Rancho de Taos Church

Text and Photography by Harvey Lloyd

This blog is part of a series entitled Secrets of Eternal Youth.

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Secrets of Eternal Youth is a Kerouacian road trip through the mental universe with a merry prankster at the wheel. Lloyd is Coyote, the Trickster, who brings us the fire of imagination that is able to see the quantum foam of the universe in the dancing of Jackson Pollack—that allows us to feel the wild excitement of being alive. Secrets is an explosion of metaphor that reprograms our synapses, stretches our minds, and reminds us that we are all youthful poets.

Each Photograph Made by Harvey Lloyd During A Single Exposure In His Digital Camera, Copyright © 2016

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Rancho de Taos Saint Francis of Assisi Church is located a few miles south of Taos Pueblo and has inspired some of the greatest number of depictions of any building in the United States. It was the subject of several paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, and photographs by Ansel Adams, Paul Strand and Ned Scott. Georgia O’Keeffe described it as “one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards.” The Taos Chamber of Commerce states that the building is “one of the most photographed and painted churches in the world.” It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970.It is also designated as a World Heritage church.

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This immense block of church masonry and metaphysical undercurrents stands like a monolith at the approach to Taos, a guardian angel strangely looming out of the road, Ayers rock in miniature, but not in any way inferior to the gigantic red monolith in the Australian desert. A titan’s block, immoveable and immeasurable, an omniscient god looks out from the windowless adobe pueblo inhabited by the spirits of the ancestors, the Anasazi who vanished around eleven hundred A.D., long before the Rancho de Taos church was built.

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Photography of the church presents an existential challenge. It is easy, as seen here, to make literal, even splendid images of the overpowering block of sculpture. It is vastly harder to try to interpret the church beyond what stands majestically here. “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,. Or what’s a heaven for?” wrote Robert Browning. Rancho de Taos Church exceeds normal vision. The artist, as with late Michelangelo, must let this massive sculpture shine in the desert sun with a thousand enigmas hidden in its thick walls. He must come and wait.

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A great sculptor as any artist, must deal with his patrons. The Pope had no interest in what Michelangelo wanted to sculpt. He made the artist into a picture postcard painter, the famous Sistine Chapel Ceiling, a cartoon like labor of Hercules. The Chapel ceiling is a million miles from the Moses, St. Matthew, Prigioni, Atlas Slave, Rondanini Pieta, Bandini Pieta and the Palestrina Pieta. He broke the The Florence Pieta (it is also called the deposition, or the Bandini Pieta). Michelangelo in a rage after ten years of work tried to destroy it in 1555, but he did not manage to do so. The sculpture was saved by a servant or assistant named Antonio and the pieces sold to the rich merchant Bandini.

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These late works excavate the innermost emotions and vision of Michelangelo. They are reminiscent of the gigantic power of African sculpture where the inner eye emerges to rage and rant its long history.

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An artist intent on discovering what lies beneath the surface must first confront the building in its desert majesty, photograph it, and learn a bit. It is but the surface and the deeper meanings must be excavated. The church and its region was the site of genocide of the Native Americans by Catholic conquistadors and missionaries. With each visit, the architecture unravels is profound highly original sculpture.

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Rancho de Taos Church is outside of the grandiloquent vocabulary of the more familiar cathedrals and the churches that dot the world. It is rightly honored and studied, but where lies the deeper meaning? An artist must shed preconceptions, dislikes, antagonisms, hatred of the cruel murderers of the Native Americans, and become vulnerable to the deeper meaning. Quantum physics and metaphysics are at work here. This stubby adobe building with its thick buttresses and profoundly elegant geometrical shape defies the camera shutter. It demands a symbiotic embrace of its religious and metaphysical presence.

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The titan is aware that the world from the Medici to the tradespeople fear genius while they genuflect in front of works of genius. God is invisible because he must be invisible. Mortals muse on the divine that is unseen.

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Quantum physics and metaphysics are at work here. This stubby adobe building with its thick buttresses and profoundly elegant geometrical shape defies the camera shutter. It demands a symbiotic embrace of its religious and metaphysical presence.

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Michelangelo’s more well known and popular works, the David and the Pieta in St. Peters are the works of a performing genius, grand explorations of the marble that halt at revealing the tormented inner man. An artist must be a street busker to much of his audience and keep close to his heart his inner world until it bursts out like an exploding star. It is alchemy that transmutes granite into life. adobe into spirit, beyond calm contemplative bearing. A tormented genius, like all genius, Michelangelo’s is parting note to his assistant read, Draw, Antonio; draw, Antonio; draw and don’t waste time.”

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It is alchemy that transmutes granite into life. adobe into spirit, beyond calm contemplative bearing. A tormented genius, like all genius, Michelangelo’s is parting note to his assistant read, Draw, Antonio; draw, Antonio; draw and don’t waste time.”

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I will go back again and again until this too familiar shape morphs into a structure whose inner facade crumbles into the dust of eternity. It is the church triumphant over a desert that stretches back to the beginning of history. It is the shadow of the angel that fell, the god who would rather rule in hell then bend his knee in heaven. It is all of that because great art knows no boundaries.

Rancho de Taos, you are the structure that defies time. There is no period that displays your infinitely wise architecture. Great architects are known by the invisible lines that connect them to the curvature of space time. Michelangelo and the Taos Native Americans, their pueblo and the Rancho de Taos structure partake of the almighty, not as a god, but as the world of light.

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