The Gaze of the Blessed Virgin

With much of the longstanding buzz about the art scene in Marfa, one doesn’t hear as much about the traditional, but very important, aspects of the city.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Marfa, January 19, 2007 –C.E. Hunt

Though mostly a bit behind the scenes, St, Mary’s Catholic Church in Marfa plays an important role in the early part of my novel, A Moveable Marfa. A very important scene takes place in front of the Statue of the Blessed Virgin inside the church. Mass is celebrated most days in the active parish, and the church contributes greatly of the fabric of the more traditional aspects of the city. At times the avant-garde expressions of the artistic community of Marfa creates tension with the more traditional aspects of the community. Other times, they complement each other. Regardless, it is an important influence to the overall cultural landscape of the city and nearby region.

The roots of Catholicism run deep in the area.

Though Presidio County had been inhabited by indigenous tribes for thousand of years, Catholicism started to take root in the region in the 1500s with the arrival of Spanish expeditions across the region. The first Spaniards likely came to area in 1535. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and his three companions stopped at the Native American pueblo, placed a cross on the mountainside and called the village La Junta de las Cruces (at a site south of modern day Marfa near the modern-day City of Presidio). The history of St. Mary’s Parish dates to 1875 when Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission was established in Marfa in a small building west of the present town limits.

[St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Marfa, Texas], photograph, 1964; (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth87871/m1/1/: accessed May 16, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Marfa Public Library.

More background on St. Mary’s Catholic Church

In 1889 the population of Marfa and the surrounding area became great enough that Our Lady of Guadalupe was established as a parish. As a parish, Marfa gained its own resident priest.

The cornerstone of the present day building is dated 1889. However, the people ran out of funds and building was delayed for a time. During this time, services were held in a building which had been a wool storehouse. When funds again became available, the church was finished.

From the time the parish was established in 1889 with one priest until 1912 when there were four priests, there was no rectory. The priests lived in the back rooms of the church building. A rectory was finally built in 1912.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Marfa, Texas, photograph, Date Unknown; (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth87869/m1/1/: accessed May 16, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Marfa Public Library.

At one time, Marfa actually had two Catholic churches. In 1917 a second church, Sacred Heart Church, was built at the northwest corner of Highland Ave. and San Antonio St. It was dedicated on December 27, 1917. That same year Our Lady of Guadalupe Church was enlarged and remodeled. In 1945, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church was again enlarged. The name of the Church was changed to St. Mary’s.

In 1959, St. Mary’s Church and Sacred Heart Church were made one and the Sacred Heart property was sold. St. Mary’s was again enlarged. Furnishings and materials from the Sacred Heart Church, including adobe bricks and the stained glass windows, were used to renovate and beautify St. Mary’s Church. (Primary Source: https://churchmarfa.blogspot.com/)

Credit: The Foundation for the Diocese of El Paso
Reportedly, the 1927 interior. Credit: [Interior of St. Mary’s Catholic church in the late 1920s],photograph, 1927~;(https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth39711/m1/1/: accessed May 16, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Marfa Public Library.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Marfa, January 19, 2007 –C.E. Hunt
St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Marfa, January 19, 2007 –C.E. Hunt
St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Marfa, January 19, 2007 –C.E. Hunt

Per a 1960’s history of the church, the church is, like many historic Marfa structures, constructed of adobe blocks. The exterior walls are reported to be three feet thick. Like Saint Mary’s and its history, this preponderance of adobe architecture is just another special aspect of the City of Marfa.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Marfa, January 19, 2007 –C.E. Hunt

Published by C E Hunt

C E Hunt is a writer and artist based in Louisiana and the Washington, DC area. This page is designed to share updates and commentary on his work and to highlight other works that may be of interest.

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