Our Worship Space

Santa Maria de la Paz: Our Church, Its Images and Artists

Welcome to Santa Maria de La Paz! This webpage describes our parish home, its furnishings, holy images and the artists who created them.


The Gathering Space is a large open lobby which acts as a buffer between the outside world and the sanctuary.  Here we honor our ancestral parishes as well as the forebears of our Native American sisters and brothers.  

The first nicho contains a bulto (sculpture) honoring the patron of our mother parish, St. John the Baptist.  He had the ultimate honor of introducing the Messiah to the world.  He was a loner, a teacher, a man of fire, speaking without fear against the sins of the world. This is how the artist, Luisito Lujan, has pictured him, yet with the absolute simplicity that was the hallmark of this life.  We honor him on June 24 and August 29. 

The patron of our sister parish, St. Bede, is depicted in the second nicho.  A Benedictine monk who spent his life in an obscure monastery in northern England, he was universally recognized as the most learned man of his time.  He is the only English Doctor of the Church.  Victor Goler, the artist, has shown him with pen and book, the instruments of his vocation.  His feast day is May 25. 

The magnificent bronze was created by the late Allan Houser - his last.  It is entitled "Prayer". The Figure's attributes are more those of a man of the plains than of the Chiricahua Apache - Mr. Houser's heritage - but the attitude of prayer is universal. It seems to point to the Altar as a source of life. The figure is placed in our church as a symbol of the desire and need for healing among all people, whatever their race, background or way of life. We are honored that Mr. Houser created this powerful image for us.

An image of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron of our great-great-grandmother parish and of our city is in the last nicho.  St. Francis was born to a wealthy family and was raised without a care in the world; he died in complete poverty, having done more than any single person to save the Church of his time, and recognized during his own life as an authentic saint.  His extraordinary simplicity has not lost its appeal even today.  Leonard Salazar has shown him late in life, lines of worry on his forehead, but still gazing eagerly forward.  We celebrate his life on October 4.

The Processional Cross in the northwest corner of the Gathering Space is the work of Ramon Jose Lopez.  It is carried at the head of all liturgical processions and placed in the recess of the Monumental Cross.  Its most compelling feature is the Cristo; a powerful rendering of Christ in his last agony, an expression of compassion on his face.  The suffering Christ is a dominant feature in traditional New Mexican spirituality: the people in their poverty and want identified with a God who wished to share their lot.



As we enter the Worship Space, our sanctuary, we pass through one of three hand-hewn wooden doors and just beneath a smaller door and priest's balcony, all reminiscent of the facades of Ancient Spanish colonial churches. Inside the doors, we are beneath a traditional choir loft, looking out into a great, open, square space. At the center is the Altar, surrounded by a U-shaped arrangement of chairs and benches. Above is a high, clorestory-lit wooden ceiling with vigas and corbels carved by the families of our community. The Ambo and the Monumental Cross dominate the apse at the far end.

On either side of the entrance where we stand are nichos which hold the offering gifts of bread and wine, the liturgical oils, and the Books of the Catechumens, the Elect, and the Departed.

It is the Baptismal Font, immediately in front of us, which first claims our attention. A massive pink granite stone supports the bronze basin used for baptism of infants.  Its rim is forged of iron fragments given by our families, each having its own tie to our past.  Basin and rim are the work of Tom Joyce.  Water flows continuously from the basin into a pool below and, at Easter, into the covered cruciform pool set into the floor just beyond.  Above are the ancient candelabra, aranas, of Jimmy Trujillo.  When lit during baptism, they recall the column of fire which led Israel through the Red Sea to freedom, just as we are led to freedom in the waters of baptism. They complete the symbolic primal triad of earth, water and fire. 

As we move down the sloped floor into the center of the church, we come to the Place of Honor located just in front of the Altar. Here we bless and honor those we love: our children, our sons and daughters as they marry, our departed, our volunteers.  The sloped floor was an important design feature: we wanted everyone to be able to easily see everything that is happening in our beautiful sanctuary. When our church was designed, we knew that having kneelers was an important Catholic tradition.  Because of the sloped floor, kneelers were not viable for many of the rows. The Archdiocese granted permission for the 1st three rows in the sanctuary to have kneelers for those folks who prefer them. 


As we continue our tour of the church, we are now facing the Altar. The Altar is a square pine table, situated on a low platform at the focal point of the Worship Space. Our particular Altar has a feeling of nobility and simplicity and does not dwarf those of us who gather around it.  The twisted columnar legs, carved vines and the pilgrim shell of St. James the Apostle all recall our Spanish past.   The Altar was crafted by Roberto Montoya and Roberto Lavadie, who also built the small carved chest beneath the table - a reliquary. This reliquary holds the records of who we are at Santa Maria – our baptisms, our funerals…and the documents of our church at its dedication.  It also holds the relics of saints. The long rug, hand woven in the Rio Grande style by Norma Medina and her mother serves to unify the various spaces.



At the northern end of the Worship Space is the Credence Table – a wide nicho which holds all the vessels of the Eucharist.  Next to it is the “Presidential Area” where the Presider, Deacon and Concelebrants are seated during the Liturgy of the Word. Their chairs are the work of Pat Montgomery and of Antonio Archuleta. Just beyond the chairs, at the center of the apse, is the Ambo, from which all the readings are proclaimed.  It was also designed and built by Montoya and Lavadie, using the same design motifs as the Altar. On the left side of the apse is the massive, free-standing Monumental Cross designed by John Buscemi and constructed by Mark Ewing. Its open configuration symbolizes resurrection: a passageway which allows us to move through and beyond the mystery of the Passion. The Cantor’s Desk, used to lead the assembly in song and to make announcements is on the main floor level, to the left of the Altar and just in front of the choir area. It is also the work of Montoya and Lavadie.


Returning to the peripheral walkway, the ambulatory, we visit three small, antique chapels: The Blessed Sacrament Chapel, the Reconciliation Chapel, and the shrine of our patroness, Santa Maria de La Paz. 



The Blessed Sacrament Chapel houses the Tabernacle and is designed to be an intimate space for private prayer. The Tabernacle is the creation of Ron Picco, the sanctuary lamp just above it is the work of Robert and Annie Romero, the wall sconces that of Bonifacio and Cristina Sandoval. The rug is a smaller version of the Altar rug, also woven by Norma Medina, and the crucifix is the work of John Michael Gonzales, now deceased.

The second of our three small unique chapels is the Reconciliation Chapel which is on the southwest ambulatory as you enter the main church.  This chapel is normally not open for viewing.  It is a simply furnished room with facilities for either private or face-to-face communication. Furnishings include a rug by Juan Trujillo, retablos (two-dimensional images) by Elaine Miera Herrera, sconces by the Sandovals, and a crucifix by the 19th century santero Jose Benito Ortega.

The third unique chapel in our worship space is the shrine of our patroness, Santa Maria de la Paz. The shrine is open so it may be visible to the entire congregation. It is dominated by an Altar Screen of the five panels depicting different images of Mary, and a central nicho which contains the bulto of Santa Maria de la Paz.  Nichos in the side walls house images of her mother, St. Anne and her husband, St. Joseph.  Brides often take flowers to the Blessed Mother as an offering during their wedding Mass.

When our parish home was built, it was designed to be closest to its ancient roots in its religious images – its santos.   As a community, we selected those holy men and women who are most important to us, and were therefore to be honored with images in our new home.  We then chose to honor the faith and tenacity of those who have gone before us by creating our images in the same way they did – in the santero tradition. Starting with the image of St. Jude and moving around the ambulatory, here are brief biographies of the holy people thus honored in our Worship Space.



St. Jude, also called Jude Thaddeus, was one of the original Twelve, possibly a relative of Jesus.  He has come to be regarded as the patron of desperate causes (or lost causes) and thereby has become much revered.  He is honored on October 28.  He is often pictured holding a halberd, the traditional instrument of his martyrdom; but the artists, Ben and Michael Ortega, have shown him with the staff of a disciple and with the picture of Christ at his breast and the tongue of fire over his head, both denoting that he was indeed one of the original Twelve.


As we continue to walk east in the ambulatory, we see the bulto of St. Teresa of Avila.  She was lively, intelligent and a beauty of great personal charm.  She was also a mystic, a reformer, a woman of steel who has since become a Doctor of the Church.  She single-handedly reformed her order and probably saved it, undoubtedly needing all of these attributes to do so.  The artist, Manuel Lopez, has shown her with the intense asceticism of her later life writ- ten on her face.  We honor her as the single Spanish-born saint in our constellation and for the contributions which her Carmelites have made to the civilization of this stark frontier.  We remember her especially on October 15.


St. Frances Xavier Cabrini is the first US citizen to be canonized. She rose from obscurity and illness to found the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and, at the request of the Pope, to minister to immigrants first in New York and then throughout the western hemisphere. At the time of her death, her order numbered 1500. To them and to us she will always be Mother Cabrini.  Linda Daboub has pictured her here in early life, when her innate sweetness has been untroubled by the world.


According to Christian tradition, the mother of Mary was Hannah, St. Anne, of the tribe of Judah and house of David. Her Hebrew name means 'grace'. She is revered in our time as patroness of all Christian mothers.  She is also patroness of the parish here in Santa Fe from which our mother parish descended.  St. Anne is shown here by Gloria Lopez Cordova holding her daughter's hand in a tender gesture, guiding her, perhaps comforting her.  Her feast day is July 26.


The shrine of our Patroness is graced by a magnificent Altar Screen, the work of Marie Romero Cash, which portrays the five images of Mary deemed most important by our community.  Starting from the top and moving clock-wise, they are: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Our Lady of Sorrows.

In the center of the screen is a nicho which contains a sixth image of Mary: that of our Patroness, Santa Maria de La Paz. This lovely bulto is the work of Felix Lopez. It portrays Mary as a young woman, her face and manner serene, holding a dove and offering the olive branch of peace. On her head is a crown of flowers, an almost girlish symbol of youth and innocence.


St. Joseph is usually portrayed as a relatively young man, bearded, often holding the Child Jesus, and, in New Mexican tradition, often elaborately dressed and wearing a crown. This is how the artist, Charles Carrillo, has shown him. The Child is here almost enthroned, yet still supported by the guiding hand of his father. St. Joseph as father must have been a teacher, supporter of wife and son, and molder of a young boy's character. But he was also protector of Mary's reputation and keeper of Heaven's secrets, a worthy successor to the ancient patriarchs.  He is a patron of the Universal Church, as well as father, carpenter and workers. His feast days are March 19 and May 1.


Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton is the first native-born North American to be canonized.  She was the mother of five children but became Mother Seton to the world because she founded the American Sisters of Charity and was in effect the founder of the US parochial school system. Tomasita Rodriguez has shown Mother Seton with one of her charges, quite evidently late in life. She seems bent and aged by her work but just as obviously fiercely protective of the child for whom she is responsible.  We honor her on January 4.


Saint Patrick was probably born in England, of Roman and Celtic roots.  His enslavement by Irish raiders changed the destiny of that country, for he escaped and returned some twenty years later as a Bishop with Papal mandate to complete the conversion of the Irish clans.  He succeeded so well that Ireland became a bastion of Christianity and civilization in the Dark Ages.  In our own time, his legacy remains the colonies of saints with which Ireland has peopled the world.  Felix Lopez has pictured him as a Celt, in the robes of a Bishop, much as he may have appeared when he returned to Ireland to begin his mission. 


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