San Francisco de Asis Church
Just as photographs of the Great Pyramid of Cheops seldom show the sprawl of modern Cairo crowding up to its base, San Francisco de Asis Church (east side of U.S. 68, Ranchos de Taos, 575/758-2754, 9 a.m.–4 p.m. daily, Mass 7 a.m., 9:30 a.m., and 11:30 a.m. Sun., donation) as depicted in, say, Emil Bisttram’s or Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings or Ansel Adams’s photographs, is always a shadow-draped fortress isolated on a hilltop. So it’s often a surprise to visitors to see the cluster of buildings that ring the small plaza in front of the church, which was built in the first half of the 18th century as a Franciscan mission for the farming community of Ranchos de Taos.
Today the adobe houses around the church hold more T-shirt shops than homes, but you can nonetheless see what has fascinated so many artists. The clean lines, the shadows created by the hulking buttresses, the rich glow of the adobe in the sun—these are all appealing aesthetic details, but at bottom, the church is a sort of living architecture, as much a part of the earth as something raised above it.
As with every traditional adobe structure, it must be refinished every year with a mix of clay, sand, and straw; it is then coated with a fine layer of water and sand and buffed with sheepskin.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition