By Daniel Smith
Nestled in the historically important San Luis Valley, the town of Conejos is the home of one of the early settlements in Colorado, dating back to the 1850s, and a religious treasure with a history appropriate to look back on at this Christmas season.
Folk legend tells of a stubborn burro which caused the first Catholic parish to be established along the Conejos River – yes, a burro.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is a picturesque edifice in Conejos, beloved by the community and well taken care of over the decades.
It was fairly recently the scene of a fire, and a sign left after the fire some of the faithful considered a miracle – more on that later.
First, some history, as outlined in local accounts and in booklets provided by the church.
The old legend says that as Spanish pioneers were making their way through the territory in the valley, they had trouble, not surprisingly, with one of the mules in their pack-train, who stopped, then was unwilling to move.
According to the story in one booklet, “persuasion, threats, beatings, all were of no avail to make the mule proceed.”
In the mule’s pack (perhaps they were taking the pack off) was found a small statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, it was reported.
The Spaniards, the booklet’s account claims, declared that this must be a sign that the Blessed Virgin must want a church built in her honor, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe – on that spot. The legend says when the Spanish vowed to build a church in that exact location – the mule, “balked no more and went jogging along with the rest of the mule train.”