CORRALES – As she assembled a collection of artifacts for a display celebrating the 150th anniversary of Old San Ysidro Church in Corrales, Mary Davis was perplexed by the mystery of the missing kneelers.
“In pictures we have of pews in the Old Church in 1961, the pews have kneelers,” said Davis, chairwoman of the Corrales Historical Society’s archives committee. “But none of the three or four pews that have come back to us have kneelers. They may have been removed.”
They must have been. Among the most vivid, if not fond, memories of those who attended services at the Old Church, which served Corrales’ Catholic community from 1868 to 1961, are those kneelers.
“I remember some of those old wooden benches (pews) were rickety,” said Dolores Tayfoya, 69. “If you had too many (people) on a seat and someone moved, the bench would rock. It was like ‘Who moved?’ Because we were not allowed to move in church. And I remember we had old wooden kneelers. Kneeling on them was like doing penance. When we moved into the new church (which had padded kneelers), it was like ‘OK. Now we can kneel.'”
The Corrales Historical Society is marking this year’s Heritage Day in Corrales with an exhibit about the Old Church at the Old Church, 966 Old Church Road, and stretching the event over two days – Saturday, May 19, and Sunday, May 20 – so it encompasses the San Ysidro Parish Fiesta at the present church, 5015 Corrales Road.
Davis said that besides several pews, exhibits at the Old Church will include crosses that were there when it was a place of worship; communion railing balusters; about nine of the 14 Stations of the Cross, which depict the suffering and death of Jesus; and even pieces of the Old Church’s inner plaster.
“Many of these things were removed from the church when it was deconsecrated (in the early 1960s),” Davis said. The Stations of the Cross, she said, may date back to the 1870s and might have been produced in a factory in Durango, Mexico.
“The (station) pictures appear to be prints on canvas,” she said. “They are in a squared frame, a cross on top with the number of the station on it.”
Davis said the pieces of inner plaster are about an inch thick and have hints of blue, white and green paint on them. There also will be an exhibit about the choir loft that served the Old Church.
The Old Church was actually the second Catholic church in Corrales. A flood in July 1868 washed away an older church and that church’s cemetery. Davis said the original church, built in the middle of the 18th century, was much closer to the Rio Grande, possibly in what is now the Dixon Road area of Corrales.
It was a bad location, and Davis said there are indications church members were aware of that.
“We have a document we found in the Archdiocese (of Santa Fe) archives showing that land was given by four prosperous landowners (to the diocese) in May 1868 for a new church,” she said. “They were preparing for a new site even before the old one got washed away.”
Davis said the original church may have been named for the holy family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph), but the church built in 1868 was dedicated to San Ysidro, the patron saint of farmers. San Ysidro is also the patron of the present church, which was constructed east of the Old Church in 1961.
Today, the Old Church is owned by the village of Corrales, maintained and managed by the Corrales Historical Society and used for community functions and cultural events. But the ties between the historic church and the one in use now on Corrales Road have never been severed completely.
Those ties exist, most tangibly, in the annual San Ysidro feast day Mass celebrated outdoors on the Old Church grounds. The Rev. James McGowan, pastor of San Ysidro, will celebrate this year’s Mass at 10 a.m. Sunday, May 20.
After the Mass, the congregation, carrying the statue of San Ysidro and accompanied by Matachines Dancers, will walk in procession back to the present church on Corrales Road, where parish fiesta activities will continue until 5 p.m.
The connections between the Old Church and today’s church exist most poignantly, however, in the memories of San Ysidro parishioners who made their first Holy Communion at the Old Church, served as altar boys there and attended the funerals of loved ones there.
Phil Lucero, 74, recalls that in his younger days, the bell at the Old Church was rung every time someone died in the village.
“There were not that many people in Corrales back then,” he said. “Back then, everyone knew everyone.”
He remembers something else – vividly, if not fondly.
“The pews had wooden kneelers,” he said.