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Courtesy Photo: Filmmaker, Rick Vigil, discussing the work of the film crew on the Stories to Tell documentary series.

Documentary Following The Restoration Of Our Lady Of Guadalupe Church In San Luis Valley

The picturesque San Luis Valley is located in the heart of Southern Colorado. Its residents are descendants of the Spanish conquistadors whose families have lived here for hundreds of years. Our community’s rich cultural traditions have been passed on from generation to generation.

A Place of Miracles: The Restoration of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of a five-part documentary series highlighting the History, Culture and Spirituality of Nuevomexicano Communities in Southern Colorado-Northern New Mexico. This set includes a DVD and DVD Ebook Photograph Collection.

Our Lady of Guadalupe in Antonito, Colo., is the oldest Catholic Church in Conejos County, Colorado. The church was added to the National and State Register of Historic Places on Dec. 17, 2018 and continues to be a cultural center to promote faith and educate its communities on the culture of the Hispano settlers of Southern Colorado-Northern New Mexico.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is part of the oldest Catholic parish in the San Luis Valley. The present church dates to 1927/48. The original structure was an adobe church built in 1863 that partially burned down on Feb. 17, 1926, and was rebuilt and added onto in 1927, using some of the original facades that survived the fire.

In 1948, it underwent further renovations and reconstruction of a new front and bell towers. The church serves a heavily Hispano or Nuevo Mexicano parish that had long-standing ties to the Spanish settlement of the San Luis Valley beginning in the late 1840s-early 1850s. The Hispano people brought with them traditions that had developed over two centuries of Spanish and Mexican control of the Southwest. These Spanish-speaking settlers primarily resided in New Mexico and the southern part of Colorado. Hispanos identify strongly with their Spanish heritage and varying levels of Native American ancestry.

Almost 90 years to the day of the first fire, Our of Lady Guadalupe Church experienced an electrical fire on the eve of Ash Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Most of the church survived, but much of the art and building were heavily damaged by smoke. The 2016 fire caused an estimated $500,000 loss. The result was needed preservation and restoration on the damaged art and statues. Two pieces that received significant restoration were the painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe, located above the altar, and the statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, located outside in an enclave. The painting had been discolored from the smoke damage and was very brittle due to its age. The statue was also significantly damaged and faded from enduring the elements for almost 100 years.

In both restoration processes, the conservators from Colorado Art Restoration Services retained most of the original materials and paint. The goal was to restore them as close to the originals as possible, and the conservators also took steps to ensure the permanence of each of the art pieces. A time capsule from 1947 was also found under the Immaculate Heart of Mary statue when it was removed for repair. Inside was a tin box about the size of a pack of cigarettes which had letters, medals, and stamps of St. Cajetan celebrating the anniversary of his death in 1547, and a list of names of parishioners that donated toward a church project.

After the fire in 2016, a crown of smoke appeared over the head of the Our Lady of Guadalupe painting, and parishioners labeled it a miracle. Michael Bettman, Proprietor and Conservator at Colorado Art Restoration Services, said, “There are two parts to the crown appearing. The first part is the scientific reasoning of what caused the crown to appear. On the other side, when you look at the spiritual portion of it, all of the things that had to have happened for this to come all together on that day is no question; you can call it a miracle.”

A Place of Miracles documents this restoration, it is part three of a five-part documentary series featuring the language, faith, traditions, and culture of its Nuevo Mexicano communities in Southern Colorado. To see the film trailer visit: http://downtoearthmedia.org DVD Total Running Time 24:1

Rick Vigil, of Antonito, Colo., is the proprietor and film producer of Down To Earth Media, LLC. In the past 20 years he has produced a collection of documentaries on the culture, tradition, and spirituality of the Spanish speaking communities within the counties of Conejos and Costilla in the San Luis Valley. When you purchase these films you are saying “Yes!” to Oral History. Please encourage others to do the same. Order your DVDs at http://downtoearthmedia.org/order.html Down To Earth Media, LLC, Contact Rick Vigil at (303) 842-9579 / dtem@comcast.net