|Belen’s ‘Miracle Window’ is still a mystery|
|Written by News-Bulletin Staff|
|Saturday, 12 December 2009 06:00|
(La Historia del Rio Abajo is a regular column about Valencia County history written by members of the Valencia County Historical Society.
This month's article is based on information gathered from contemporary newspaper accounts and from interviews with John B. and Connie Baca, Becky Baca, the late Joseph Philip Baca, Bob Garley and Lydia Pino.
This month's author is a professor of history at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus and president of the Valencia County Historical Society.
Opinions expressed in this and all columns of La Historia del Rio Abajo are the author's alone, and not necessarily those of the Valencia County Historical Society or any other group or individual.)
Ramon Baca y Chavez and his family were well known and well respected in Belen in the 1920s. Don Ramon had served as the community's justice of the peace and police judge for many years.
Judge Baca and his wife, Eulalia Castillo Baca, had raised seven fine children and were active members of Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church. One of their five daughters, Maria Lucia, had become a nun, serving at Loretto College in El Paso.
Always eager to improve their well kept home on Gilbert Avenue off South Main Street, the Bacas had bought a new windowpane from the Becker Dalies store in December 1926. Measuring 20 inches by 32 inches, the window had cost only $1.15, or roughly $13.50 in today's money.
Sixty three-year-old Ramon and 59-year-old Eulalia had not noticed anything unusual when they had installed their new window. But that had all changed on June 1, 1927.
On that Friday morning, Eulalia had returned from attending daily mass and was cleaning her backyard when she glanced up at her east-facing attic window. To her surprise, an image of Christ ascending into heaven was clearly evident in the window in colors of soft blue, green, red and brown.
Eulalia called Don Ramon to come see the breathtaking vision. Devout Catholics, the couple was sure they were witnessing a miracle, especially because the image of Christ had appeared in their window shortly after the Lenten season had ended.
Word of the miracle window soon spread through Belen and beyond. Men, women and children flocked to the Bacas' home to see the image for themselves. By June 27, the Belen News reported, "Thousands of people from different parts of the state have motored to Belen to see the strange apparition."
Many more visitors came by the Bacas' house during the Belen fiestas later that summer. Believers prayed at the window, asking for special blessings for all those who had traveled from far and wide to attend the famous fiestas.
The Bacas' window became so well known that the Southwestern Indian Detours Co. made it a special destination by 1928. The Detours offered Santa Fe Railway passengers opportunities to interrupt their train travel to take excursions by car to local attractions, including Indian pueblos and Spanish mission ruins.
Driven to Belen from Albuquerque, Detour passengers stood in awe at the Bacas' humble dwelling (located just north of the China King restaurant today).
The Southwestern Indian Detours may have profited from the miracle window, but the Baca family never did. Many people offered to buy the window, and a showman promised the Bacas thousands of dollars if they would allow him to build a fence around the family's property and sell tickets for the chance to see the image.
But the Bacas never considered selling tickets, souvenirs or refreshments, although these commercial ventures may well have made them rich.
Instead, the Bacas graciously displayed their window at all hours of the day. Like custodians of a sacred shrine, they believed that it was their religious duty to share their miracle and their faith with others. Many priests and nuns had joined the crowds of reverent visitors.
In fact, so many visitors arrived to see the image that the Bacas began to board up the window at night, for fear that someone might hurl a stone or otherwise damage the miracle left in their care.
Visitors soon realized that the image of Christ could only be seen in daylight, and could not be seen from the attic's interior. Located about 12 feet above ground level, the image could be viewed from any angle in the yard below. Some said that if they gazed long enough, they could see the Christ figure's arms move.
Observers saw as many as three images in the Bacas' window. Visiting the site on July 1, 1927, Jim Whittington of Santa Fe reported that when he stood below the window he could see "a figure of the Christ child seated in a chair with a basket of roses nearby. Standing further from the window the figure of Christ, the man, could be seen. Standing still further away the figure of Christ's mother is clearly outlined."
Of course there were skeptics among those who came to see the window. Doubting Thomases wanted to examine the window from inside the house to see if the strange phenomenon was caused by light reflecting off an image on the attic's wall. No such image was found in the vacant attic.
In fact, a black cloth was placed over the window's interior surface, but rather than eliminating the image, the dark background just made it clearer.
Others wondered if the image was a reflection of an object in the surrounding area. After careful scrutiny, no such object was discovered.
Despite Eulalia Baca's objections, glass experts arrived from Albuquerque to test the window, cleaning it inside and out with various chemicals, acids and even gasoline. But nothing altered or affected the image.
According to another theory, advanced by a Santa Fe newspaper, "pictures may have been put in the glass by some process similar to that used in making stained glass windows and through an error this picture glass was sent to Belen."
Countless visitors attempted to photograph the apparition from the Bacas' yard or roof. A movie company even tried to film the scene for a newsreel to be shown in movie theatres.
But not even the most sophisticated cameras could capture the image. Once developed, pictures and movies always came out blurred.
Over the years, only one person ever photographed the window successfully. Using a simple, low-cost camera, Fernando Gabaldon of Albuquerque had accomplished what all others had failed to do.
A poor invalid, Gabaldon made his unique photograph into postcards, and asked Judge Baca to sell them to visitors for 25 cents each. The judge agreed, giving all the proceeds to the image's only successful photographer.
Like many others, Fernando Gabaldon had come to see the Bacas' window in hopes that a miracle might cure his illness. Some visitors were cured, although others, including Gabaldon, were not. The window was never known as a healing site like the legendary Santuario in Chimayó or other holy sites in New Mexico or the world.
With time, the image was said to have faded, and the number of visitors declined. The Great Depression of the 1930s limited travel for many would-be pilgrims from beyond Belen.
The Bacas brought the miracle window with them when they moved to a house on Dalies Avenue. Tragically, the window cracked in the move, but the pane was not shattered and the image of Christ was untouched. Many considered the window's survival a miracle in itself.
The Bacas installed the glass in the second floor window of their new home so that visitors could still see it from the street below. When Don Ramon and Eulalia died in 1950 and 1951, respectively, their daughters, Ana Maria and Beatrice, continued to live in the house and display the famous image of Christ.
Meanwhile, the house on Gilbert Avenue was sold to Bob Garley in 1967. After water damaged the property in the terrible flood of 1969, the Garleys remodeled the building and have lived there ever since.
Until a local historian came by on a recent Saturday morning, no one had ever asked them about the miracle window. The only unusual phenomena the family has experienced are when Bob's daughter, Lydia Pino, and other relatives sometimes hear strange knocking on doors and inexplicable footsteps on the staircase.
Many Belen residents still remember seeing the miracle window at its Dalies Avenue location. Some recall uttering prayers of devotion as they passed by, especially if they had loved ones in the military during times of war. Some prayed as they walked to class in the old high school several blocks away, especially when they faced final exams or other personal challenges.
The miracle window was moved for a third time when Ana Maria and Beatrice moved to Albuquerque, and put the glass into storage in the early 1970s. In the mid-1980s Phil Baca, Ramon and Eulalia's grandson, brought the window to his home in Longmont, Colo., for safekeeping.
Leaders of the Valencia Country Historical Society learned of the window's long history, discovered its location in Colorado and helped negotiate its return to the Rio Abajo in 1999.
As generous as ever, the Baca family lent the window to the historical society, which kept the priceless item in a vault in the local Wells Fargo bank until its recent move to an equally safe place in town.
The Valencia County Historical Society displayed the miracle window at a large reception in the Wells Fargo bank building on February 27, 2000. Anthony Baca presented a brief history of his grandparents' window and led the singing of "De Colores," a song he called a "reflection of the colors and visions that have been seen in this window" for more than 70 years.
For many, Belen's greatest mystery remains a mystery. What a New Mexico Magazine author wrote in June 1941 remains true today: "To date, no one has given a satisfactory (scientific) explanation concerning the vision."
For others, Belen's greatest miracle remains a miracle. The image may have faded with time, but the faith it inspired in thousands remains as strong and as lasting as ever.
(The Valencia County Historical Society will display the Miracle Window at the Harvey House Museum through the month of December during regular museum hours, starting on Sunday, Dec. 13, from 1 to 3 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.)