San Geronimo Church
The path past the admission gate leads directly to the central plaza, a broad expanse between Red Willow Creek (source of the community’s drinking water, flowing from sacred Blue Lake higher in the mountains) and San Geronimo Church.
The latter, built in 1850, is perhaps the newest structure in the village, a replacement for the first mission church the Spanish built in the 17th century. Visitors are allowed inside as long as they are respectful and quiet. The Virgin Mary presides over the room roofed with heavy wood vigas; her clothes change with every season, a nod to her dual role as the Earth Mother.
Directly in front of the churchyard is where ceremonial dances take place periodically. (Taking photos is strictly forbidden inside the church at all times and, as at all pueblos, at dances as well.)
The first Spanish church, to the north behind the main house, is now a cemetery—fitting, given the tragic form of its destruction.
Built in 1619 using forced Indian labor, it was first torn down during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt; the Spanish rebuilt it about 20 years later. In 1847 it was again attacked, this time by American troops sent in to quell the rebellion against the new government. As retaliation for the murder of Governor Charles Bent, the counterattack brutally outweighed what had sparked it. More than 100 pueblo residents, including women and children, had taken refuge inside the church when the Americans bombarded and set fire to it, killing everyone inside and gutting the building.
Since then, the bell tower has been restored, but the graves have simply intermingled with the ruined walls and piles of dissolved adobe mud. All of the crosses—old carved wood to new finished stone—face sacred Taos Mountain.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition