In part five of the series of oldest churches in every state, we are heading to the Southwest and Pacific Islands. Many of these areas were once part of the Mexican Empire, and many of the oldest churches here are former or current Spanish missions. In Utah, Mormons made their mark with some of their first tabernacles and temples, while Anglican explorers settled and built churches in Hawaii. Here are the fifth eight churches in the series, from New Mexico to Guam.
SAN MIGUEL MISSION
Santa Fe, New Mexico (completed in 1613)
Web: http://sanmiguelchapel.org (official website)
The chapel of the San Miguel Mission is the oldest (partially) intact church standing in the continental United States of America. The fact that this four century old adobe mission predates anything constructed by the Spanish along the Caribbean coast or by the English or Dutch along the Eastern Seaboard is nothing short of amazing. It is almost a fluke of history that this chapel, constructed by an expedition exploring the area in the early 17th century, is still standing. Because of this, it is highly regarded as both a state and national treasure.
The San Miguel Mission does not appear to be nearly four centuries old. All that is still standing of the original mission is the chapel, which was once part of a much more extensive compound. Evidence of the greater mission remains only in the form of a handful of vestigal walls. The chapel interior is very plain, with only a single wooden-frame entrance and a handful of small windows. The most noteworthy feature of the chapel exterior is the small bell tower over the entrance. A number of brick supports, built in later years, buttress the foundation and outer walls of the chapel.
OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE CHURCH
Antonito, Colorado (completed in 1858)
Web: www.guadalupecatholicchurchconejoscolorado.org (official website)
Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is the oldest church in Colorado. Relatively young as America’s oldest churches go, it does not date back to the Spanish or Mexican eras but rather was built after Colorado became part of United States Territory.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is a traditional looking Spanish mission-style church, with an unusual architectural feature: The brown brick façade is trimmed in red brick. The interior is decorated with beautifully painted statuary and a magnificent icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe behind the altar.
MISSION SAN XAVIER DEL BAC
Tucson, Arizona (completed 1797)
Web: www.sanxaviermission.org (official website)
The Mission San Xavier Del Bac, also known as the White Dove of the Desert, is the oldest church in Arizona and one of the largest surviving Spanish missions between California and Texas. Also considered one of the best examples of Spanish colonial church architecture in the Southwest (many other surviving early missions having technically been constructed during the Mexican era), the mission is an important local site of Catholic pilgrimage.
The Mission San Xavier Del Bac is a definitively Spanish colonial building with some odd architectural details. Most of the mission complex, including the bulk of the church and its twin bell towers, is a whitewashed stone structure. However, the façade of the church between the bell towers is brown stone and brick, intricately carved in a Moorish style. The church interior is also largely white in décor, with colorful murals and a golden altarpiece.
Bountiful, Utah (completed 1863)
Web: http://ldschurchtemples.org/bountiful (official website)
The Bountiful Tabernacle, not to be confused with the Salt Lake Tabernacle at Temple Square, was the original place of worship of the Mormon community of Salt Lake City. Its construction was actually started after work began on the Temple, but it was completed thirty years earlier as a temporary place of worship until the main Temple was finished.
The Bountiful Tabernacle hearkens back to the Colonial meetinghouses of early New England. It is the oldest Mormon place of worship in continuous use in the United States.
FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
Carson City, Nevada (completed in 1864)
Web: http://fpcarsoncity.org (official website)
The First Presbyterian Church in Carson City is the oldest surviving church in the state of Nevada. Completed in the same year that Nevada became a state, the church initially served prospectors who came to the area in search of gold.
The First Presbyterian Church is definitely not a traditional looking frontier church. For one thing, the main entrance and bell tower are located in the middle of the long side of the church, not on the short side were the roof peaks. The bell tower itself is unusual looking, as its third floor and steeple were removed decades ago.
MISSION SAN LUIS OBISPO DE TOLOSA
San Luis Obispo, California (completed in 1794)
Web: www.missionsanluisobispo.org (official website)
The Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was the fifth of California’s Spanish missions to be founded. Located roughly at the midpoint of California’s mission trail, it was one of the first sites to be scouted due in large part to the availability of wild game in the area.
The Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is architecturally one of the more unique of California’s mission churches. It sports an L-shaped layout formed by two naves which meet at the main altar area.
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii (completed in 1837)
Web: http://mokuaikaua.com (official website)
Mokuaikaua Church is the oldest church in the Hawaiian Islands and one of the oldest churches anywhere in the Pacific. Founded by American missionaries from Massachusetts, it is also one of the most beautiful surviving Congregationalist missionary churches in the United States. Many native-born Christians on the Big Island of Hawaii trace their roots back to this church.
Mokuaikaua Church is a truly unique and beautiful structure set amidst lush, exotic greenery and palm trees. Blending traditional church and native Hawaiiam elements, it is constructed primarily of fireproof rock (though with a traditional white clapboard belltower). The structure is unusually long with numerous doors on multiple sides leading directly into the sanctuary.
DULCE NOMBRE DE MARIA CATHEDRAL BASILICA 250
Hagatna, Guam (completed in 1959)
Web: www.aganaarch.org/parishes/dulce-nombre-de-maria-cathederal-basilica-hagatna (official website)
The Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica is the largest church on Guam, the most remote territory of the United States. It is also possibly the most remote Roman Catholic outpost ever visited by a sitting Pope. Rebuilt after the island of Guam was devastated during World War II, the cathedral is a symbol of resilience and one of the best known landmarks on the isolated island territory.
Though a relatively new church, the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica celebrates its heritage with a small museum that features exhibits on the history of church and local artwork.