Corrales Historical Society

History of the Old Church

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In 1710, Francisco Montes Vigil petitioned the King of Spain for land and was given possession of a tract of land (the Alameda Land Grant) which included Corrales. He was unable to fulfill the conditions of ownership and in 1712 conveyed his land grant to Captain Juan Gonzales. In about 1750, the first church in Corrales, L’Iglesia Jesus, Maria y Jose, was situated on the west side of the Rio Grande about half a league (1 ½ miles) from an Indian Pueblo (Sandia). It was a long structure consisting of a nave. It was a visita meaning that the Catholic priest from Sandia Mission Church would visit the Corrales church to celebrate mass, hear confessions and hold communion services.


Village of Corrales
NM Genealogical Research
Casa San Ysidro

After 1857, the church continued as a visita but was served by the parish of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Bernalillo. Construction of the present Old San Ysidro Church began about 1868.

In 1868, a rampaging Rio Grande flood swept away the Corrales church. Timbers were salvaged from the river as well as coffins from the graves at the church. The Gutierrez family donated land on higher ground for a graveyard (campo santo) and also a new church. The salvaged lintels and beams (vigas ) were used in this new church. The lintel over the east window has the date of 1857 carved on it. It was probably a timber salvaged from the flood. Old San Ysidro church is a classic example of the New Mexico Hispanic religious village architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries. It is in the shape of a cross. The massive masonry adobe walls are nearly three feet thick and hand-plastered with adobe on both the exterior and interior. The adobe blocks are made of clay, sand and straw, 20" x 10" x 5". Hand-hewn corbels support the vigas and there are hand-adzed lintels above the doors and the windows. The original building had a flat earthen roof with a belfry over the main entrance which was a single door facing the east. The floor was packed earth. Interior mud plastered walls were whitewashed with gesso. The wooden model in the church today depicts the original adobe building.

Older parishioners have told us that seven windows provided light. Monthly services were held during the day. At night, candles and kerosene lamps might be used. (Corrales did not have electricity until the mid 1930's.) Wooden steps led up to the east door. At some time in the late 1800’s or early 1900's, a shallow Victorian porch was added then later removed. A bell hung over the front entrance. The rope was attached to the door frame but out of reach of children. The sacristana (keeper of the church) would pull the bell slowly and the solemn sound would announce the death of an adult. A faster pealing bell would mean a child had died. A young person on horseback would ride out and carry the news to the people of the village. Ancestors of many current Corrales families are buried in the Old Church, in the courtyard to the east and in the campo santo to the west.

In the old Church to the left of the entrance, there was a small table holding a basin of holy water. There was a small choir loft in the northeast corner of the nave. Precipitous stairs led to the loft that held about eight choir members, a small organ and organist. The choir sang for processionals and recessionals and during church services. There were no hymnals.

When the parishioners attended mass in the church, they sat on woven blankets on the packed earth floor–Indian blankets or Hispanic weavings. Later, each family provided their own bench, called a tarima which was a plank with four legs. It was a low, movable bench with the family name printed on the back. Four original pews stand in the church today; the smallest of these was donated by the Emilio Lopez family. The sacristana would start a fire in the large, potbellied wood burning stove 24 to 48 hours before the service on cold winter days. Fourteen stations of the cross hung on white washed walls. Today, ten of the original ones have been cleaned and stabilized and now hang in the sacristy.

There was a large altar in the apse and a side altar in each transept. The large altar was covered with white linen and held the tabernacle. Candles on shelves flanked the tabernacle with the statue of San Ysidro in the center above. San Ysidro is the patron saint of the village of Corrales. This statue or bulto is now in the new church in Corrales; the tabernacle is in use in the church at Mora. A communion railing painted white and gold surrounded the sanctuary.

In the south transept, there was a side altar covered with white linen and the statues of the Holy Family. There was a small table with candles next to it and benches against the east wall. The north transept had a side altar covered with white linen which held the statue of the Virgin Mary. (While being restored, it was found to be St. Margaret originally. It was common practice to adapt the bultos to present needs.) A small table held candles. A bench on the east wall next to the sacristy was used as a waiting bench for confessionals.

In about 1905, the sacristy was added to the church. The confessional booth was to the right of the entrance. The long cabinet which is in the sacristy today held the priest’s vestments and a supply of candles. It was made by Carlos Sena of Bernallio. There was an iron bedstead, a washstand and a stove. A visiting priest could stay over to celebrate the fiesta of San Ysidro in May and other holy days.

Barbed wire enclosed the plaza of the church. In about 1900, two cottonwood trees were planted to the north. They furnished shade for the horses tied there during summer masses.

The Old Church was remodeled in the 1930's. Twin bell towers (buttresses) were built to support the weakening facade. A “pitched tin roof” of corrugated steel and a hard stucco exterior were added. A concrete “skirting” was poured at the base of the building to protect it from erosion when rainwater rolled off the new roof. Concrete steps led to new double doors in the east entrance.

In the interior, a stamped tin ceiling was added which covered the vigas and corbels. Pine tongue-in-groove planks covered the packed earth floor. Electric lighting replaced kerosene lanterns after the extension of rural electrification in the mid 1930's. Two gas wall heaters eventually replaced the wood burning stoves just prior to building the new church on Corrales Road.

In the early 1960's, the Old San Ysidro Church was deconsecrated and the congregation moved to the new church on Corrales Road in November 1961. From 1963 -1974, the Archdiocese allowed the Adobe Theater to use the Old Church. Modifications created a theater atmosphere. At this time the famous line was painted over the sacristy door, “Act well your part; therein, all the honor lies.”

In 1973-74, the Old San Ysidro Church was sold by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe to the Corrales Historical Society. The contract placed restrictions on the use of the building having to do with respect for burials under the floor and for the history of the building.

In 1976, the Corrales Historical Society deeded the ownership of the Old Church to the Village of Corrales under an agreement by which the Society manages the Old Church. Preservation of the building began with the removal of the hard exterior stucco and all walls were refinished with traditional adobe plaster. The Society and the Village continued to rent the church to the Adobe Theater for use during the summer. 

In 1979 Old San Ysidro Church was placed on the State Register of Cultural Properties. In 1980 Old San Ysidro Church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1981, the roof was repaired and an adobe wall was built to create a small plaza. The stamped tin ceiling was removed exposing the original vigas (beams) and corbels. The ceiling decking was replaced.

In 1987-88, the lease with the Adobe Theater was not renewed. The Corrales Historical Society began extensive remodeling of the old building. Theater seats, risers and stage surfaces were removed exposing the interior structure of the Old Church. The east doors were replaced with historic doors. Old, weakened lintels were replaced. Interior walls were mud plastered. A door was cut in the south transept and an old blocked door was uncovered in the sacristy. Community organizations and individuals donated trees and plants for landscaping.

In 1988, the Annex was built to provide restrooms, kitchen and storage facilities.

During 1989-Jan 2004:
The wooden floors were replaced, as well as the sacristy door. More lighting was added. The “apples” on the corbels are being restored. They were chopped off to accommodate the stamped tin ceiling which was installed in the 1930's and then removed during restoration in the 1980's. The south door has been modified to facilitate handicapped access to the building. A memorial stained glass window has been placed in the east window to honor one of the old families, Dulce and Vincent Curtis.

Today the Old San Ysidro Church is maintained, preserved and managed by volunteers of the Corrales Historical Society using the monies earned from membership dues, fund raising events, donations and leasing income.The Old Church is used for many community activities which include: ~Fine art exhibitions and craft shows ~A lecture series, classes and other programs ~Community celebrations such as Harvest Festival, Christmas celebrations and Heritage Day events ~Village Council meetings ~Musical programs –chamber groups, concert pianists, choral groups, blue grass and folk music The Old Church may be rented for private events such as weddings, parties and meetings.

This History of the Old Church was updated March 2004, by Mary Harrington, Hope Grey and Gay Betzer. It is based on information gathered over the years. In the 1990's, Barbara Pijoan, Martha Trainer and Gay Betzer compiled a History of Old San Ysidro Church based on historical records and a docent interview with parishioners who attended the church here in the 1940's. There is interesting reading in the Docent Files in the trastero in the sacristy: San Ysidro Church by Marsha Bol, Brief History of Corrales by Mary Davis, Old San Ysidro Church application on January 9, 1979 to the NM Register of Cultural Properties and A Brief History: L’Iglesia de San Ysidro Corrales, New Mexico by Gay Wilmerding who designed the Annex.

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