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Understanding Adobe: Carlo Digneo's Gothic outpost

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Posted: Sunday, May 4, 2014 6:10 am

New Mexico is a remote outpost for the study of Gothic architecture; more remote still for research into those who built it. The shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes in the Pueblo of San Juán (using the place-name of the era during which it was built) is a unique structure, remarkable in its unlikely presence, “an architectural jewel on the edge of the desert,” as Bradford Prince put it. The shrine is an exact, full-scale replica of the original in France. It is not the only Gothic monument in New Mexico. Standing in solitary splendor in a pasture in La Cueva, just south of Mora, is the San Rafaél mission church. Unlike the stone shrine in San Juán, San Rafaél is built of adobe in keeping with the local vernacular. In a stunning departure from native style, however, the mission was designed and built with beautifully crafted gothic-arched windows and an entry with faux birdseye maple paneling.

There are other traces of Gothic architecture in the Roman Catholic churches of New Mexico, but they are mimicry: retrofitted windows, doors and tracery as in San Felipe Neri in Albuquerque and in a previous iteration of the Isleta mission where absurd, overly tall and steeply peaked belfries bespoke a Belgian priest’s anachronistic and very much out-of-place tastes. Our Lady of Lourdes and San Rafaél, however, are the real thing, revival of course, designed and built under the direction of French priests during and shortly after the tenure of New Mexico’s most famous cleric, Jean Baptiste Lamy.

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