Filed under: Activities & Attractions, Family Camping, Family Day Trips, Historic Places & Landmarks
A Community Builds a Church–Every Year!
Located in the small New Mexico town of Ranchos de Taos sits one of the oldest Catholic churches in North America. St. Francis de Asis Mission Church has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Every year the faithful parishioners and friends lovingly restore this beautiful and unusual church in a two week process in early June called “Enjarre” which means “remudding” or plastering.
Built more than 200 years ago, the church is made entirely of adobe. Prior to being designated an Historic landmark in 1934, the church was surveyed for two months. This resulted in the creation of 32 hand drawn architectural drawings, all of which are located in the Library of Congress. The drawings are unusual because this structure, being made of adobe, does not have straight lines. Baselines and other methods were used to capture the church’s irregular shapes and dimensions.
This year’s “Enjarre” took place from June 4th to June 16th. An Enjarre is successful because of the commitment of parishioners of all ages who love their church, admire its beauty and simply want to preserve it for years to come. As in years past, hands of all size touched and restored the sacred walls in order renew and preserve them.
All community members and visitors are welcome to participate in the process. It is a time to come together as a community to enjoy each other’s company. Tasks are assigned according to the skill level and experience of the participant. Novices help to carry water, dirt and straw so that it may be made into the mud to be applied to the walls. More experienced “Enjarradores” and “Enjarradoras” (men and women mud plasterers) are given more advanced tasks of mixing the mud, determining the dirt, water and straw content to achieve the right consistency, applying the mud mixture to the scraped walls and deftly using a trowel to smooth the mud into the correct shape. The most skilled craftsmen are assigned the task of mixing and applying the final “finish” coat of mud. It is on the perfection of this coat that the success of the mission lies.
The process is time consuming. It is highly organized and begins with the scraping of the old mud, needing to be replaced, from the walls of the church. Once scraped, the wall is wetted with a garden hose to ensure that the mud will adhere. Next, the first layer is mixed, then applied and troweled into place. The area must then dry for three days. Four days later, the process is repeated, then the area must again be left to dry for three days. Finally, eight days after an area is first begun, the all-important final coat can be applied.
No straw is included in the final coat, called “alis”, meaning liquid mud. Critical to the process is the consistency and wetness of the mud. It takes an experienced “Enjarradore” to make it just right.
One must simply observe the church walls and buttresses to appreciate the amount of labor and time required to complete this process each June. The exterior walls of the church are approximately 138 feet long and 35 feet wide, with walls that are more than 29 feet high on the rear side of the church. The height of the walls requires the use of two cranes in order to complete the re-mudding within the two week time period.
The techniques used to replaster the church had been acquired through knowledge passed down through many generations. The church is an architectural masterpiece of adobe. It was built more than 200 years ago by the families of the town using the same techniques that are utilized today. The true success of the enjarre is determined the following year, at times when it rains or snows. The entire parish community checks out how well the mud is holding up every Sunday when they attend services. It has become an important part of their heritage and daily life, to be shared with visitors from around the world.
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