Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine

Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine
Many people driving through San Juan Pueblo or who come to our annual feast on June 24 have noticed a beautiful gothic chapel standing 50 yards directly across from the main church of St. John the Baptist. After admiring this remarkable structure, everyone always asks, Is this the original parish church? It would seem to be, since it is obviously older and smaller than the mother church it faces. But it is, in fact, the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, built in 1889 by the pastor who now rests in peace beneath its central floor.

On December 8, Archbishop Michael visited the beautiful Shrine in order to rededicate it after its significant and only major restoration. And appropriately, it happened that on this date of rededication, 150 years ago, Pope Pius IX declared the infallible dogma of the Immaculate Conception: Mary conceived without Original Sin. Mary used this title to identify herself when St. Bernadette asked Mary at Lourdes who she was.

Her Inception: The Shrine at San Juan is a beautiful example of French Gothic architecture, built by Fr. Camilo Seux, using his family inheritance. Fr. Seux was born in France and was pastor of San Juan for 56 years. In 1888, soon after Lourdes was declared an official Marian apparition, he sent for an eight-foot bronze statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. He placed the statue on a ten foot stone pedestal in front of the church. The story is told that so many pilgrims came to see the statue and so many knelt on the steps of the pedestal that Fr. Seux decided to build a shrine for them across from Mary's statue.

Her Construction and Dedication: The Shrine contains a replica of the grotto where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette in the Pyrenees Mountains of southern France in 1858. Interestingly, the architects of the Shrine are none other than the architects of the Cathedral and the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe: Antoine and Projectus Mouly. It is also only one of 19 buildings in the country built entirely out of lava rock. Construction on the Shrine began in 1889 and was completed for dedication on June 20, 1890. Present for the dedication were Archbishop Salpointe as well as the bishop of Philadelphia, St. John Neuman, 22 members of the clergy and 500 citizens from Santa Fe who had taken the newly-built Chili Line train to Española. The total crowd that day numbered 4-5,000.

Her Conservation: It is remarkable that from its dedication in 1890 to the present very few changes have occurred to the Shrine. For example, it has never been wired for electricity or had natural gas lines installed. In restoring the Shrine, we discovered that the walls were only painted twice in 115 years! The only noticeable change was the addition in the 1960s of cement around the exterior of the Shrine for structural maintenance.

Her Use: Over the years, parishioners remember the Shrine being used mainly for praying the rosary in May and October, and as a classroom for religious instruction with all the children sitting on the floor. It has always been a much beloved place on the Pueblo, but rarely opened. We have been using the Shrine for daily Mass for the last two years, but leaks in the ceiling and cracks in the walls have always caused us concern.

Her Reconstruction: We saw the structural improvements as the most important part of the renovation of the Shrine. We hired Dale Zinn & Associates of Santa Fe to oversee the roof repair and the repointing of the exterior stones. The work was completed by Vigils Fine Cabinetry of El Duende. The image motivating the interior renovation was clear: our Shrine was built one-fourth scale to Sainte Chapelle in Paris, the beautiful Gothic church built by King Louis IX in the 12th century. (The Loretto Chapel is likewise patterned after Sainte Chapelle, but one -sixth the scale.) John Alan, the same designer who restored the painted surfaces in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis and in our main church, painted the ceiling with cobalt blue, gold stars, and a terra cotta and gold filigree border. He also painted the intricate designs on the arches, corbels, window frames, and the trompe l'oeil appearance of lace curtains on the walls. The interior went from plain white walls and ceiling to a rich play of color and design. Siri Sanchez from the Cathedral lovingly restored the statue of St Bernadette. Jodie Salazar repainted the holy water font with corn motifs, drawing on the relationship of the Shrine with the Pueblo. William McBride of Furniture Medic restored the floor and wood surfaces, saying, "People pay me a lot of money to make their floors as old and as beautiful as your 120- year-old original floor." In fact, the floor had been covered over 50 years ago with particleboard and kitchen tiles. When a particular parishioner heard of the restoration effort, she quietly revealed that 40 years ago, one of the priests was getting rid of the three original candle chandeliers and gave one to her. She lovingly gave it back to the church. It was used as the pattern to remake two facsimile chandeliers, the work being done by Weston Studio of Santa Fe and Jetspray Cuts of Belen. Hogles Lighting of Santa Fe designed a pulley system to raise and lower the chandeliers so that the candles can be easily replaced. The only items not needing to be restored were the stained glass windows of the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart which are from 1889 and are priceless. Finally, two men should be especially recognized: Mike Trujillo, who supervised and performed most of the exterior work, and Steven Salazar, who was an energetic jack-of-all trades, having a hand in almost all of the work from stripping paint off wood surfaces, painting walls, cleaning up, patching walls, placing mortar in cracks, and smoking too much.

Her Rededication: On the night of rededication, anyone who had been married in the Shrine was invited to be blessed by Archbishop Michael. We also invited everyone baptized in the Shrine or who had made their First Communion for blessing. Finally, anyone whose name is Lourdes, Bernadette, or Conception was also invited for a special blessing, since the Shrine is their namesake also.

Her Future Use: We plan to celebrate more and more Masses in the Shrine, now that it will be able to be illuminated by candles. We are purchasing ventless portable space heaters, too. Finally, we are installing a closed circuit surveillance camera so that the Shrine can once again be a permanent place of pilgrimage and devotion. We hope to see many of our faithful who come on pilgrimage to Chimayo, or who simply wish to honor Our Lady of Lourdes.

Lourdes ChapelLourdes Chapel Inside