Labyrinth taking shape in Conejos

Pictured left to right is some of the labyrinth El Santuario de los Pobladores board members — Gary Sandoval, Alfonso Abeyta, Armando Marquez, and Cloy Richards — that are ‘doing something special’ in Conejos. Photo by Diane Drekmann

People can tour the structure by appointment

CONEJOS — There is a unique place in Conejos — the labyrinth El Santuario de los Pobladores — the Sanctuary of the Settlers. This one-of-a-kind build is next to the oldest church in Colorado — Our Lady of the Guadalupe.

Early Spanish settlers came from northern New Mexico in 1855 bringing their Catholic faith. They prayed the rosary every day. This faith sustains many people of the San Luis Valley today.

They built seven mission churches in the area which are still active. El Santuario de los Pobladores is the vision, dedication, and hard work of many people.

About 12 years ago, a late parishioner of Our Lady of the Guadalupe Church, Josephine Salazar, donated $40,000 to the church to be used for something special.

Her nephew, Elliott, goes to this church today. He, along with other parishioners — Gary Sandoval as president, Alfonso Abeyta and son Aaron, Cloy Richards, Leonard Quintana, Wanda Sandoval, Armando Marquez, and Paula Espinoza — formed a board to do something special.

And what they produced is this: a labyrinth that is a physical representation of the rosary. A labyrinth was chosen because it is made up of winding passages that lead people back to where they started.

A maze, on the other hand, starts at one point and ends somewhere else, with passages designed to confuse.

El Santuario de los Pobladores is inspired by the rosary and the design of architect Richard Raul.

Armando Marquez explains what the rosary is and how it is represented by the labyrinth. The rosary depicts the life of Jesus Christ from the time of his birth to him and his mother's ascension into Heaven and Mary being proclaimed Queen of Heaven and Earth.

The clover leaf design depicts the four “mysteries” and the five stations within each mystery.

The labyrinth is about two-thirds done. The first two mysteries are completed.

Alfonso Abeyta, who is retired from the telephone company, decided to use his organizational skills to help build the labyrinth.

At first, he wanted to buy abode bricks but found they were much too expensive, so they learned to make it themselves.

“My grandfather built his house out of adobe. We can too," Abeyta said.

With the help and support of Robins Construction, after three years, they have perfected the technique of abode building. They use the Robins cement truck when it is available.

The structure’s walls are about 4 feet high.

“We wanted the space to feel private, yet safe," Sandoval said.

People can look over the wall but still feel enclosed. The passages lead to a separate enclosure at each station, with bronze plaques depicting the various stages of Jesus's life.

When completed, the labyrinth will have a statue of Our Lady of the Guadalupe in front. It will be surrounded by representations of the seven mission churches and their patron saints. El Santuario de los Pobladores is a sanctuary, a place for prayer, reflection; a place of calm and peace.

The labyrinth is so unique that the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area is coming to see it and hosting part of its fall conference on Oct. 11 in Our Lady of the Guadalupe Church.

Alfonso Abeyta gives tours of the labyrinth by appointment. Everything has been done by donations, challenging work of the volunteers and support of community like Robins Construction and the Conejos County commissioners.

Some parishioners built the adobe walls, others made the bronze plaques. The board goes to different events, like the recent Labor Day festival in Antonito. Donations are always welcome. Call 719-376-5985, for a tour or more information.

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