San Miguel Church celebrates 400 years with lecture series


San Miguel Church, that venerable piece of New Mexico history, is kicking off a lecture series, “Memorías de San Miguel,” on Friday March 9, from 7 to 9 p.m. The fundraising event takes place at the San Miguel parish hall.

Image courtesy of Ana Beall Ana Beall: Renders San Miguel Church in a painting with vibrancy and a deft touch. Beall will be speaking about her project and mission history, along with historian Paul Harden and author John Taylor at San Miguel’s parish hall from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, March 9. Advance tickets for the limited seating event cost $20 and are available at the church gift shop.

The lecture series honors the 400 year anniversary of San Miguel, the history of New Mexican Catholics, and takes a look at the complex impact of mission churches in the state’s development.

Friday night’s offering should pique the interest of anyone with an appreciation of the deep roots Catholicism has played in New Mexico history, the significance of the mission churches, the issues of culture clash between indigenous people and Spanish settlers and the struggles of colonial New Mexico. The lineup will feature historian Paul Harden, author and New Mexico historian John Taylor, who will discuss his landmark book, “Catholics Along the Rio Grande,” and Albuquerque artist Ana Beall.

“We are incredibly excited to host this event, which celebrates our rich reality,” said Father Andy Pavlak. “This event will get our celebration of San Miguel’s 400th year off the ground. We’re also planning to host these lectures on an ongoing basis — through the anniversary year — 2014, at least twice a year, perhaps quarterly, if there’s enough interest. Our gift shop will be open an hour before the event and we will have signed copies of John Taylor’s book, which has been very well-received.”

Broad Perspectives

For almost 30 years, Harden has been carefully reconstructing the state’s unique story through in-depth research and the collection of oral histories. The El Defensor Chieftain contributor has documented the area’s roots through rigorous research and collecting family oral histories. The talk will focus on the settlement of Socorro and its meaning for Socorroans today.

“I’ll be presenting on the archeology at Teypama, a Pueblo city, which was the first Socorro,” said Harden. “What people may not know is that Juan de Oñate established the first European settlement in this country. It was founded in 1598, 22 years before the Mayflower. The extremely long history of San Miguel Church is significant, because it’s the oldest church in America.”

Taylor crafted a read that reveals Catholic life along the Rio Grande, with a series of seldom-seen images, painstakingly researched from sources that include New Mexico archives, as well as many private collections. It boasts a forward written by Richard Melzer, past president of the New Mexico Historical Society.

Beall has a one woman traveling exhibit of acrylic paintings, featuring mission churches as the subject matter. Her work is also on display at the Socorro County Chamber of Commerce through the month of March.

Painting History

Beall will be on hand to discuss the series of painting, which started as a happy accident. She and her husband, Corey, both four-wheel off-road enthusiasts, were out driving.

“We were out four wheeling in the middle of nowhere when we saw this beautiful little church in Santa Rita (Riley),” she said. “It was wonderful. I took one look and I was hooked.”

The crisp, brightly colored renderings of the churches result from Beall’s use of acrylic paints.

“I like to call it a project,” she said, referring to the series, which are on tour throughout the region. “I love drawing, and acrylics keep the truest to the sketches. Plus, it’s just a more durable medium and this is all about preserving history.”

Beall is also a bit of a philanthropist. The tour will exhibit at area fiestas this year and culminate with the auction of paintings to benefit the churches.

When asked to explain the fascination, Beall replied, “Artists have all kind of reasons for doing what they do. I think that sometimes we’re ‘too modern.’ It’s difficult to preserve history. I do what I do to help with that.”

Beall’s capture of these colonial landmarks also touch on struggles that are a hallmark of the history of New Mexico. While on exhibit at Occupy Albuquerque, she received a critical note from someone who wrote they were an historian. According to Beall, he felt many of the paintings glorified the negative impact of European claims on Native homelands.

“I wish I could have spoken to him,” said Beall. “I think it could have been a chance to talk about how complex this is, about the good and bad, about the violence that was part of how things developed. We have an amazing history in New Mexico and we need to have a dialogue about all its aspects. I don’t want younger people to miss out on that. That’s another important reason for this project.”

Advance tickets for Friday’s lecture cost $20, and are available at the church gift shop. There will also be a wine and cheese reception.


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