Excavation planned to uncover Belen’s first Catholic church from 1700’s

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BELEN, N.M. (KRQE) – Belen is known for the railroad and the historic church Our Lady of Belen  — even the one that stood before it was torn down — but many people don’t know about a church that came before those.

“There was a church that was here back in the 1700’s,” said Ronnie Torres, a longtime resident of Belen.

The first Catholic church ever built in Belen, washed away in 1855, was called Nuestra Senora de Belen.

“Very few people know about it,” said Samuel Sisneros.

Sisneros is an archivist with the Center for Southwest Research at the University of New Mexico. He’s been researching the church for the past five years.

Sisneros even wrote a book about it, “Belen’s Plaza Vieja and Colonial Church Site: Memory, Continuity and Recovery.”

“The popular narrative of Belen is that it started after the railroad, but there’s a deeper history,” said Sisneros.

The church is now underground, and the site will soon be excavated to document the colonial village.

“I’m hoping the excavation will help tell that narrative, that historical narrative of the history of Belen,” he said.

Renderings of what the church may have looked like are featured in the book.

“It’s amazing how many people didn’t even realize we had that here in Belen,” said Torres.

People in town are excited about it.

“It’s going to bring so much history that so many of the younger people do not know, and I think it’s great,” said Torres.

Sisneros said it’s been a long journey, but will bring a lot to light when complete.

“I think it’s important that people know the story of Belen as far as it’s emergence and it’s early, earlier settlers,” he said.

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