ALFONSO Abeyta is outside the El Santuario de Los Pobladores in Conejos on a cold November day waiting for yet another academic scholar to arrive for a visit. It’s been that type of year for Abeyta as word seeps out about the sanctuary and curious travelers and inquiring minds wander in.

The good news is that the early tours of the still-to-be-completed sacred labyrinth have yielded enough donations to help with the overall project cost and upcoming landscaping that will include a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a representation of the nine historic mission churches that were original to these Valley lands.

El Santuario de Los Pobladores sits adjacent to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, the oldest in Colorado, and this weekend the parish will host its annual Winter Fiesta, including tours of the sanctuary.

“I hope it is enjoyed by the local community and people from far and wide, and that people of many different ideological beliefs find it a place of reflection,” said Ronald Rael, the world-renowned architect and professor of architecture at the University of California-Berkeley.

man holding a demonstration

Ronald Rael

aerial view of the maze circle with the town of Conejos in the background

RAEL designed El Santuario de Los Pobladores. It is another of his projects that elevates the historical significance of both Conejos County, his native home, and the greater San Luis Valley.

The vision for the design “grew out of a book I read by Rebecca Solnit entitled, Wanderlust: A History of Walking,” Rael explained. “Because there was no ability to take an outward journey, as they do at the Oratoria in San Luis, or to the Santuario in Chimayo, or the Vatican or Mecca, a labyrinth offers an inward journey, both geographically and mentally.”

Spend some time with Abeyta, one of the main volunteers, and he’ll walk you through the different stations inside the labyrinth that represent the Mysteries of the Rosary of the Roman Catholic Faith: The Joyful Mysteries; The Luminous Mysteries; The Sorrowful Mysteries; and The Glorious Mysteries. Each mystery station is built within the sacred labyrinth, allowing visitors to reflect and to see the surrounding beauty of the Valley.

He’ll also tell you about the 40,000 or so adobe bricks that have been made on site and then laid in to build the walls of the labyrinth.

“I was born and raised in an adobe house,” he began in telling why the project team decided to make their own adobe bricks rather than purchase them. Purchasing the bricks would have cost $2 apiece, he said. 

“We can’t afford that. My great great grandfather built this house, why can’t we build the adobes?”

And so they did.

Now, with 40,000 or so laid in and still a few more to go come springtime for the labyrinth to be complete, El Santuario de Los Pobladores, the sanctuary for the settlers, is nearly complete but the visitors cannot wait.

So inside the gates of this special place, Abeyta lets more guests in. They’ve come to see the latest work by Ronald Rael, reflect on what it must have been like to be a settler to San Luis Valley, and find a spiritual sense that is evident when you walk through El Santuario de Los Pobladores.

Aerial photos by Owen Woods