Bountiful worship options, plus more than 100 churches, equals freedom of choice for the faithful of Las Cruces. This abundance of religious opportunities has added strength and endurance to the formation of the Mesilla Valley's rich history.
San Albino, one of the oldest churches in the area, still paints the landscape of historical Mesilla. It was built in 1851, and its church bells were added in the early 1870s. Its sturdy wooden pews were made of Philippine mahogany in the artistic community of Taos. In 1906, after 55 years, the large, brick church was reconstructed. Today, the white crosses adorning its two, towering steeples create an unmistakable and sacred landmark.
Another memorable site is Our Lady at the Foot of the Cross Shrine, a local replication of Michalangelo's Pieta." The reredo, an item often found in older churches, has become an established component of New Mexican folk art. The reredo is a painted altar screen-depicting saints. Intricate woodcarvings are another element of southwestern religious art. Numerous community traditions reflect a strong Hispanic heritage, especially at Christmas time. In addition to "The Nutcracker," a favorite play is "Los Pastores del Valle de Mesilla." The performance depicts a contest between the devil and the shepherds who are seeking El Santo Nino, or the baby Jesus.
Another holiday celebration of Spanish origin is the lighting of luminarias, or farolitos, at the Old Mesilla Plaza on Christmas Eve. Traditionally, the path to a church is illuminated by placing candles in small paper bags that have been weighted with sand. The resulting columns of flickering lights appear mysterious and inspiring.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, another religious event is celebrated south of Las Cruces in the village of Tortugas on Highway 80/85. The Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe involves drummers and masked dancers who accompany a statue of Mary in a torchlight procession from the church. The next day, patrons hike several miles and climb the 4,914-foot Tortugas Mountain for mass, followed by more celebrations that night in town. Tortugas also hosts a San Juan Fiesta in June.
As Las Cruces continues to grow, so does the diversity of its faiths. Although New Mexico remains the most Catholic state west of the Mississippi, the area's religions are varied. In Las Cruces, more than 100 community churches provide worship services to residents and visitors. Some of the representative faiths include Baptist, Charismatic, Christian Scientist, Episcopal, Evangelical, Islamic, Jehovah's Witness, Jewish, Latter Day Saints, Lutheran, Moslem, Pentecostal and Unitarian.
Recently, the local Mormon faith was highlighted in a collaborative exhibit at the Branigan Cultural Center, "Faith in Every Footstep," celebrating 150 years of Mormon history, starting in 1847. Las Cruces has 129 deep-rooted churches and religious organizations to help feed your spiritual needs.