San Rafael Church, La Cueva, NM
San Rafael Church
La Cueva, New Mexico
The San Rafael church, located in the tiny rural community of La Cueva, is a stunning Neo-Gothic structure. It was built in 1865 during the period of Jean Baptiste Lamy, the Frenchman who was assigned by the Vatican to be the first Archbishop of Santa Fe. Abandoned as a parish church in 1952 for lack of clergy, the structure soon fell into ruin. Residents of El Queso, Buena Vista, Cañoncito, La Cueva and several other communities were forced to attend services outside their own area and the church stood abandoned for forty years.
In 1990, Father Walter Cassidy heard of Cornerstones and requested assistance, obtaining the signatures of 150 heads of household who committed themselves to a restoration project. Cornerstones began working with what was left of the community to restore the building. Volunteers from La Cueva and neighboring towns, with the assistance of outside volunteers recruited by Cornerstones, worked tirelessly over the next seven years to restore the building. Local craftsmen who had the skills and equipment to restore the beautiful Gothic windows were identified in nearby Mora. The tradition of women enjaradoras (plasterers), long present in Hispanic communities, was revived in La Cueva. Elderly women enthusiastically took up their traditional role, learning from those few who had retained the knowledge from the past.