wondered if it had been St. Joseph himself who had built the staircase.
No matter who he was, the stairway's carpenter built an awesome structure. The design was innovative for the time and some of the design considerations still perplex experts today. The staircase has two 360 degree turns and has no visible means of support (most circular staircases use a center beam for support). Also, it is said that the staircase was built without nails - only wooden pegs. Questions also surround the number of stair risers compared to the height of the choir loft and about the types of wood and other materials used in the stairway's construction. Architects from around the world have visited to marvel at the staircase.

St. Francis Cathedral

Construction on St. Francis Cathedral was started in 1869 by Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy in the Romanesque style of his native France. He disliked the pueblo style so much that he wanted to bring something "civilized" to Santa Fe. If you compare the spires, the one on the right isn't topped off, and the legend has it that by leaving it unfinished, the Archbishop saved the church a bundle in taxes!

Like we said at the start, this is just a small sample of the information that we received on the tour. We had a great time, and would recommend it if you find yourself in Santa Fe! If you want more information about the historic walking tour, you can visit their website at