The Best Mysterious Painting

By Richard Mahler

Author of "New Mexico's Best"

In Ranchos de Taos-once a community separate from Taos that now is beginning to merge into it-generations of visitors have been captivated by the 19th-century religious painting by Henri Ault called The Shadow of the Cross, which hangs in the offices of the historic San Francisco de Asis Church.

When the lights are turned off, the ghostly image of a cross appears above the shoulder of Jesus. When the lights go on, the cross disappears. The painting was made before radium or luminescent paints were in use, and researchers have been unable the glow in scientific terms. The devout, meanwhile, attribute its presence to spiritual sources. You decide.

San Francisco de Asis-commonly known as the Ranchos de Taos Church-was built in 1772 and became famous during the 1930s, after New Mexico artist Georgia O'Keeffe used it as the subject for several paintings. The structure's massive windowless adobe walls, wide buttresses and tall bell towers make it a favorite subject for photographers, especially as the light and shadows shift along its mud-brown surfaces in early morning and late afternoon. Ansel Adams and Laura Gilpin are among those who have captured the church's massive shape and somber shading.

"The building is a work of art," says acclaimed photographer Paula Riff. ""It's my favorite adobe structure in all of New Mexico."

Inside the church are many old paintings and retablos (painted wooden altar pieces), as well as a huge cedar carving of St. Francis of Assisi. Visitors are welcome, but remember that this is an active church where services are still conducted.

If You Go: The St. Francisco de Asis Church (505-758-2754) is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It's in St. Francis Plaza, 4 miles south of Taos on US 84 (NM 68). A slide show and lecture describing the place are presented several times a day in the church office, where there's also a gift shop. Admission is free except for large groups ($1 per person).

Richard Mahler is author of "New Mexico's Best" and several other books. A journalist and photographer as well, he specializes in travel writing.  A longtime resident of New Mexico, he resides in Santa Fe.

For a full listing of Richard Mahler's books, and to place orders for them, visit Amazon.com.

Copyright © 2000-2013 Santa Fe Always Online, Inc.
Email: sfaolweb@gmail.com