Douglas Keats

Of this series, Santa Fe photographer Douglas Keats has said: “These New Mexico churches are the spiritual center of every village; they serve to unite the ancestral past of all its people. Here, removed from mainstream America, is a view of this country that is unique to New Mexico. There exists a sense of place that only these handmade adobe walls, so delightfully irregular and yet gracefully correct, can inspire. This is a serenity that has not been returned to; rather, it is one that has never been left.” – Doug Keats

Built in the architectural style typical of churches in the home countries of the original Portuguese and Spanish explorers, the early churches built in what are now Mexico, California, and the American Southwest reflect their “mission” to Christianize the native population. Ranging in age from 50 to 330 years, New Mexico’s more than 362 historic adobe churches symbolize not only the zeal of the Spanish Conquistadores and Franciscan Friars, but also the tenacity of the explorers and frontier settlers, and the profound spiritualism of present-day villagers. And yet, the combined factors of shrinking congregations, well-intentioned but misdirected preservation efforts, and a lack of technical skills for repair and restoration have left many of the churches in imminent danger. This situation resulted in the Adobe Churches of New Mexico being designated one of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1996.

Adobe mission churches are tucked into hills and valleys throughout New Mexico. These centers of living tradition have been the focal point for rural villages since they were first settled in the 1700s and 1800s. Their thick clay walls have sheltered generations of baptisms, first holy communions, weddings, and funerals.