The United States is full of old buildings that are rich in history, and each tells its own story. When it comes to the oldest church, it's a common misconception that colonial history has given way to a 17th-century building that might steal the honor. In reality, the oldest known church in the U.S. is the San Miguel Chapel, located in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
It's been hailed as the oldest church in the continental U.S. and it brings with it quite a history, as well as tours that interested parties can take to get an up-close look. What's even more incredible is that the church itself still holds services, and attending one is like having a church service and a history lesson all in one. Here's what interest visitors should know about the oldest church in the U.S.
A Brief History Of The San Miguel Chapel
The San Miguel Chapel didn't always serve the purpose of being solely a place of worship. Its adobe-style construction led it to become a community meeting house, as well, which played host to a wide array of community services and gatherings. Today, it's the centerpiece of El Barrio de Analco National Register Historic District in Santa Fe. Therefore, the chapel was, and always will be, a significant location in the city of Santa Fe for a variety of communities.
The chapel itself is well over 400 years old, with an origin that dates back to 1610 but there are records that reflect that the chapel may have been older than even that. The chapel was first under the rule of Imperial Spain before Mexico took over as the ruling power, and then the U.S. had the final say in the territory on which it sat. It was dedicated early on to the Archangel Michael, hence the name it was given and was originally a place of worship for the Native American tribes who lived on the land. Later on, it would become an infirmary for Franciscan missionaries. That's not to say that the chapel has always been a welcome and safe place; it was once the subject of a target for Pueblo groups as well as autocratic officials, before becoming a military chapel.
The Most Recent History Of The Chapel
Today, the chapel is used for a variety of ceremonies, talks, and even concerts, and it has even hosted traditional Sunday Mass in both Latin and English. Efforts to preserve and ensure that the chapel remains as close to its original condition as possible are ongoing and constant. Those responsible for doing so even use traditional materials and methods to repair the chapel if necessary, only adding to its long-standing authenticity.
Why The Chapel's Oral History Is So Important
While the oldest recorded date of the chapel is 1610, oral history tells of it a bit differently. The history that has been passed down through generations states that the chapel was actually constructed much earlier, in 1598; roughly 12 years prior. The tribe responsible for constructing the chapel was the Tlaxcalan Indians. It's said that by 1610, this structure was home to the first stage of the Franciscan frontier churches, according to the chapel's website.
As the timeline goes on, in 1640, the chapel was partially destroyed and immediately reconstructed. It was damaged again during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, which is when the chapel, specifically, was the target. When the area was resettled once again in the 1690s, the chapel was restored for the third time in 1693. Despite many threats faced during the 17th century, the chapel was fully rebuilt in the early 1700s. From this point on, and throughout the 1800s, the chapel received more much-needed recognition, and features were continuously restored, as well as added, such as the bell tower during 1848.
Visiting The San Miguel Chapel
Today, the chapel is open for locals and tourists alike who come from all over to see its incredible history. With many groups caring so much throughout the years, the chapel has seen many restorations and repairs but continues to stand as a symbol of hope and faith to this day. The Santa Fe community has put tremendous work into preserving such a historical building, and it's evident from the moment that visitors walk into its sun-baked Pueblo walls.
- Chapel Hours: Monday - Friday 1 PM - 3 PM, Thursday 11 AM - 3 PM, Sundays 3 PM - 5 PM, closed Saturdays
- Private tours: Restarting in August 2021
- Masses: Currently, there are no Sunday masses although efforts are ongoing to bring back Latin & English mass services
- Protocols: Masks & social distancing are encouraged but not required