Mission Santo Domingo

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There have been four settlements near the current pueblo of Santo Domingo within the last few centuries due to floods. Gipuy was about 2 miles east of the current pueblo. It was the second pueblo of that name to exist on the site. The Galisteo River flooded in 1591 and washed away the prior pueblo.

Spanish Conquistador, Juan de Oñate, founded the monastery of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción in 1598 and Gaspar Castaño de Sosa rechristened the village Santo Domingo when he stopped there in 1591.

Santo Domingo Pueblo

The layout of Santo Domingo was different from other pueblos in the area. Instead of a central plaza, Santo Doming was, and still is, laid out in parallel blocks. The pueblo consists of six large dwellings. Two are located below the right corner of the newer church, facing east, and 4 face south, with the church and convent in their back yard.

Flooding wiped out Gipuy and the first mission in 1605. This became a recurring theme. Villagers rebuilt the mission quickly, completing the new church in 1607 under the direction of Juan de Escalona. Santo Domingo became the ecclesiastical headquarters of the province in 1619.

Tension between the church and the Spanish administration had a ripple effect across the province. Church and State didn’t cooperate with one another. Both exploited the labor of the indigenous population for profit. The Puebloans became increasingly ambivalent.

Church authorities were so powerful in Santo Domingo that the friars took over military matters, They constructed fortifications and stored munitions within the convento. It wasn’t uncommon for missions to serve as a place of worship and as sanctuary. Comanche, Ute and Apache raiders attacked regularly.

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680

Santo Domingo MissionLike the rest of the Keresan speaking pueblos, things didn’t go well for the priests when the Pueblo Revolt broke out on August 10, 1680. Villagers killed three priests within two days of the revolt starting. Governor Antonio Otermín and his party of refugees passed through Santo Domingo as they fled from Santa Fe to El Paso. They checked the church, hoping to find the resident priests. The doors were locked. They broke in and discovered a mound in the middle of the nave. The villagers buried the missionaries in the church, but they hadn’t damaged or molested the property or artifacts. The Spanish refugees took the ornaments, pictures and vessels with them before fleeing south.

The Spanish Return and Rebuild

De Vargas reconquered the territory in 1692 and authorized construction of a new mission, but it didn’t last long, destroyed during an insurrection in 1696. The Spanish authorized construction of another mission in 1706 when the site of the pueblo moved to its current location. Fray Antonito Zamora arrived in 1740. He decided to build a larger mission next to the first one. He paid for it out of his own pocket. The adjoining missions faced south. Parishioners conducted burials at the older mission and held Mass at the newer mission.

Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez visited Santo Domingo while preparing a report for the Spanish crown in 1776. He reported that the church “is adobe with very thick walls, single-naved, and the outlook and main door are due south.”

Both churches were northwest of the pueblo, near the Rio Grande. The river channel shifted, gradually moving closer to the missions until they were on the river bank. Villagers repaired the missions constantly. Flooding was a perpetual problem. Intense floods in 1881 and 1884 almost destroyed the mission and the pueblo. Villagers hastily constructed levees, but they weren’t enough to withstand the water.

The river claimed both churches on June 3, 1886. The flood waters washed away the new church, rising to consume the older church and the convento before subsiding.

The Current Church

Father Noel Dumarest was assigned to Santo Domingo on January 1, 1895, as part of his ministry at Peña Blanca. He launched construction on a new church, build east of the pueblo on higher ground. Unlike other churches built, renovated or remodeled at this time, the mission in Santo Domingo drew on traditional mission construction, with an adobe nave and a twin-tower façade, rather than the gothic ornamentation that Archbishop Lamy favored.

The sanctuary is inset. A three-part altarpiece adorns the front of the church and illustrates the tradition of santos in New Mexico. The western façade is comprised of two towers with a balcony between them, similar to San Felipe or Cochiti. There is a single wooden cross to mark hundreds of graves at the site. Pueblo members clean and whitewash the church every year before the annual feast day on August 4th. Artists repaint the two iconic horses. Hundreds of dancers participate, with thousands attending.


Santo Domingo Pueblo (now Kewa Pueblo) is located 35 miles north of Albuquerque and 25 miles south of Santa Fe, NM, via the Santo Domingo exit on Interstate 25. For more information, call 505-465-2214.

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