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SPANISH MISSIONS OF

NEW MEXICO

New Mexico has an abundance of Spanish missions. Though California’s are well known, well documented and well preserved, New Mexico’s missions are older. Many of New Mexico’s missions were destroyed in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 or other disasters. Many have been abandoned and neglected, falling into disrepair or in ruins. However, many have been rebuilt or restored, with a veritable feast of Spanish Colonial architecture in close proximity to both Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

 

Some sites are free, a few have limited access involving calling ahead to request an appointment, and a couple are part of state or national monuments with varying fees. Perhaps the separate rules and jurisdictions complicate the creation of an official “New Mexico Mission Trail,” but for individuals with an interest in Spanish Colonialism or the missions of the southwest, there is ample opportunity to informally enjoy New Mexico’s Mission Tour. The downloadable guide provides information and hyperlinks to resources. If there is a mission missing, please let me know name, location, year constructed and whether there is public access.

 

Spirituality is intrinsic to the culture in New Mexico, but it is expressed in an extraordinary number of ways, from Christianity to those following the path and traditions of their ancestors (and everything in between and beyond those two references). This is merely the beginning. Additional material is in development related to historical churches, Penitente Moradas and other spiritually significant sites and traditions.

 

History

 

Though the Spanish built missions throughout the southwest, the oldest ones are in New Mexico. There were so many churches built during the 1600s that the period is referred to as “The Golden Age of the Missions.” The Spanish sent Franciscan Friars into villages to convert the locals, establishing missions in larger villages, with the priest traveling to smaller communities nearby. The purported motive of these missions was to save the souls of “heathens,” though the actual purpose was to subdue and control the local population. Behind the professed allegiance to God, and higher calling, was the financial motivation of the crown.  They needed the local labor pool to exploit the resources of the region.

 

The oldest of the Spanish missions in California was established in what is now San Diego by Father Juniper Serra in 1776; however, the Spanish arrived in New Mexico two centuries earlier, with Coronado paving the way in 1540 for the conquistadors that would follow. Expansion, establishment of missions and settlers arrived with Oñate and a pack of padres. Oñate’s contract with the Spanish government made his expedition’s priorities clear: "Your main purpose shall be the service of our Lord, the spreading of His Holy Catholic faith, and the reduction and pacification of the natives of said provinces. You shall bend all your energies to this object, without any other human interest interfering with this aim." Oñate fulfilled his contract quickly and enthusiastically, dispatching the friars to all of the major villages in the region.

 

Prior expeditions hadn’t involved permanent settlement or mission building. The goal was to find wealthy communities to conquer, with resources to pillage. That changed with Oñate. According to Spanish records, his expedition included about 400 men, 130 of whom were accompanied by their families, at least 8 Franciscan priests, 83 wagons and 7,000 head of cattle. When they arrived at San Juan Pueblo on July 9, 1598, they were greeted with kindness and generous hospitality. As a result, Oñate added the words "de los Caballeros" to the name of the town.

 

The Spanish decided that the beauty and broad expanse of the valley across the river from San Juan would be the most favorable spot for their capital. The residents of San Juan allowed them to occupy the houses in the pueblo of Yunque until they could construct their own dwellings. Oñate didn’t waste time, dispatching small parties of soldiers in all directions to make contact with all of the pueblos in the region. The newly claimed territory, encompassing most of New Mexico, was divided into 7 districts, with a Franciscan priest assigned to each district.

 

The missions were constructed based on available materials, ranging from the massive, magnificent adobe edifices at Pecos and Acoma to the equally impressive stone construction seen in Jemez, Quarai, Abo and Gran Quivira. The typical mission church included an artio, a walled yard in front of the church that often served as a cemetery. It wasn’t unusual for kivas to be located immediately outside the church yard. The front walls of the missions were often flanked by one or two corner towers. These towers were usually topped by a wooden cross and a bell. The bells were used to call the faithful to worship. A large wooden door at the center of the front wall led large, windowless interior spaces, usually devoid of benches or seats. The faithful would stand or kneel on the earthen floor. The interior walls were adorned with colorful murals and carved santos, bultos, or painted buffalo hides. Some churches acquired ornate altars and beautiful statuary from Mexico.

 

Fr. Francisco de San Miguel was assigned the Province of the Pecos, with seven pueblos on the east, and also the pueblos of the Salinas country extending to the great plain. Fr. Juan Claros was assigned the Province of the Tihuas, on the Rio Grande, including Piros pueblos, stretching to Socorro and San Antonio (Teipana and Qualacu). Fr. Juan de Rosas was assigned the Province of the Queres, including Santo Domingo, Cochití, San Felipe, San Marcos, San Cristobal, etc. Fr. Cristoval de Salazar was appointed to the Province of the Tehuas, including San Juan (Caypa), San Gabriel, San Yldefonso, and Santa Clara. Fr. Francisco de Zamora was assigned the Province of Picuris and Taos and the surrounding country. Fr. Alonza de Lugo was given the Province of Jemez, including Cia, and many pueblos whose names have been lost over the centuries. Fr. Andres Corchado was sent west of Cia, which encompassed Acoma, Zuñi, and Moqui.

 

In a report by Father Benavidas to the King of Spain in 1630, the priest referenced fifty friars in New Mexico, serving over 60,000 natives who had accepted Christianity. He reported that the natives lived in 90 pueblos, grouped into about 25 Missions with churches and conventos, and that each pueblo had its own church. When you consider that the Franciscan monks were dispatched to communities alone, with no knowledge of language, culture or traditions and no monetary or material incentives to offer, and little in the way of military support, it is extraordinary that more of them weren't killed. However, the establishment of intolerant theocracies and excessive demands for tribute had disastrous results.

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680

 

The pueblos of New Mexico unite to expel the Spanish

Despite the dual mission associated with Christianity and Crown, the Franciscan missionaries and civil authorities did not always get along, with Oñate accusing the priests of inefficiency and several friars accusing Oñate’s administration of a variety of crimes against the natives. These accusations would become a theme for the Spanish administrations that followed.

 

The friars requested Oñate’s removal from office to no avail. Despite the ongoing disagreements between church and state in terms approach and interaction with the local communities, more priests were dispatched from Mexico City and the official Spanish policies and protocols remained unchanged, leading to mounting frustration and anger among the occupied communities. Priests destroyed sacred artifacts and banned traditional religious practices. The tributes demanded were exorbitant. Frustration boiled over in 1680, with Po’Pay of San Juan (Ohkay Owingeh) uniting the pueblos in revolt against the Spanish.

 

Though most of New Mexico’s missions were destroyed in the revolt, the ruins of several have been preserved as part of State and National Monuments or Parks. Many of the missions that survived the revolt have been rebuilt or restored, providing some of the best examples of Spanish colonial architecture in North America. Most of the missions seen today in New Mexico had been rebuilt before the first mission was completed in San Diego.

San Estevan Rey in Acoma Pueblo was built in 1629. It is located in one of the oldest continuously settled Indian communities in North America. Named after St. Stephen the King, the mission was described in 1760 as "the most beautiful of the whole Kingdom.” It is the only mission church in New Mexico to survive the Pueblo Revolt unscathed, making it the most intact, original 17th century structure in the United States.

 

The mission church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Zuni Pueblo was the most distant from the Spanish capitol in Santa Fe. Although most of Zuni is built of stones set in a mud mortar, the church is built of adobe. The original structure was completed in 1627 and destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. It has been rebuilt several times since the early 1700s.

 

San Agustin in the Pueblo of Isleta was built in 1613. It may be the earliest of the extant mission churches in New Mexico. Although it was also destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt, subsequent restorations have incorporated parts of the original foundation and walls.

 

There are numerous historic churches, like Santa Cruz de La Cañada outside of Española and San José de Gracia in Las Trampas that incorporate traditional mission style architecture. Santa Cruz is one of the oldest churches built for use by the Spanish settlers. The adobe structure was completed in the 1740s, decades before completion of the first California mission. It contains some of the most magnificent examples of locally produced Spanish colonial religious art in the southwest; however, neither Santa Cruz de La Cañada or San José de Gracia are considered missions, because they were built for use by the Spanish settlers rather than for the purpose of converting the Pueblo Indians. Based on the number of missions in New Mexico, the historic churches will need a separate page.

  • Señora de la Asunción de Zia
    Señora de la Asunción de Zia
  • Señora de la Asunción de Zia
    Señora de la Asunción de Zia
    Don Juan de Oñate assigned the first missionary in Zia during his expedition in 1598. By 1613 a church and convent had been built by members of the tribe, Saint Pedro y Saint Pablo. The church was renamed “Nuestra Señora de la Asunción” or Our Lady of Assumption when it was rebuilt in 1706. Zia Pueblo does not offer tours. There is usually no public access other than on feast days. Photography, video and sketching are prohibited; however, the church is still there. If you want to see it, please contact Zia Pueblo at 505-867-3304.
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  • Señora de los Ángeles de Porciúncula de los Pecos
    Señora de los Ángeles de Porciúncula de los Pecos
  • Señora de los Ángeles de Porciúncula de los Pecos
    Señora de los Ángeles de Porciúncula de los Pecos
    Fray Andrés Juárez arrived in Pecos in 1621. Under his direction Pecos built the most impressive of New Mexico's adobe Missions. It was destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt with a smaller church rebuilt in 1717. The ruins of that church are part of Pecos National Historical Park, 25 miles east of Santa Fe. Summer hours are 8am – 6pm. Winter hours are 8:30am – 4pm. Fee: $7/person; children 15 and younger free. Pets are allowed (on a leash). (505) 757-7241.
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  • San Diego
    San Diego
  • San Diego
    San Diego
    Tesuque, the first of the pueblos north of Santa Fe, is one of the smallest of the Tewa group. The original church was dedicated to San Lorenzo, and its founding credited to Fray Benavides in the late 1620s. It was burned during the Pueblo Revolt and the priest was killed like many others. When it was rebuilt in 1695 it was dedicated to a different saint, because the Pueblo Revolt started on San Lorenzo’s feast day. Today the church of San Diego is in poor condition. The door to the church is locked, and the condition of the interior and its contents is unknown. To inquire about visiting Tesuque Pueblo or the mission, please call (505) 983-2667.
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  • San Agustín de la Isleta
    San Agustín de la Isleta
  • San Agustín de la Isleta
    San Agustín de la Isleta
    The Spanish Mission of San Agustín de la Isleta was built in 1612. The original was destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt. The current structure was rebuilt in 1716. It is one of the oldest, and most impressive, mission churches in the New Mexico. The building was designed to house the entire congregation on feast days and Christmas. The imposing edifice sits on a super-sized plaza. The church is still in use and readily accessible to the public. Contact Isleta Pueblo (505) 724-3800
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  • Mission San Buenaventura de Cochiti
    Mission San Buenaventura de Cochiti
  • Mission San Buenaventura de Cochiti
    Mission San Buenaventura de Cochiti
    San Buenaventura de Cochiti was completed in approximately 1628. Cochití was a visita of Santo Domingo until the 17th century, though they had a resident friar as early as 1637. The church is in Cochiti Pueblo, on NM 22 at exit 259, 33 miles north of Albuquerque. The pueblo welcomes visitors year around and celebrates feast days seasonally with dances. Photography, recording, and cell phone use are prohibited, and visitors are asked to be respectful of tribal rules. For more information, visit Pueblo de Cochiti website or call 505-465-2226.
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  • Mission San Esteban del Rey de Acoma
    Mission San Esteban del Rey de Acoma
  • Mission San Esteban del Rey de Acoma
    Mission San Esteban del Rey de Acoma
    Construction of the San Esteban of Acoma mission was a 12-year project, completed in 1642. The Mission Church is a National Historic Landmark located south of Interstate 40 on Route 23 at Acoma Pueblo. Guided tours of the mission church and Acoma Pueblo are available for $23. Photography of the pueblo is allowed with a permit/fee, but visitors are asked not to photograph the cemetery or interior of the Mission Church. For more information, visit the Acoma Sky City website or call 505-470-4966 or 800-747-0181.
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  • San Felipe de Neri
    San Felipe de Neri
  • San Felipe de Neri
    San Felipe de Neri
    When Diego de Vargas's died in 1704, the viceroy, Duke of Alburquerque, appointed Francisco Cuervo y Valdés as interim governor. Valdés resettled 30-35 families between Sandia and Isleta pueblos, naming it "La Villa Real de San Francisco de Alburquerque" in 1706. In 1792, heavy monsoon rains damaged the roof and adobe walls, collapsing the old church. The current church was constructed the following year San Felipe de Neri sits on the plaza in Old Town Albuquerque. It is easily accessed. Mass is still held on Sundays, with numerous activities and extra services around the holidays. There is a parking fee in Old Town, but otherwise there are no fees to enjoy this historic church in downtown Albuquerque.
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  • Sagrada Corazon de Jesus
    Sagrada Corazon de Jesus
  • Sagrada Corazon de Jesus
    Sagrada Corazon de Jesus
    The first church was completed in 1618. It was destroyed in the Pueblo Revolt. A second was constructed in 1696, but it wasn’t big enough. Sagrada Corazon de Jesus was completed in 1790, then destroyed in a fire in 1945. Nambe is on the High Road to Taos, between Espanola and Chimayo. The church is open to the public and accessible. No fee. Email info@nambepueblo.org or Call (505) 455-4400
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  • San Ildefonso
    San Ildefonso
  • San Ildefonso
    San Ildefonso
    The Mission at San Ildefonso was one of the first constructed, becoming the epicenter of Franciscan activity in northern New Mexico. The completion date of the first mission varies, with estimates ranging from the late 1590s to 1617. It was destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt, with the resident Franciscans killed at the alter. In 1706, the church was rebuilt just north of the original location. It was remodeled in 1905, again in 1969. San Ildefonso Pueblo is south of Española, New Mexico, on NM 502. The pueblo can be visited daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm. 505-455-3549
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  • Santa Clara
    Santa Clara
  • Santa Clara
    Santa Clara
    The first mission in Santa Clara was established by Fray Alonso de Benavides somewhere between 1626 and 1629. Santa Clara was a visita of Santa Fe so there was no resident priest to kill when the Pueblo Revolt occurred, but they did destroy the church. Although the mission was rebuilt when the Spanish reclaimed the territory 12 years later, it remained a visita of San Ildefonso, until it the structure collapsed in the mid-1700s. Cameras are allowed only with a permit. The pueblo can be visited daily from dawn to dusk. Please call (505) 753-7326 for more information.
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  • San José de los Jémez
    San José de los Jémez
  • San José de los Jémez
    San José de los Jémez
    The massive San Jose mission in Jemez Springs was completed between 1625-1628. The site was abandoned in 1630 when the San Diego Mission nearby was completed. The Mission San José de los Jémez is part of the Jemez Historic site in Jemez Springs. Open Wed – Sun from 8:30am – 5pm. $5 Entrance Fee. Dogs are allowed on a leash. The San Diego Mission is in Jemez Pueblo. Contact (575) 834-7235 or email tourism@jemezpueblo.com.
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  • Nuestra Señora de Perpetuo
    Nuestra Señora de Perpetuo
  • Nuestra Señora de Perpetuo
    Nuestra Señora de Perpetuo
    This was the first mission constructed in New Mexico. It was built by Fray Benavidez in 1598, expanded in 1625. Unlike others, it wasn’t completely destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt, though it was in need of repairs by the time the Spanish returned to the area. There is also lost treasure that no one has been able to find. The original structure has been renovated, repaired and renamed over the years, but it hasn’t been rebuilt making San Miguel Mission Chapel the oldest church still in use in the United States. Located in Socorro, there is no fee to visit the church.
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  • San José de Laguna
    San José de Laguna
  • San José de Laguna
    San José de Laguna
    The San José de la Laguna mission was built in 1699, after the Pueblo Revolt, sparing it from the fate of many others. San José is famous for its interior decor; including original Laguna art and rare early Spanish paintings. In Laguna's mission aesthetics play a central role in the ambience of the building. Red, green, yellow and black murals adorn the earthen walls. A portrait of Saint Joseph fills the center of the reredos. The ceiling above the sanctuary is painted with the Laguna symbols for the sun, the moon, the stars and a rainbow. Church tours are offered daily. To get to Laguna, take exit 114 off I-40 between Albuquerque and Grants. For more information, please call San Jose Mission at (505) 552-9330.
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  • San Lorenzo de Picuris
    San Lorenzo de Picuris
  • San Lorenzo de Picuris
    San Lorenzo de Picuris
    Fray Francisco de Zamora built the first small chapel in Picuris by 1620, dedicated to patron San Lorenzo. Spanish missionary efforts never got off the ground. The Spanish deemed the inhabitants uncooperative and stubborn, but the reality may have been a lack of interest. The public is welcome to visit the San Lorenzo de Picurís church. The pueblo is located 24 miles southeast of Taos via NM 68, 518, and 75. Self-guided tours and permits for photography within the pueblo are available to visitors. (575) 587-1601
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  • Santa Ana
    Santa Ana
  • Santa Ana
    Santa Ana
    As one of the first areas to be assigned a priest, the original mission was built by 1600. It was small compared to others in the province and was destroyed like so many others during the Pueblo Revolt. When the Spanish returned, Santa Ana welcomed them, becoming a critical ally. The mission was rebuilt in 1750. The church is long, built of adobe, with a tower, and a number of adjoining rooms to accommodate the resident priest and visiting clergy. Among the notable items in the church are two santos carved from wood and a large painting of John the Baptist with Jesus over the altar. To visit the Santa Ana Mission, contact Santa Ana Pueblo at (505) 771-6700
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  • Santo Domingo
    Santo Domingo
  • Santo Domingo
    Santo Domingo
    The first church in Santo Domingo was constructed shortly after Oñate arrived. It was washed away in a flood, which became a pattern, with spring floods on the Rio Grande repeatedly damaging or destroying the church. It was destroyed in the pueblo revolt, with three priests killed. It was rebuilt in 1706. The river washed away both churches in 1886. It was rebuilt in 1895. The traditional architectural style was replicated rather than drawing on the more fashionable tin roof and steeple look that Archbishop Lamy favored. Santo Domingo Pueblo (now Kewa Pueblo) is 35 miles north of Albuquerque and 25 miles south of Santa Fe, NM. For more information, call 505-465-2214.
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  • San Jeronimo
    San Jeronimo
  • San Jeronimo
    San Jeronimo
    Mission building in Taos proved to be a challenging and repetitive endeavor, with the mission damaged or destroyed and multiple priests killed prior to the Pueblo Revolt. The situation didn’t really improve during or after the rebellion, with more priests killed and frequent assaults on the mission. The San Jeronimo mission, built in 1706, is the one standing in ruins today, though it is joined by a much newer structure that is more centrally located in the pueblo. To see San Jeronimo or Taos Pueblo, contact (575) 758-1028. $16/adult, $14/children 11+, Free for children under 10. Photography is allowed, but additional fees apply for commercial photography or video. See their website or contact them directly for details.
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  • San Miguel
    San Miguel
  • San Miguel
    San Miguel
    The chapel of San Miguel in Santa Fe is an anomaly both in purpose and structure. San Miguel was built to provide ministry to the Indian servants who accompanied the Spanish as they colonized the region. Unlike other missions, it wasn’t the locals the destroyed the original church. It was demolished based on orders from the territorial governor in 1640 during a dispute between civil authorities and the Franciscan priests. It was rebuilt when Spain reconquered the region, with Vargas ordering construction of a new, simple church in 1698. The structure was renovated, and significantly upgraded, in 1710. San Miguel Chapel is open to visitors daily. There is no fee. 401 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe. (505) 983-3974
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  • La Purisima Concepcíón de Hawikuh
    La Purisima Concepcíón de Hawikuh
  • La Purisima Concepcíón de Hawikuh
    La Purisima Concepcíón de Hawikuh
    The first mission was constructed in 1629. The initial structure was destroyed a few years later. It was rebuilt by the late 1650s. The Apache killed the priest and burned it in 1672. It was quickly restored only to be destroyed a final time during the Pueblo Revolt. At that time the mission, and Hawikuh, were abandoned by both the Spanish and the Zuni. The Hawikuh ruins are on the Zuni Indian Reservation. The Zuni Pueblo offers tours of the site for a fee. Visitors should make reservations at least a week in advance to ensure availability. For tour information, please visit the Zuni Pueblo Department of Tourism website or call (505) 782-7238, ask for Tom or Kenny.
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  • Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Zuñi
    Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Zuñi
  • Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Zuñi
    Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Zuñi
    The first mission was constructed in 1629. The initial structure was destroyed a few years later. It was rebuilt by the late 1650s, but burned during an Apache raid in 1672. It was restored, but damaged again during the Pueblo Revolt. The church is currently in need of repairs and no longer open to the public, though the exterior can be seen from the middle village. For more info, or to check the status of repairs, please visit the Zuni Pueblo Department of Tourism website or call (505) 782-7238, ask for Tom or Kenny.
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SALINAS MISSIONS

New Mexico Nomad

SPANISH MISSIONS OF

NEW MEXICO

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680

 

The pueblos of New Mexico unite to expel the Spanish

New Mexico Nomad