Built in 1863, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Conejos is the oldest church in Colorado. It’s located by the historic railroad town of Antonito in the southern Colorado.
This very beautiful church is definitely worth a visit if you’re around the southern San Luis Valley. The Mission hosts mass daily in Antonito at 8am, though you can attend a special Sunday Mass at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Conejos weekly at 11am.
Tradition has it that when a group of Spaniards were traveling across the San Luis Valley, one of its mules refused to continue on the journey despite many attempts to get it moving. The group found a small statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the mule’s pack and were convinced that the Blessed Virgin wanted a church built in her honor and dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. As soon as they vowed to build the church on the exact same place they stood, the mule no longer needed any persuasion to move and began jogging alongside the other mules.
The Spaniards returned and erected a picket church dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Later it would be replaced by a larger and permanent church. The parish’s first pastor was Father Montaño. The town of Conejos was the seed of the Catholic Church in Colorado, with devout Catholics coming to the area on horseback, in covered wagon, in mule trains and even on foot.
They came under the leadership of José Maria Jaquez in search of a place to live and worship God peacefully. Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish provided a protective shadow for these people to live, settle and grow in the valley.
The church was destroyed by a fire believed to be started by an electric short circuit on Ash Wednesday in 1926. Only the church’s walls and towers as well as some of the parish’s record books survived the fire. The church’s community decided to rebuild on the same site their grandfathers had built the original church after much discussion regarding the most suitable location.
A new church was finished in September of that year, with the remaining adobe towers the only sign of the original church. The new church was dedicated to the honor and glory of God by Bishop Tihen in the presence of all priests from the San Luis Valley and other parishes around the state. The church included the old altar of St. Joseph’s Church in Capulin that was used in the parish until 1934. Today a roman style altar designed by Benjamin Chavez is present in the church.
A second albeit smaller fire broke out in the church on the eve of Ash Wednesday in 2016, some 90 years after the first fire. Luckily fire damage was only reported in a small hallway and bathrooms although the entire church suffered from smoke damage.
Today the church continues to hold mass every Sunday at 11am and is also open to visitors. To get there, just head north on Highway 285 out of Antontio and look for the sign stating “oldest church in Colorado.” It’s located on the corner of Highway G6 and 13.
Address: 6633 Co Rd 1, Antonito, CO 81120
Season: Open year round