Retablos are devotional paintings on on wood or tin. They are usually an integral part of large carved wood pieces which stand against the wall behind an altar, however, in northern New Mexico they are also sometimes found against the walls of the transepts or nave. In that circumstance they are called "retablos colateral". The use of retablos in Spanish churches was very popular during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. This practice was brought to northern New Mexico by the early Spanish Conquistadores.
Bultos are wooden sculptures of saints and other religious figures. They are also called "santos", referring to their depiction of saints. The carvers are called "santeros".
Iconic religious images were considered important to the education of Catholic believers and to the conversion of Native Americans. However, santos from Spain, or even Mexico, were rare in the far reaches of the Spanish Colonial Empire. In response to this, local santeros began carving using cottonwood, aspen and pine. This is practice that has survived to this day in northern New Mexico.
El Santuario de Chimayo and the other churches and chapels of northern New Mexico have many outstanding examples of retablos and bultos. Photographs, descriptions, and the history of many of these pieces are found on the Holy Pilgrimages webpages maintained by the Holy Family of Chimayo. Click here to be taken to the Holy Pilgrimage main page. Or, you may visit the pages for each of the churches featured at the Holy Pilgrimage webpages by clicking on the links below:
• San Jose de Gracia church in Las Trampas.
• Nuestra Señora del Sagrado Rosario church in Truchas.
• San Antonio church in Cordova.
• Santo Niño de Atocha church in Chimayo.
• El Santuario de Chimayo church in Chimayo.
• Santa Cruz de la Cañada church in Santa Cruz.
• Sagrado Corazon de Jesus church in Nambé.