Spanish Missions in New Mexico

 

Pecos Pueblo Mission, Pecos, New Mexico by Kathy Weiser-Alexander

Pecos Pueblo Mission, Pecos, New Mexico by Kathy Weiser-Alexander

Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument

San Buenaventura de Cochiti, Cochiti

San Buenaventura de las Humanas and San Isidro – Gran Quivira, Mountainair

San Estevan del Rey Mission Church, Acoma

San Francisco de Asís Mission Church, Ranchos de Taos

San Geronimo de Taos, Taos

San Ildefonso Pueblo

San José de Gracia de Las Trampas

San José de los Jémez Mission and Gíusewa Pueblo Site

San Lorenzo de Picuris, Picuris

San Miguel Mission, Santa Fe

Santa Clara Mission Church

Juan de Onate

Juan de Onate

In 1598 Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate led 400 colonists to the lands along the Rio Grande north of present-day El Paso, Texas into present-day New Mexico. With him were 1,000 soldiers, 12 Franciscan missionaries, and a number of Tlaxcalan Mexican Indians. The expedition also included cattle, sheep, goats, oxen, and horses. The colonists were to engage in ranching and the missionaries were tasked with providing the local Pueblo Indians with religious instruction. Onate’s mission was 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.”

At the time the missionaries arrived, the New Mexico Pueblos already had a stable economy, elaborate social structures, and a sophisticated religion. However, the Spanish missionaries wanted to eliminate the religious practices and beliefs of the Puebloans and teach them Christianity and European ways.

San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico by Edward S. Curtis, 1927

San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico by Edward S. Curtis, 1927

When Onate and his group arrived at the northern New Mexico Tewa settlement of  Owingeh, (formerly San Juan Pueblo) in July 1598, the Indians were hospitable and offered the Yunque-Ouinge pueblo as guest quarters to Oñate and his party. One of the first things the Spanish did was build a church and the Yunque pueblo became the first Spanish-Catholic capital of Nuevo México.

Onate wasted no time in dispatching small parties of soldiers and Franciscan Friars in all directions to make contact with all of the pueblos in the region. Soon, missions were established in large villages in what has been referred to as “The Golden Age of the Missions.” In 1610, the Spanish capital was moved to La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís, in present-day Santa Fe, New Mexico.

San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico still serves a congregation today.

San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico still
serves a congregation today.

Mission churches were built of locally available materials and ranged from magnificent adobe buildings at Pecos and Acoma to the equally impressive stone construction of the churches at Jemez and the southern New Mexico pueblos of Quari, Abo, and Gran Quivira. The typical mission church included an artio, a walled yard in front of the church that sometimes served as a cemetery. One or two corner towers flanked the front walls of most missions, usually topped by a wooden cross and a bell. The large wooden door at the center of the front wall led into large, windowless interior spaces, usually devoid of benches or seats. Parishioners stood or knelt on the earthen floor. The interior walls were decorated with colorful murals and carved saints or painted hides. Some churches imported ornate altars and beautiful statuary from Mexico.

Along with the mission regiment, the Spanish introduced a form of taxation, feudal in nature, called the encomienda. Under the encomienda, heads of households in each pueblo were required to pay an annual tribute of produce, blankets, or manual labor to support the defense of the Spanish settlement and the pueblos against raiding Plains Indians, the traditional enemies of the pueblos.

Pueblo Women Bringing in the Harvest by Edward S. Curtis, 1905.

Pueblo Women Bringing in the Harvest by Edward S. Curtis, 1905.

They missionaries also attempted to Hispanicize the indigenous peoples and introduced European livestock, fruits, vegetables, and small-scale industry into the Southwest region. They also introduced European diseases that the native people had no immunity against.

By 1630, a status report to the King of Spain mentioned 90 pueblos that were ministered to by 25 missions with churches. It also stated that 50 priests were serving over 60,000 natives who had “accepted” Christianity.

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