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Lent is a time when the "veil" seems thin, and when the veil is thin, we think of purgatorial souls (including, perhaps, those that are "earthbound").

In this regard is the fascinating, powerfully anointed San Miguel Mission in Santa Fe (yes, another shrine there) that they say is the oldest still-functioning Catholic church in the United States.

Visiting it, it's not hard to believe that. It dates back to 1598 -- when it was built over an ancient sacred "kiva" (spot for Indian spiritual ceremonies).

The original church can still be glimpsed through holes in the wall and altar floor and this place, at least to some, has more of a spiritual feeling than any other in the city.

On the altar is a statue of the Archangel Michael, who is also represented on a 400-year-old buffalo skin, and in the back, beneath a sloping choir loft, is a large bell that was imported from Spain and constructed in the 1300s.

In 1955, says the sanctuary's literature, the Christian Brothers, who still own the mission, commissioned an archeological investigation of the ancient chapel and located the original dirt floor and sanctuary steps, which can be seen just beyond the Communion rail through the floor opening. During this dig, "many human remains were found, estimated at three hundred, most of whom are believed to be the devout Tlaxcalan Indians," we are informed. "The deceased, or their families, often made arrangements in those days to be interred if possible under the floor of a Catholic church in the hope of being remembered in the prayers of the faithful who attended Mass there."

When there are not enough prayers, it seems, the deceased make themselves known -- according to Richard Lindsley, who manages the site. "I was here at night, and the doors were all locked, and I heard very heavy footsteps going up and down the area of the gift shop," he told Spirit Daily -- reminding us of how Padre Pio said he once encountered the spirit of a young monk who was doing his purgatory in the chapel at San Giovanni Rotundo.

On another occasion -- claims Lindsley -- a 16-year-old boy clearly saw a man in the San Miguel choir loft (even though it is not accessible to visitors).

"Today the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated every Sunday at San Miguel Mission," continues the literature, "and no doubt there are many of the living and deceased who are grateful. With its rich and ancient history, San Miguel Mission is often said to be haunted by countless spirits who are as diverse as those who worshipped and died there.

"Some visitors over the years have seen orbs of light dancing through the interior, while other guests have seen a woman dressed all in white, kneeling in tears at the foot of the altar.

"Some have claimed to see a tall priest, dressed in a black cassock. On at least two occasions, people have seen six Indians emerge from the side hall, walking across the front of the chapel."

That occurred, Lindsley adds, when Indian music was being played with flute and drums; the Indians were seen walking from the sacristy across sanctuary to a loudspeaker, as if in search of where the music was originating.

"Finally," says the pamphlet at this very unforgettable, must-visit shrine, "it has been reported by still other witnesses that they have seen children running up and down the main aisle, singing songs and laughing with delight as only children can -- spirit or not."

[resources: The Spirits Around Us and afterlife books]

[see also: Is it a mystery or a miracle?]

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