San Jose De Gracia


This is a fabulous Church in the village of Las Trampas, New Mexico. When I was restoring Las Milpas in Santa Fe, we looked at the place because it was one of the most authentic Churches left in New Mexico and I was interested in the style of adobe.

I had looked at the adobe in the Taos Pueblo and Las Trampas used a different style.  Adobe is a simple building material, basically dirt and water (mud).  Every culture has a different system, some putting straw into the mix, some sand, others both and some of the bonding agents include cactus juice and cow dung (really).

There were no adobe buildings in Santa Fe, as the process had been corrupted by Anglos and their habits from back east. Remember I did an essay called I HATE WHITE PEOPLE. More about that later.  Adobe has become term of appearance, not technique.

The adobe in the Church helped keep the Las Trampas community together as they got together every year to replaster the Church.  Ward Alan Minge and Anita Rodriguez had given me a primitive education on adobe.  Alan taught at the university of New Mexico and had restored an adobe house to original magnificence in Corrales, New Mexico.  Anita was an enjarrardor, an adobe plasterer, and the foremost expert on the craft.  She was also a terrific artist whose specialty was skeletons (more of that later, or not).

Anyway, they had given me a primary education on adobe, and I could see things that most couldn’t. What I saw at Las Trampas was a magnificent, honest, Church. The Church wasn’t of the magnificence of the famous St. Francis de Asis in Taos, a Church that every Taos School painter had painted (including Georgia O’ Keefe) but it had its own quality and history.

At that time the Church was open to the public in the historic Catholic tradition, and I loved every inch of it, but I saw the first signs of neglect and convenience and a subtle disrespect for tradition.

I contacted the elders of the Church and offered my help in maintaining the quality. The grateful elders and priest said they needed a flume to divert a stream of water from the Church when it rained. 

We built the flume that diverted the water over a small canyon at the rear of the Church.

The next project was to replace a poured concrete entryway with a traditional one. As we made preparations to do this, finding the proper materials, artisans, etc., I got a note from the Bishop saying that the money be sent directly to him for his ‘proper disbursal.’

No good deed goes unpunished.

I sent a note to the Bishop that I was interested in architecture, not religion, and that was that.

The Church now is in terrible disrepair, the adobe is crumbling, not having been maintained properly for years.  I wasn’t able to go inside, it was locked. I guess the support of the villagers isn’t there anymore. Northern New Mexico villages used to have their own artisans, carvers, carpenters, tinsmiths that created the artifacts, the bultos, retablos, tins that honored the religion.  It was a real art form done for the honor and glory to God, not for a vulgar profit.

The decline is our loss and this Church is a symbol of that decline.

An irony may be that the Catholic Church hastened the decline of true adobe. When Bishop Lamy (actually archbishop) came to Santa Fe from France in the late nineteenth century, he hated the place.  He destroyed artifacts, bultos, retablos, because he felt they were too primitive. He also built a Gothic Church because he hated the adobe Church that was the center of town.  The Church dominates the architecture of downtown Santa Fe and is absurd, a Gothic Church in a southwestern environment.