The construction of San Estevan del Rey Mission Church was no easy task. The feat was much too large for the friars to take on themselves, so they enlisted the help of the Acoma People.  Many of the materials they used on the church were collected from down in the valley and carried on the Indians’ backs up the 350 foot ascent to the top of the flat-topped mesa. Any soil for the burial grounds and gardens had to have been brought up from the valley. The timbers, which spanned over 40 feet long, had to have been brought from the San Mateo mountains which were located 30 miles away. The construction implemented a simple post-and-lintel structural system. The friars were probably designing these mission churches similarly to how they remembered the baroque architecture from back in Spain, but baroque churches were full of domes, arches, and vaults. The reason these architectural features were not attempted in the San Estevan del Rey Mission Church is most likely because of the lack of skilled workers the construction materials at hand. So the friars adapted to the resources available to them, but incorporated the new construction methods into the general plan and form of the Spanish churches that they were used to.

            One Important difference that resulted from the adobe construction of the church rather than the stone construction of the churches in Spain is that the walls were very thick at the bottom and tapered as they rose. The two main walls of San Estevan were 7 feet and 5 feet and tapered 30 in by the time they rose to their full height of 35 feet. The reason one wall is thicker than the other corresponds to how it was originally constructed. It is believed the large roof beams, which are called vigas, were levered into place using the thicker wall as a fulcrum. These roof beams and walls had to be large to hold up the tons of weight from the roof, which consisted of adobe resting on ceiling boards. It is believed that the Indian men did the carpentry and woodwork while the women and children did most of the adobe work.

Leave a Reply.

    Evan Neal

    As an architecture major learning more about the religion of the Pueblo people, the Spanish influence on their religious architecture was an interesting avenue to take the research down. The Acoma village has, “the finest and most impressive of the Spanish Colonial Mission churches in New Mexico,” so was a perfect fit for my research.