The treasures hidden inside the Church of San Antonio de Padua in Cordoba are about to undergo a thorough restoration.
The retablos (painted altar screens) and the bultos (statues) date from the construction of the historic church in 1832; they represent Catholic saints and events such as the crucifixion.
The project is led by Nuevo Mexico Profundo, a non-profit organization founded in 2018 to raise funds to preserve historic churches. Over the next few weeks, it will restore three altar screens and 22 statues created by JosÃ© Rafael AragÃ³n, a santero master, or creator of religious images.
âI chose this project because it had to be done,â said Frank Graziano, Founder and Executive Director of Nuevo Mexico Profundo.
Cordova is a village of about 500 inhabitants between EspaÃ±ola and PeÃ±asco on the High Road to Taos (NM 76). Originally called Pueblo Quemado – due to a charred Pueblo ruin nearby – the town established a post office in 1900 and changed its name to Cordova, the name of an important local family.
According to historical church records, San Antonio de Padua Church was built in 1832 and constructed of adobe bricks. It includes an altar at the western end and a chancel at the eastern end, where two sets of double doors can be found under the bell tower.
âThere is only a small group of us who use the church consistently,â said Angelo Sandoval, who runs the church as mayor. He said it was occasionally used for funerals, but hadn’t hosted a consistent Mass for at least 10 years.
âWe have Mass on the feast day of our patron saint, June 13 or the nearest Sunday,â he said. San Antonio de Padua was a Portuguese Catholic priest and brother of the Franciscan order who died on June 13, 1231.
The wooden altarpieces stand behind and on either side of the altar. The center screen is approximately 10 feet tall and
14 feet wide and the two side screens are approximately 12 feet high and 6 feet wide.
Painted on the screens in red, green, gold, black and blue are depictions of Saint Gertrude the Great, Our Lady of Sorrows, the Franciscan Shield, Saint Peter the Apostle, Saint Raphael the Archangel, Saint Michael the Archangel , Notre-Dame Refuge des PÃ©cheurs, Sainte Claire d’Assise and more.
In front of the screens, from 12 to 20 inches, are 22 bultos including Jesus on the cross, the infant Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Saint Anthony of Padua and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Graziano said he raised $ 24,000 for the restoration. The main donors are the Thaw Charitable Trust, Susan Foote and Anne and Jeff Bingaman. Bingaman represented New Mexico as a United States Senator from 1983 to 2013.
The restoration is expected to be carried out over several weeks starting Monday by master Santero and restorer Victor Goler, with the approval of the Archbishop’s Commission for the Preservation of Historic Churches in New Mexico.
He will be assisted by the Santero masters Felix Lopez and Jerry Sandoval (uncle of the mayor of San Antonio de Padua, Angelo Sandoval).
Goler, 58, lives in Taos, where he creates religious paintings and restores religious objects. He grew up in a family of restaurateurs and started working with his father and uncles around the age of 13, he said.
Goler has worked at La Iglesia de Santa Cruz de la CaÃ±ada, the San Francisco de AsÃs Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos, the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Arroyo Seco, and the Saint Anthonys Catholic Church in Questa.
He has also worked as a curator for the Harwood Museum of Art, the Millicent Rogers Museum, and the Tesoros de DevociÃ³n (The Larry Frank Collection) at the New Mexico History Museum.
âI have a good understanding of the materials that were used,â Goler said. âJosÃ© Rafael AragÃ³n, his methods were very traditional. “
The wood for the screens and statues would likely be ponderosa pine, and the gesso (primer) would be made from animal skin glue mixed with white gypsum, Goler said.
âAs for the pigments, they had to crush all of theirs,â Goler said, using minerals, plants and insects for the colors. Artists also created varnishes by distilling grain alcohol and using it to dilute tree sap.
âWhat we’re doing in this conservation effort is we’re just conserving,â he said. The process involves cleaning the surface, stabilizing the pigment, and sealing the artwork with a high quality varnish.
The process includes creating an animal skin glue made from Russian sea sturgeon and re-gluing the paint onto the gesso. Goler and his team will use syringes to get the glue behind the peeling paint. He said all work will be done on site and will take around 200 hours.
Sandoval, 43, who lives in Cordoba, said he hopes the restoration will preserve art and invigorate the congregation.
“I want to make sure that I leave the church in a better condition, so that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren can use the space for their prayers, for their baptisms, for, hopefully, their weddings. “, did he declare.