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Tesuque Pueblo:
San Diego

(1620s?); 1706; c. 1914

Tesuque, the first of the pueblos north of Santa Fe, is one of the smallest of the Tewa group: its population was listed as 281 people in 1973. In contrast to the larger agglomerations of living units, such as the multitiered blocks at Taos or the more rambling configurations at Isleta, Tesuque's form is unequivocal and centralized. Constantly deteriorating, although continually being restored, the pueblo is a simple and singular statement of collective building. Federal housing policy enacted in the mid-1960s produced single-family detached houses planned in patterns at odds with the traditional collective forms. The results are seen on the periphery of the pueblo.

The plaza, at the center, is laid out east-west, which prompted one set of authors to associate orientation with the configuration of the land.[1] Ralph Knowles claimed that this alignment, which creates a southern solar exposure, was a fine-tuning of the architecture to exploit the thermal properties of adobe mass.[2] There is probably at least an element of truth in both explanations, although in many cultures the east-west axial plan also objectifies the rising and setting of the sun and its movement across the skies.

Tesuque pueblo exhibits one of the tightest architectonic compositions, more or less a single rectangle with parts of its eastern block stacked in two stories. Archeological evidence has established occupation on the site as early as A.D . 1200. According to Bertha Dutton, the pattern of this "prehistoric" community bears a recognizable architectural relation to earlier settlements such as those at Mesa Verde.[3]

Tesuque is also unique in that its church, dedicated to San Diego, sits directly on the plaza. This may not have always been the case, however. Frederick Hodge believed that the current village is sited three miles east of its pre–Pueblo Revolt location,[4] which would suggest that the pueblo either occupied a site that had been inhabited in the distant past or established a new pueblo and mission after the Reconquest.

The original church was dedicated to San Lorenzo, and its founding is credited to the indefatigable Benavides in the late 1620s. But "on August 10, 1680, the feast of San Lorenzo," Paul Walter narrated, "the day of the Pueblo uprising and martyrdom of the Franciscan missionaries, Fray Tomas [at Tesuque] was killed and the church burned."[5] Perhaps negative associations with the saint or the saint's day led to the reattribution to San Diego when the church was reestablished in 1695, construction having been supervised by Fray José Díez. Substantially deteriorated by 1745, it was rebuilt under the guid-


San Diego
The hard plaster is cracked and peeling, spiting repairs made to maintain its integrity. A small bush reclaims the
summit of the facade.


ance of Fray Francisco de la Concepción, who was often at odds with the colonial government. Typically, the disputes regarded the use of Indian labor.[6] The mission remained a visita of Santa Fe into the eighteenth century.

Kubler believed that the new church was built prior to 1706—a common dating—and that this was probably the church de Morfi described in 1782 by saying, "The religious of Santa Fe have a church there and an adequate dwelling place . . . although of adobe and very poor."[7] Bishop Tamarón left a sociological, rather than a physical, picture of the mission. Writing in 1760, he described the church as a visita of Santa Fe and bestowed a blessing of sorts by saying that "these Indians are more civilized (than the Comanche to whom they are compared), but he was troubled by their lack of confessions.[8] Unfortunately, he added little else except that there were thirty-one families with 232 people. The 1750 census tallied a population of forty-four households with 171 people.[9]

By the time of the Domínguez visit in 1776, the population stood at forty-five families with 194 persons.[10] Domínguez wrote that since 1769 the church had been served by a priest from Nambe, although in a note Adams and Chavez indicated that church records listed a resident priest at the pueblo between 1729 and 1772.[11] Catechism was delegated to the fiscal mayor , an Indian appointed to assist the priest and in this case act as his surrogate, but Domínguez seemed pleased to report that "on Saturdays and feast days the whole pueblo gathers in the church at the peal of the bell to recite the rosary."[12] The priest from Nambe, however, came to hold services at Tesuque on feast days and sometimes heard confession. On other occasions the Tesuque congregants traveled to Nambe for mass.

At that time the disposition of the pueblo differed from what we see today. The church was not directly on the plaza but was separated from it by a block of buildings that intervened between the church/convento and the plaza. Perhaps at that time the church was still not completely accepted into the community. "The planting for the father is entrusted to the pueblo up to the harvest, and since stealing and carelessness prevail, it goes ill for the priest," Domínguez revealed. The congregation seemed to have had a different agenda. After a description of the pueblo blocks, Domínguez noted, "It is obvious from the foregoing that the church is outside this little plaza, and this is true. Yet it stands at the end of a blind alley, for there are some small new houses a little farther down facing the back of the aforesaid tenement."[13] Apparently the form of

Tesuque Pueblo
The pueblo from the air. The church of San Diego is in the upper center,
one of the few pueblo churches located directly on the main plaza.
[Dick Kent, 1960s]


the plaza as a defined rectangle was not regarded as sacrosanct; its presence was more often suggested than physically defined in the European tradition.

The church Domínguez visited and described in the late 1770s was not the church that occupies the site today. The older church was a larger structure, although even in the late eighteenth century, it stood in a somewhat dilapidated condition. It measured about eighty-five feet long by twenty feet wide with a ceiling height of twenty-two feet. There was no choir loft, indicating a lack of musical development at the pueblo, limited resources, or little interest in a foreign religion. The natives' casual regard for the priest suggested a certain informality on their part, as did Domínguez's comment that "the ceiling consists of thirty beams with a little carving which rest on small corbels (three of them are ready to fall down)."[14]

The nave had an earthen floor and a transverse clerestory; the convento in the courtyard plan was to the church's southeast. The facade was bolstered by "two buttresses from the front corner (like those I described at the Santa Fe church). On each there is a little tower with four arches but no grating." It was a basic building, for which the priest showed little enthusiasm: "Essentially this church looks like the great granary of an hacienda."[15] No matter how extended his sojourn or how many churches he visited in New Mexico, Domínguez remained a product of Mexico and willingly shouldered the burden of that archetypical image of what a church should be. In all probability, then, the composite image of the church, except for its location and size, was somewhat similar to the way the church at San Felipe pueblo appears today. The 1870s photo published here shows the remnants of this structure in rather poor condition, although the overall impression is considerably grander than Domínguez's description implied. Shortly thereafter the church was replaced by a new structure, although in all likelihood a simple adobe cell served as the interim church until the construction was completed. Edgar Hewett probably referred to this building when he wrote that the sacristy had been remodeled into a chapel. Walter, however, asserted that part of the older structure "is incorporated into the much smaller structure in the village."[16]

Prince published an image of the church in 1915 or just before, that showed only the flat facade and single nave seen today.[17] Curiously, a very flat pediment in the Territorial Style over the entry door indicated that Anglo architectural details shaped by the influence of sawmills and the American notion of progress had already infiltrated the bastion of

San Diego
circa 1870
The old church shown in this photograph collapsed in 1880.
[National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution]


San Diego
Taken by Carlos Vierra during a dance, this photograph shows a church with a crisp white
facade and Territorial Style doorway.
[Carlos Vierra, University of New Mexico Special Collections]

San Diego
circa 1916
Framed, printed religious images overlay and complement the rear panel, dated 1886, which
provides the focal point for this rare interior photograph.
[Franciscan Missions of the Southwest ]


San Diego, Plan
[Source: Plan by Johnson-Nestor, Architects, late

San Diego
The battered end of the apse and the small graveyard.

Spanish religious architecture. Perry Borchers, on the basis of the photogrammetric study his group undertook at the pueblo, claimed that the church seen today shares the same wall positions as those shown in Adam Clark Vroman's 1900 photo.[18] The clearest explanation is provided by John Kessell, who ascertained that the church had fallen into such disrepair that for a period prior to 1880, an adjacent domestic building served the religious purpose. The current church was rebuilt on the foundation of the old and completed sometime late in the decade.[19]

Today the church of San Diego, like so many of the buildings around the plaza, is rarely in pristine condition. The door to the church is kept locked, and the condition of the interior and its contents is unknown. The simple facade and the exterior have been stuccoed with gray cement, and the result is a texture quite antithetical to the feeling of the church, if not the feeling of the pueblo. Nature—or God—seems to be having the final revenge, or reward, however. On the pediment that tops the main facade, the stucco has cracked from the temperature differential or from the movement of the adobe as its moisture content changes. There at the peak a small plant has found its roots in the adobe of the sanctuary, thereby seeming to reclaim the Indian land that the Catholic church had once claimed as its own.


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