Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Moradas of New Mexico

  Morada, Taos County, NM

Moradas are a uniquely New Mexican contribution to the religious landscape and architecture of late and post- colonial Mexico. Their origin lay in the necessities of life on the frontier of the colonial Spanish world as New Mexico was in those times.  Although in the New Mexico territory there had Initially been a relatively large number of priests, by  the 18th century, as the population of New Mexico became more spread out, the mission system disintegrated. The missions were understaffed and some pueblos were visited only once a year by a priest.

In the latter part of the 18th century a group of lay religious societies grew up to fill the void left by the absence of clergy and church services.  The most significant of these was known as the Penitentes, a group of devout laymen devoted to the Passion of Christ and to helping their communities.  The Penitentes filled the void left by the absence of clergy and kept the Catholic faith alive for the people.

The Penitentes did not try to perform the sacramental acts of the Church and developed their own unique rites and rituals; they tended to be at odds with the institutional Church.  They were secretive and practiced penitential activities such as self-flagellation as can be seen in the photo below.   In 1927, the Penitentes were accepted into full union with the Church. 

Historical Photo of Penitente Holy Week Ritual

The Penitentes created a network of moradas, a kind of meeting-house that was open only to members, which provided a religious structure for the community in the absence of the formal church.  The word morada means dwelling or abode, with the implication of being a humble structure and all of New Mexico's moradas are this. It is not possible for visitors to enter a morada, so descriptions of their interiors must rely on the few reports that exist.  Their interiors are very simple with few interior furnishings or decoration.

Both of the moradas depicted below are found on the Taos High Road, along which are located many communities that remain close to their Spanish roots.   Spanish language and culture prevail there as reflected in the names of these communities: Cordova, Truchas, Las Trampas. The morada in Truchas is a free-standing building along the highway.  Apart from the crucifix above the door, there is nothing to indicate that it is a house of worship. All moradas are very simple adobe or stone structures.

Morada, Truchas, NM

Morada entrance, Truchas, NM

The morada in Las Trampas is located at the side of the church, within its outer walls.

Morada, Las Trampas, NM

Morada, Las Trampas,NM

Although the famous Sanctuary of Chimayó in New Mexico, sometimes called the "Lourdes of America" because of its healing dirt is not a morada,  its roots lie in the Penitentes. It was originally built (1813-16) as a private chapel by Bernardo Abeyta,  a leader of the Penitentes.  

Chimayó Sanctuary, Chimayó, NM

Penitente Statue of Christ, Chimayó, NM
This statue of Christ with its very large hands is located at the back of the main sanctuary of Chimayó and is characteristic of the representations of Christ favored by the Penitentes

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