The Little Chapel with Rainbow
A rainbow decorates the backdrop of La Capillita de La Sagrada Familia in Parjarito, New Mexico.
Finding Beauty in Front of the Rainbow
It was a relief to have two consecutive days of hard rain after one of the worst droughts in the recent history of Santa Fe. Two days earlier Santa Fe received one-third of their average annual rainfall in a few hours, flooding the “City Different”. This afternoon the monsoon-driven thunderstorms were building up again. I contemplated whether or not to go photograph during today’s storms.Read More
A sky completely covered with clouds usually results in dull grey lighting. If there are gaps in the cloud layers, especially on the western horizon, where sunlight can penetrate and illuminate the undersides of the clouds, amazing lighting can occur. I try to evaluate the conditions each day and predict the sunrise and sunset lighting and color. For me, this is fun as an exercise in science, luck, and photography.
If the conditions look promising in a certain area I consider which scenic foregrounds I can incorporate in the photograph. A form of torture for me is when I am unable to find a beautiful setting while the sky above is on fire or blessed with a rainbow. I know I should “just enjoy the moment”, however as a nature photographer, I admit I am focussed on capturing these moments in a photo. With the skies we get in Northern New Mexico there have been more than a few times when I was situated downtown Santa Fe, surrounded by the inverse of nature, and the sky lit up with incredible color.
New Mexico skies are indeed some of the best in the world, inspiring artists for centuries. Dramatic thunderclouds in the summer are great for photography; even better if they are decorated with a rainbow. If I know where it is raining I can predict where to see a rainbow. A rainbow will be seen at an angle of 41 degrees from the shadow of my head on the ground, if there is rain falling anywhere along that angle, and that rain shower is illuminated by direct sunlight. (Diffuse sunlight, which happens when the sky is covered completely with clouds, does not produce the vibrant rainbows that direct sunlight does).
This afternoon things were looking promising for rainbows as there were well-defined rain showers falling from isolated thunderheads and the sky was clear in the west (i.e. direct sunlight). All I needed to do now was to get between the falling rain to the east and the sun setting in the west. More precisely, I knew that a rainbow would form if there was rain falling in the direction defined by an angle of 41 degrees between the shadow of my head and the rain. The question for me was to where to find a beautiful foreground given the location of the rainstorm and sun.
A small chapel situated next to the iconic Black Mesa at San Ildefonso Pueblo came to mind as a candidate foreground. It was about 15 miles from me. I had to drive through the city of Española to reach this chapel. On the drive, I began to see a bright double rainbow lighting up the sky. I worried that it might be gone by the time I got to the chapel. Española has a lot of character, however, I was looking for a less urban scene decorated with this rainbow. Meanwhile, the rainbow shined brightly above strip malls, mobile homes, and road construction detours on my way to Black Mesa. Given the traffic delays and detours, I started to think this might be one of those times where I strike out. Time was ticking and I hoped the rain shower to the east would last long enough for me to get to the chapel.
Eventually, I passed through Española and was now looking at a rainbow over the beautiful Rio Grande River snaking through the San Ildefonso Pueblo. I set up along the 41-degree angle between my shadow, the small chapel, and the raindrops. The science worked out perfectly, as expected. The chapel and its cemetery (El Campo Santo) were in the shadow of the Jemez Mountains while sunlight lit up the distant badlands (Las Barrancas) and the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the background. Luck was in my corner that afternoon as the rainbow continued to shine brightly when I finally reached my calculated location to create the photograph of the chapel and the rainbow.
La Capillita de La Sagrada Familia
The little chapel next to Black Mesa on San Ildefonso Pueblo is named “La Capillita de La Sagrada Familia” (the small chapel of the sacred family). As the Espanola Valley, Santa Clara Pueblo, and development expand along the Rio Grande here the little chapel still remains as an isolated and beautiful icon on a natural landscape.Read More
The chapel was built between 1921-1924 by Jose and Cecilia Vigil using handmade adobes on land homesteaded by Cecilia’s family. The chapel was used mainly by the residents of the small village of Pajarito, located on the west bank of the Rio Grande and south of Black Mesa. When Congress repealed the Homestead Act in 1937, and the people of Pajarito left, the land was given back to San Ildefonso Pueblo. The Vigil family deeded the chapel to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
The chapel remained a center for Vigil family reunions, picnics, and other family functions. It was cared for by the Vigil family until 1958 when the organ was stolen. Thereafter, surviving religious items were stored and cared for by members of San Ildefonso Pueblo but after 1958 the chapel was virtually abandoned.
In 1991 restoration of the chapel began. The church was completely stabilized and rededicated by the diocese in 1992. Re-mudding the interior and restoring the altar and the ceiling medallions, continued through most of 1996. Today it is still used by family members.
Black Mesa plays an important role in the history and culture of San Ildefonso Pueblo. The Tewa name of San Ildefonso Pueblo is “Powhoge“, meaning “where the water runs through”. Two-hundred and thirty-one years before the little chapel was constructed next to Black Mesa, warriors from San Ildefonso and other pueblos successfully fought off the Spanish from the top of Black Mesa during a siege that lasted months.
Today, Black Mesa is still an important aspect of the pueblo as it rises boldly above the Rio Grande Valley.Read More
Warriors from San Ildefonso and other pueblos successfully fought for months against the Spanish colonists in 1694, during the Pueblo Revolt. The strong fighting and resistance of the warriors on Black Mesa were significant in the overall Pueblo Revolt. The Spanish governor respected the independence of the pueblos more after the siege at Black Mesa.
San Ildefonso culture talks about a giant who lives in a cave on top of Black Mesa. Children are warned that if they do not behave this giant will come down from the mesa for them. Current day archaeologists are finding evidence from the Pueblo Revolt era that confirms the warrior’s stronghold on top of the mesa.
Black Mesa has always been an important symbol of San Ildefonso Pueblo to me. For six years I lived close to its base in the small town of El Rancho that abutts San Ildefonso. San Ildefonso is a beautiful pueblo, very traditional and without a casino. Every January 22nd and 23rd I try to attend the Firelight Dances at San Ildefonso Pueblo, where native dancers pay homage to the wild animals that have been important to their survival for hundreds of years.
I have a strong memory of riding an ornery Arabian horse bareback on a cold winter night through the snow from my home to the peaceful plaza at San Ildefonso. The night was quiet and frigidly cold, perhaps below 0 deg F! The horse and I discussed how to behave on the slippery ice and snow on our voyage that winter night. We made it home safely and I am thankful for the memory of that night.
Limited Edition Prints
La Capillita con Arco Iris
(30 x 45 in print shown here for scale)
“La Capillita con Arco Iris” (c) Ed MacKerrow / In Light of Nature. ( 5699:3805, 3:2 )