It’s always fun to experience new things. It’s even better when those experiences have special meaning. A trip through the Southwest United States offers the opportunity to experience a vast array of deeply transcendent moments. From the mystical vortex of Sedona to the Native American spirits said to float through the desert, one thing is for sure: a trip through the Southwest is certain to be eye-opening and may even lead to a full-on spiritual awakening. If you’re open to the possibilities, a trip through the Southwest may just be one of the most meaningful experiences you’ll have. On this type of spiritual journey, you’re sure to be enlightened as you learn about the spiritually and historically significant places of the past.
1. Chapel Of The Holy Cross
High in the mountains and buttes of Arizona lies the awe-spiring Chapel of the Holy Cross. Completed in 1956, the church was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright student Marguerite Brunswig Staude and was under construction for more than 18 months. Reaching over 250 feet into the air, the way the church was built into the side of a mountain is really an engineering marvel. In fact, it’s been named one of the seven manmade wonders in Arizona. For the most spectacular views, go right before sunset. A small parking area is available at the bottom of the steep hill where the church is located. The walk up is quite a grade, and they do offer golf cart rides to the top of the hill if you’d rather not walk.
Once at the top, enjoy time outside the church as you take in the amazing views. From any perch on the butte, you’ll be rewarded with stunning desert scenery. While no mass is offered, we did make our way into the chapel to pray and light candles in remembrance of loved ones. We also enjoyed browsing the small gift shop and purchased a hand-made cross to take home with us. The church’s chapel and grounds do get crowded, so I’d recommend going during the weekdays to avoid the crowds.
2. San Francisco De Asis Church
Taos, New Mexico
With building overseen by the Franciscans in the late 1700s, the San Francisco de Asis Church was finally completed in 1816. This super cool adobe building is now a National Historic Landmark. The church sits on the Ranchos de Taos plaza and is surrounded by neighboring shops and art galleries. This is the only original church that remains intact in the city of Taos. Known for its simple beauty, the church inspires many artists and photographers. In fact, both Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keefe have visited this simple masterpiece.
For a really authentic experience at the church, visitors can go into a special room and view the 18th-century oil painting The Shadow of the Cross by Henri Ault. Also known as the Mystery Painting, the painting mysteriously glows in the dark when the lights are off. Make sure you see it for yourself!
3. Loretto Chapel
Santa Fe, New Mexico
The Loretto Chapel has quite a unique history. Back when the chapel was constructed in 1878, the religious sisters of the Catholic church noticed there was no way to access the choir loft. They came to the conclusion that a regular staircase would be too big to fit the space. To find a solution, according to legend, the sisters prayed a holy novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the last day of the 9-day novena, a man appeared with a donkey and a box of tools looking for work. Months later, the unique spiral staircase was completed. Mysteriously, the carpenter left without a word before anyone could pay him for his work. The sisters could find no trace of this mystery man, and many thought it was St. Joseph himself that came to build the beautiful spiral staircase. This is the first mystery of the church.
The other mystery related to the staircase is that the staircase has no visible support. It appears to hang in midair. It was made of an extinct wood species and constructed with only square wooden pegs without glue or nails. While you can no longer step on the staircase, you can take a look for yourself and see if you can uncover the mystery surrounding this staircase. While you’re here, check out the ornate stained glass in the Chapel. The glass came to the Chapel from Paris to New Orleans by sailing ship and then by paddle boat to St. Louis, Missouri, where it was then taken by covered wagon over the Old Santa Fe Trail to the Chapel. It’s a miracle the glass made it in one piece. The Loretto Chapel is now a museum and offers no masses, but the museum is open 364 days a year -- every day except Christmas.
4. Santuario De Chimayo
Chimayo, New Mexico
At Santuario de Chimayo, you’ll actually find two separate, simple adobe churches. The first, Lord of Esquipulas, is the famed el pocito, or small pit of holy dirt. This beautiful adobe structure is referred to as the Lourdes of America, in reference to the French Cathedral by the same name. The special holy dirt or healing soil is said to have special healing powers, and in a room adjacent to the sanctuary, you can see the small hole is filled with this special soil.
The second church on the site is the Santo Nino de Atocha Chapel. This chapel, built in 1857, is significant in that it’s the destination of a large Easter pilgrimage that was begun back during World War II. During the Bataan Death March, U.S. soldiers and sailors prayed to the Santo Nino to be spared. Upon their safe return to U.S. soil, they began the pilgrimage to Chimayo to give thanks. Thousands of people continue the pilgrimage to this day. The Santuario de Chimayo is located in the village of Chimayo along the High Road to Taos, about an hour to the south of Taos. Both churches are open daily for individual prayers.
5. San Fernando Cathedral
San Antonio, Texas
This cathedral of the Roman Catholic Church is located in downtown San Antonio. Founded in 1731, it’s the oldest continuously functioning religious community in the state of Texas. Interestingly, it was founded by a group of 15 families who came from the Canary Islands after being invited by King Philip V of Spain. There is a lot of history at this church. In fact, legend has it that after the Battle of the Alamo when Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett were defeated and killed in battle, their ashes, along with others, were swept up and now reside in a tomb at the back of the cathedral.
San Fernando Cathedral is open daily. Feel free to go inside, pray, light candles, and even attend mass there. Every week on Tuesday and Thursday through Sunday evenings, they put on a spectacular outdoor historical light show that is really something to see. The light show, called The Saga, is a visual history of San Antonio and is actually projected on the facade of the church. Admission is free.
6. Old Mission Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, California
Founded in 1786 by Spanish Franciscans, the Old Mission Santa Barbara is located in Santa Barbara, California, about 1.5 hours northwest of Los Angeles. Along with the beautiful church, the mission operates a few different venues on-site including a museum, gift shop, and wonderful gardens. In addition, you may see monks on the grounds as it’s home to the Franciscan Friars, the religious order founded by St. Francis of Assisi. And it’s the home of the Catholic Parish of Saint Barbara, which is part of the archdiocese of Los Angeles.
7. Wayfarers Chapel
Rancho Palos Verdes, California
Talk about magnificent. This church is absolutely dreamy! Perched on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific, Wayfarers Chapel is made almost entirely of glass and wood and offers magnificent views of the Pacific coast. This masterpiece was designed by the son of Frank Lloyd Wright, Lloyd Wright, who carries on his father’s architectural hallmarks. It’s a very popular wedding site, and I can see why. Bathed in glorious, soft natural light and with a stunning backdrop of incredible coastal views, it’s the perfect setting for an intimate wedding.
The chapel itself is a small, gorgeous space with a stone interior. The simplicity of the stone, wood, and floor to ceiling windows allow the incredible natural beauty to be the star of the show here. It truly is a one-of-a-kind California beauty that must be seen to be appreciated.