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Saint Augustine
Our Lady of Guadalupe Tree Carving
Old Town Albuquerque


Our next stop on the Old Town docent-led walking tour was under a cottonwood tree in a black top parking lot behind the San Felipe de Niro Church. As we entered the parking lot, the tree looked like any aging tree in early spring.
Old Town Albuquerque Our Lady of Guadalupe Tree CarvingOld Town Albuquerque Our Lady of Guadalupe Tree Carving
However, a surprise awaited us as we edged around to the far side of the tree. Carved into the trunk of the tree is a female statue leaning slightly to the right, hands folded in prayer and her head adorned with a rough cut, imperfect crown atop a bright blue flowing mantilla.

This weathered likeness of Our Lady of Guadalupe was carved in 1959 by Toby Avila, one of only 26 Albuquerque men to return from the Korean War. Using only a kitchen knife, a sharpening stone and a mallet, Tony spent more than a year carving his revered La Virgen, always humming Spanish hymns and often working only by the light of a flashlight.

Tony died, less than a week after finishing the image, with specks of blue paint still on his hands.

The tree is thought to be more than 300 years old even though arborists say that cottonwoods normally live only about 150 years. Some people familiar with the story say the tree is blessed. They say it is the first tree in the area to bloom in the spring and the last to loose its leaves in the fall. Many locals lay flowers and set religious candles at the base of the tree and believe that the tree works miracles.

As we looked on in wonder, scores of tourists walked by without knowing what a treasure they were missing.

Next stop on the Old Town Walking Tour- Our Lady of the Angels School
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