Built in about 1894, Capilla de San Isidro is a Catholic church in Los Fuertes in the San Luis Valley. The church is dedicated to St. Isidore, the patron saint of farming, and continues to play an important role in the local community, with Mass celebrated in Spanish during the summer. In 2013 the church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Located along Vallejos Creek between San Pablo and San Francisco, Los Fuertes was established in the 1850s by Hispano settlers moving north from New Mexico. As in other villages in the area, the settlers in Los Fuertes put their town under the spiritual protection of a saint to whom they dedicated their place of worship. In Los Fuertes, that saint-protector was San Isidro Labrador (St. Isidore the Farmer), whose feast day on May 15 was celebrated by many villages in the largely agricultural region during spring planting.
The first space for worship in Los Fuertes—as in the other Hispano villages in the Culebra Creek area—was probably a private chapel or rustic oratorio constructed soon after the town was settled. Los Fuertes probably built a more substantial oratorio (chapel) in the 1870s, after San Luis became an independent parish and started to minister to mission churches in the area.
In about 1894, the oratorio was replaced by Capilla de San Isidro. Originally the single-story adobe church may have had a flat roof in the Hispanic Adobe style. At some point Father Samuel García, the pastor of Sangre de Cristo Parish from 1894 to 1921, modernized San Isidro with a gabled roof and cupola, Anglo design elements that made the building a good example of the Territorial Adobe style. Inside the church had brown plaster walls, a flat ceiling, a wooden floor, and wooden benches.
Capilla de San Isidro received minor updates during the tenure of Father Onofre Martorell, who served as pastor of Sangre de Cristo Parish from 1933 to 1962. Martorell stabilized or rebuilt most of the churches in the parish. At San Isidro he probably added a cement stucco coating to the adobe walls to seal out moisture and reinforced the foundation with a concrete apron. In addition, a small vestibule was built at the south-facing entry to add some space and prevent drafts. Since those slight alterations in the 1930s, the building has remained basically unchanged.
Capilla de San Isidro still plays a central role in the local community. During the summer, a priest from Sangre de Cristo Parish conducts Mass at each local mission church in the area, including San Isidro. Mass is still conducted in Spanish. In addition, the community gathers at the church during Holy Week before carrying a model of the church to San Luis for religious observances. The community also gathers at the church in May for the Feast of San Isidro and throughout the year for a variety of community events and religious celebrations.