In the late 1930’s, the community of Santa Fe had begun to grow eastward along the Santa Fe river basin. The population had increased along upper Canyon Road and the inhabitants of new farms and homes had to walk a mile or more to attend mass at the downtown Cathedral. These newcomers to Santa Fe’s east side decided that they wanted a church of their own and they petitioned the archdiocese. They hired architect John Gaw Meem, (who was to become regarded as principal creator of the Santa Fe architectural style) to design their new place of worship, Cristo Rey Church.
The architect conceived a structure of grand proportion in order to accommodate one very special request. The parish wanted the new church to incorporate a glorious carved stone retablo (an altar screen). This architectural piece had been in storage collecting dust at the downtown Cathedral of Santa Fe. The retablo being twenty feet wide by forty feet high required a monumental edifice and architect John Gaw Meem created just that.
In order to realize this ambitious scheme, the parishioners were required to participate actively in the construction. They made by hand more than one hundred thousand adobe bricks. They harvested vigas and corbels from the mountain forests as they contributed to the construction of the new church. Their first mass was held just over a year later in 1940.
The Cristo Rey (Christ King) Church is purported to be the largest single construction adobe building in the United States. The structure measures 350 feet long and its adobe walls are from two to nine feet thick. Its massive towers and buttresses recall the design of the Saint Jerome Mission at Taos Pueblo which was built one hundred miles north of Santa Fe in 1850. The monumental size of the Cristo Rey Church is relieved by the perfect proportions and the graceful form which architect Meem incorporated into its design. The Cristo Rey Church is undoubtedly one of the finest examples of authentic Santa Fe architecture on an institutional scale.
For twenty years, Greg Allegretti of Allegretti Architects in Santa Fe has created distinctive residential and commercial architecture appropriate to the traditions and environment of Northern New Mexico.