The San Francisco de Asis Church may be made of adobe like many others in the region, but its appearance is very different. Its thick walls with their jutting buttresses look more like a fortification than a place of worship, while its massive bulk seems completely out of proportion to the small community it was built to serve.
But this becomes less surprising when you understand its origins. It was built to resist unwanted attacks from aggressive tribes such as the local Apaches. The tamped-earth buttresses were further added to in order to strengthen the walls when threatened by floods and erosion. San Francisco de Asis has stood for over 250 years and is still an active church.
This church provokes a range of responses in observers. Some find its so-solid bulk and heaviness off-putting. But for many, especially artists, it has been a source of inspiration. Georgia O’Keeffe painted it several times, and Ansel Adams photographed it – brilliantly. As an admirer of the latter’s work, following in his footsteps and attempting to capture San Francisco de Asis on camera was quite a challenge, but one I thoroughly enjoyed. The light was great, with just a few white clouds and the sun low enough to create some interesting shadows.
Unfortunately we were less successful in our attempts to see inside the church. A sign said that it was closed for cleaning and would re-open later in the afternoon. So we spent some time taking photos of some pretty houses in the area immediately around the church; visited an interesting shop which had a display of photos taken when ‘Easy Rider’ was being filmed in the area; had a cold drink in one of the nearby cafés, and came back – only to find it still closed.
With time getting on, and still not checked into our Taos accommodation, we decided reluctantly that we would have to give up, so we left without ever getting to see the interior. A shame; but to be honest it was the exterior I most wanted to see, having seen it already through Adams’ eyes, so at least I was happy to have done that much.