Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, Doña Ana
Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria
Doña Ana, New Mexico
Built sometime between 1845 and 1852, Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria is the oldest church in the Mesilla Valley. Set on the plaza of historic Doña Ana on the Camino Real, the church occupies the site of a 17th century parada, or stopping place. For more than 125 years, the old church was the focal point of the village until a new one was constructed in the 1970’s. At that point, some suggested demolishing the old church, which took many by surprise. For them, the memories of the old church – weddings, baptisms and feast-day celebrations – were still vibrant in their minds. The residents who held on to these memories formed the Doña Ana Conservation Committee. They saw the demolition of the old church as unthinkable and staved off the forces of chance by holding on to their deteriorating church. In 1990, they contacted Cornerstones for assistance in its restoration. In 1991, after work had begun, the badly deteriorated east wall of the nave collapsed, an event which at once discouraged and catalyzed the community. The work of rebuilding it appeared daunting and required the commitment of a long term and highly energetic effort. The community made that commitment.
In this decaying urban setting, challenged by the issues of poverty, alcoholism and rival youth gangs, the Doña Ana church conservation project stimulated several remarkable outgrowths. A GED program was put in place and the trainees from the church project, combined with the students in this program came together to form the Doña Ana Cultural Committee. This group of 16-24 year olds, with guidance from the Cornerstones staff, worked for 6 years on restoring the church. This was one of Cornerstones’ first youth training programs and was designed to incorporate counseling and education into restoration work, building self-esteem, teaching job skills and enabling participants to continue their education. The youth workers pioneered the re-introduction of the old lime plaster tradition, a knowledge that has since helped save other adobe structures in the area.