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Laguna Pueblo:
San José de la Laguna

c. 1700

As one heads west on Interstate 40, mile after mile of desert and mesa forms slip by almost as a continuous extrusion. Only the rhythm imposed on the topography by the basalt mesas and buttes punctuates the first hundred miles west of Albuquerque. There is a singular exception: Laguna Pueblo. Seen from the road, the pueblo sits squarely on its rise as an island in the land. The stone and adobe buildings are mud plastered to the color of the earth, and homogeneity and harmony pervade the various elements of the village. Atop the stacked dwellings, the visual focus is the bulk and whiteness of the pueblo's church: San José de la Laguna.

The founding of the settlement is not precisely ascertained. Prince and other writers attributed its dating to 1699, but this is only the date of Spanish recognition after the Reconquest. Walter wrote that Laguna was "founded in 1689 by rebel Queres from Santo Domingo, Cochiti, Sia, and evidently Acoma, and may also include some of the Queres which had fled to Hopi Country."[1] Prince asserted that the pueblo's inhabitants were primarily people from Acoma who had entered the area in search of better farming and hunting lands and had eventually founded a permanent settlement augmented by emigrants from Zia and Zuñi.[2] Ellis qualified these interpretations by suggesting that the settlement predated 1698–1699 and that this accepted date was based on the first Spanish identification of July 1699, when Governor Cubero traveled through the district demanding the submission of the native population.[3]

A dam across the San Jose River, which passes at the foot of the rise, formed the lake from which the native name Kawaik derived, translated into Spanish as Laguna. The pueblo was unusual in that farming shared economic importance with sheep raising. According to tradition, the Laguna originated on the other side of the lake, possibly from the Anasazi of the Four Corners region, and settled in their current lands around the beginning of the fifteenth century. Ellis believed that the Spanish initially regarded Laguna as part of Acoma and that this is why we do not have a separate description of the pueblo and its population.[4] By 1706 a small chapel was under construction in Laguna, administered as a visita of Acoma.[5]

Bishop Tamarón visited Laguna on his way from Zia and Jemez to Zuñi and commented at length about the aridity of the land and the difficulty of the journey given that "the sun burned as if it were shooting fire."[6] He was a bit disconcerted about the resident priest's inability to speak and receive confession in the native Keres. Tamarón listed the


Laguna Pueblo
The white form of the church crowns the pueblo hillside.


San José
The facade of San José and its campo santo.

population at 174 Indian families with 600 persons and 20 families of citizens with 86 persons, which no doubt included the Spanish members of the congregation rather than only those living in the pueblo itself.[7] He also described the mission for the first time: "The church is small, the ornament poor."[8]

Sixteen years later Domínguez found everything "built here . . . made of stone from the hill and mud" and the church "very gloomy."[9] The walls of this simple church were "not very thick," the floor was bare earth, there were only "two poor windows with wooden gratings facing south, and another facing east," and the clerestory illuminated the interior.[10] The convento lay to the south. "Father Claramonte rebuilt all that has been mentioned in the year 1766, for when he came to this mission, he found everything in bad shape, and so he installed many doors and windows."[11] Domínguez showered rare praise on the cloister; "Although walled in, it is light, for when the said father rebuilt it, he arranged a beautiful window on each side."[12] The friar's quarters on the small second story were considered "very pretty," with a view over the cemetery. He also recorded the meager increase in population, now totaling 178 families comprising 699 persons.[13] In the early decades of the nineteenth century reconstruction was instigated under the direction of Fray Mariano Peñón.[14]

De Morfi mentioned nothing of the church structure itself but seemed favorably impressed by the visual aspect of the pueblo, which he saw as "one of the most beautiful which the entire realm has. It is situated on a hill of moulded rock which makes the flooring hard. Its rooms are well arranged and evenly made. The houses are all of stone, all two stories along the upper part, and well constructed. They are very clean and neat within and without, painted and whitened with enjarre similar to gypsum."[15] He also devoted about half his entry to the "abundance of snow" in winter, the "little stream fed by a spring" called El Gallo, "pleasing and crystalline water," and the small lake west of the pueblo.[16]

The whiteness of the pueblo and/or its church elicited continual notice from visitors. "Seen from the windows of the cars of the Atlantic and Pacific Rail Road whose track runs within 50 yards of the noble old wreck," wrote Bourke in 1881, "the white-washed walls suggest the idea of a beacon planted in the midst of a restless ocean of strife and angry passion."[17] In a landscape of earthen chroma, white can be as powerful as the sun whose light it reflects.

In descriptions of the social structure of Laguna,


San José
circa 1917
The whiteness of San José has always distinguished the church from
the ruddy tones of the pueblo.
[Museum of New Mexico]

writers continually noted the tension caused by the presence of diverse social elements within the group. Their origin, for example, derived from the stock of several pueblo groups. Although the Laguna shared a common language with the Acoma, there was always some implicit conflict with their neighbors in the Sky City. In the late nineteenth century a progressive faction of the pueblo that followed Protestant, rather than Catholic, living patterns caused additional problems. In reaction, a group of the more conservative elements of the pueblo emigrated to Isleta pueblo, or nearby Mesita, in about 1879. The dissention was also directed at the church, and there had even been pressure from the Protestant-linked group to tear the building down. Its preservation is credited to the sacristan Hami:

His descendants tell of Hami debating the crisis, praying, bathing, washing his hair, putting on clean clothes, praying again . . . and then going to the dilapidated church which recently had been used as a corral for burros. Bracing himself in the doorway, he told the Protestant "progressive" crowd which had gathered outside that they could pull down the church only after they had first killed him, the sacristan. . . . Then he set himself to its repair.[18]

The challenge worked and the church remains.

As the century closed Bourke found that the church, "once the seat of a convent and surrounded by monastic buildings now in the last stages of ruin, is itself in fair preservation."[19] The continuing dialectic of decay and repair continued into the twentieth century. During the 1920s Father Fridolin Schuster of Acoma could "announce joyfully that the work of placing a roof on the mission church . . . had been finally completed successfully."[20] As part of its work recording key structures during the Depression, the HABS measured and documented the Laguna church; the remodeling of the convento followed soon thereafter.

Today, not surprisingly, the pueblo has changed greatly. Prince listed the population in 1905 as 1,384 and in 1910 as 1,583, indicating that notwithstanding the perils of European contact, the pueblo has managed not only to hold its own but also to grow. Prince referred to the pueblo as "the most prosperous and progressive of Indian communities." But he qualified his remarks by adding that this progressive spirit had also fragmented the unity of the pueblo because "the people who were originally concentrated in the one town have become scattered in various communities in order to carry on their farming operations to better advantage. In consequence of this, the town is almost deserted in


San José
The second story of the convento (left) still existed in the late nineteenth century.
[F. A. Nims, Museum of New Mexico]

San José
By the turn of the twentieth century, the second floor of the convento had almost completely
disintegrated, although the church and lower walls appear to have been well maintained.
[Museum of New Mexico]


San José, Plan
[Sources: Kubler,  The Religious Architecture ,
based on HABS and field observations by
Stephen Glaudemans, Dorothée Imbert, and
Marc Treib, 1990]

the summer, and even in winter many of the old houses are vacant and going to ruin."[21]

What was already noticeable to Prince in 1915 has continued throughout the twentieth century and has been exacerbated by the federal government's policy of constructing more modern detached housing on the perimeter of the pueblo at the expense of the traditional plaza and core. Seen in Stubbs's aerial photographs of the pueblos published in 1950, the main dance plaza was divided in two sections by a block of houses, which are now gone, leaving the plaza as one space.[22] The church, although dominant in its position and color, sits to the side of the main plaza and with new development is further removed than it had once been.

San José de la Laguna is notable in several ways. On the top of the crest, it serves as a fitting crown to the hill and the land around it. The church was built with a single nave and battered apse. About twenty-three feet wide, the span indicates that the roof vigas came from mountain sources thirty miles distant. Above the vigas and particularly noticeable in the underside of the choir loft are the herringbone latillas beautifully articulated through painting in black, red, and white [Plate 9].

One enters the church through the walled burial ground, passing through a handsome gate topped by a pediment in the form of a stepped sky altar. The yard is bare except for one cross, which commemorates scores of graves left otherwise unmarked. There is only bare earth, terraced to effect a transition between the lower plane of entry and the floor level of the church itself. To the left is the convento structure, still present but reduced from the two-story buildings visible in nineteenth-century photographs. The facade, which recalls the old Santa Clara or Isleta as seen in earliest photographs, is planar, although it is enlivened by a stepped pediment flanked by two small towers at either edge. These recall the twin-towered form to which so many churches once aspired, while they also sensibly compensate for the increased erosion of the corners of the facade by wind and rain.

While the interior is dark, the clerestory having been covered up in subsequent remodelings, the nave is animated by color and ornamentation. The walls are painted with abstract geometric and bird designs in red and black that run along the length of the nave. The floor remains earthen, dry, and cracked and packed through use over centuries; in the sanctuary rugs cover the floor in the traditional manner. In his descriptions Domínguez commented on several occasions that the only real floors in the churches were the rugs or blankets laid down on the


San José
The painted ornamentation plays a significant role in completing the church architecture and
activating the edge between the wainscot and the upper wall.

San José
Detail of the animated black and red painted ornament,
which mixes abstract, vegetal, and animistic motifs.

San José
The church interior about 1935.
[T. Harmon Parkhurst, Museum of New Mexico]


altar floor and that these were often the property of the friars, either brought with them or traded or purchased from the Indians.

In addition to the wall paintings, which have the look of recent execution, the church possesses one of the finest altarpieces in New Mexico [Plate 10]. A portrait of Saint Joseph fills the center of the reredos. He is flanked on the right by Saint Barbara, protector against thunder, lightning, and sudden death, and on the left by Saint John Nepocene. Above the altar, projecting at an angle to it, is a panel painted with images from the native religion, that is, the moon, sun, rainbow, and stars. While suggesting native origins, this projection functionally serves to keep dust and dirt from the roof from falling on the altar. The entirety of the piece is so consistently painted and integrated that the seeming discontinuity in iconography is all but completely mitigated. As a whole, the decorations of the church convey the intensity with which the Indians undertook the decoration of the church, although the principal paintings were from the Laguna Santero.[23] In Laguna, perhaps more than in any of the other missions, decoration plays a central role in the feel of the building.

Although Acoma also features some wall paintings, their effect is limited by the immense volume of the nave. At Laguna the decoration is felt more strongly: in the painted wainscot, the reredos that fills and cramps the sanctuary, the blankets or rugs on the floor, the painted latillas, the carved beams of the choir loft, and the elaborate detailing of the corbels. Together, as a suite of decoration, these elements not only unify but also embellish the space and transcend the restricted confines of its physical dimensions and the pervasive darkness.

Prince related the curious story of the enmity caused by a painting of San José said to have been brought to Acoma by its missionary, Fray Ramírez, and given to him by Charles II.[24] The painting was reputed to have supernatural powers, and as a result, or so it was believed, Acoma had grown to prosper. Laguna shared none of Acoma's successes and was troubled by scanty harvests and periodic bouts with sickness and disease. San José was also the patron saint of Acoma—although the church there was dedicated to San Esteban—and Laguna pueblo asked to borrow the painting to effect a reversal in the village's fortunes. Acoma was less than anxious to let the painting go, and only after a season of penance and prayer instigated by the priest did the congregation agree to draw lots to "let God decide." God's decision was to have the painting remain on the mesa. So angered by the decision were the Laguna parishioners that a group of them broke into the Acoma church and took the painting back to their pueblo. Only with considerable difficulty and with persuasion by Father Mariano de Jesús López was conflict avoided, which finally convinced the Acoma people to be generous with the miraculous image.

Laguna's lot improved, which only added to the faith the Acoma people bestowed on the painting and to their considerable efforts to have it returned. But Laguna adamantly refused. Father Mariano personally talked to the Laguna parishioners at length, imploring them to see reason and acquiesce. But they would not. Finally, Acoma sought legal recourse, and the case reached the Supreme Court of New Mexico as the case of The Pueblo of Acoma v. the Pueblo of Laguna .

"All we know," Prince wrote, "is that it was hotly contested, and that the lawyers' fees made both pueblos poor." Judge Kirby Benedict decided in favor of Acoma and declared that the painting be returned to its rightful owners. A party from Acoma started out to reclaim the painting; halfway to Laguna, in the canyon that separates the two pueblos, the party found an image of San José "resting against a mesquite tree." Having heard the decision, the story concluded, the saint "was in such a hurry to get back to his home in Acoma that he started out by himself."[25] While the court case is a matter of record, the nature of the incident remains a mystery.


Acoma Pueblo:
San Esteban

c. 1630; 1696–1700; 1924; 1926

West of Albuquerque, past the pueblo of Laguna, and south of Interstate 40 lies Acoma, the Sky City. The approach to Acoma leads through a vast canyon that extends for twenty miles with no apparent exit, its edges severely circumscribed by the steep cliffs and mesas surrounding the valley. There are two principal interruptions to the sweep of the level canyon floor. The first is Enchanted Mesa, a large piece of rock isolated from the surrounding cliffs like a piece of debris left on the beach after a particularly high tide. The second is the mesa on which Acoma pueblo is perched.

The Acoma are said to have first occupied the top of Enchanted Mesa, which is higher still and yet within sight of the mesa top they now inhabit [Plate 1]. One day, legend tells, an enormous storm caused a fissure in the cliff that severed the fragment containing the only access to Enchanted Mesa, a series of foot and hand holes worn in the side of the rock. Up on the butte three old women, either too old or too infirm to work in the fields, were left to finish out their lives. The majority of the people were isolated in the valley below, and they had to seek a new life and a new home in the closest defensive stronghold they could find. And so they began anew on a second piece of rock hardly more, and probably less, hospitable than the first. The settlement of Acoma then parallels and recreates the settlement pattern of Mesa Verde, although here the order of habitation was somewhat reversed. On the summit, some seventy-odd acres, the Acoma Indians built their new pueblo.

It would be difficult, it not impossible, to conjure up a more dramatic, poetic, and less likely place to found a community. Next to nothing of life's necessities, except defense, was found on the cliff top. Water supplies were limited to a cistern pool and incidental accumulations of rainwater. At other times water was brought from the valley floor, carried up the nearly four hundred feet by hand or on the head, in jars from distant springs. There was no agricultural land; in fact, there was almost no soil at all on the mesa. Only sky and protection were abundant.

And yet the setting and those structures that have been constructed and resolutely dwell on this rock strike the basic chords of harmony and inevitability. Lummis was clearly struck by the landscape: "And in its midst lies a shadowy world of crags so unearthly beautiful, so weird, so unique, that it is hard for the onlooker to believe himself in America, or upon this dull planet at all."[1] So steep is the rock surface that it actually overhangs in places. And until well into this century little more than a donkey


Acoma Pueblo
The Sky City and San Esteban, with the Enchanted Mesa beyond.
[Dick Kent, 1960s]


San Esteban, Plan
[Source: Kubler,  The Religious Architecture , based on HABS]

path provided access. Before, one climbed a series of handholds with food, building materials, or water. It was not until the 1950s that a road permitting automobile access was cut and then only because a motion picture was being filmed on the site.

Fray Marcos de Niza heard of the pueblo, whose name he learned as Ahuacus, during his travels in 1539. Coronado passed by Acoma. In 1581 Espejo actually visited the pueblo and remained there as a guest for three days.

"The Acomas received the wondrous strangers kindly, taking them for gods,"[2] or so the Spanish chronicles read. In 1598 they became vassals of the Spanish crown after submitting to Oñate's act of obedience and homage. Initially their submission was short-lived. Oñate, experiencing difficulty in his campaigns, dispatched Juan de Zaldívar with some troops to collect supplies at Zuñi. En route they camped below the mesa. "Zaldívar and some of his men," Marc Simmons related,

were lured to the summit and a horde of painted and befeathered warriors fell upon them. One after another, the sword-swinging Spanish went down, until the few who remained were driven to the edge of the cliff. There was no choice; they jumped. Twenty-year-old Pedro Robledo smashed against the rocky wall, his body tumbling to the base like a broken doll. Three other soldiers landed in sand dunes swept by the winds against the foot of the mesa. They were gathered up, dazed, by the four members of the horse guard who remained below.[3]

Oñate learned of the battle and the death of ten of his men. He dispatched Vicente de Zaldívar from San Gabriel on January 21, 1599, to deal retribution to the Acoma. The battle was bloody, and at its conclusion the Spanish emerged victorious. Hundreds of Acoma were dead. Oñate, intent on establishing a precedent for dealings with Indian uprisings, handed down a series of sentences ranging from mutilation to servitude, even though the pueblo was already decimated. From that time on there was little Acoma reaction against the Spanish.[4]

Acoma was first assigned to Fray Jerónimo de Zárate Salmerón, who kept charge from 1623 to 1626.[5] It is said that Fray Juan Ramírez walked to Acoma from Santa Fe to assume his post as Zárate Salmerón's successor and to live among the Indians for a number of years. To him is usually assigned credit for building the first church. Benavides was clearly astonished by the pueblo, calling it "the most amazing in strength and location that could be found in the whole world. It has to all appearances, more than two thousand houses, in which there


San Esteban
The handsome, boatlike shape of the nave seen from the southwest. Without a plaster top coat, the stone and adobe
mixture is apparent.


San Esteban
The twin towers of the principal facade seen across the cemetery, with
the remnants of the convento to the right.

must be more than seven thousand inhabitants."[6] In 1644 the church was described as "the most handsome [in the Custodia?], the paraphernalia of public worship is abundant and unusual; [the church] has a choir and organ; there are 600 souls under its administration."[7] During the Pueblo Revolt the resident friar, Fray Lucas Maldonado, perished while the church was believed to have been destroyed.

Whether the church was demolished completely or damaged at all during the revolt is still a matter of dispute, however. If the church has remained with its original walls on the same site, it has a rightful claim to being the oldest continually used church in New Mexico. Yet there are opinions to the contrary. Walter, for example, said, "Despite tradition, Hodge declares that no trace of it [the original structure] remains today except some carved beams which form part of one of the houses of the old north tier."[8] Today, however, several scholars believe that at least portions of the current structure predate the Reconquest, although a major reconstruction took place between 1696 and 1700. The bell in the northeast tower is inscribed "San Pedro, 1710," but it could have been added at a later date. Fray Juan Álvarez visited Acoma in 1705 and found the inventory scant and a single priest, Fray Antonio Miranda, repairing the church by himself. Domínguez, however, stated that "this church was inaugurated in the year 1725" and tentatively credited Fray Miranda with its construction.[9] The attribution could apply to a substantial renewal of the church, but the exact explanation of how much was rebuilt has remained elusive.

The church of San Esteban of Acoma is an enormous church measuring 150 feet in length and 33 feet in width. It strikes a certain note of irony that this, the largest existing mission structure, serves the most inaccessible congregation. The church is without transepts. At the sanctuary the apse end of the nave angles prominently, extending the sense of its length. The walls are nearly 10 feet thick and built of massive amounts of adobe and stone, approximately twenty thousand tons, according to Riley writing in 1924 at the time of its restoration.[10] A choir loft spans the rear of the nave at the eastern end.

The vigas that support the roof are fourteen inches square and forty feet long. They were reportedly brought to the mesa—but not by horse, ox, or wheel—from the San Mateo Mountains twenty miles distant. The inside height of the nave is almost fifty feet, equaling the loftiness of the Salinas missions, all of which now lie in ruins.

Neither loose rock nor soil was found on the mesa. As a result, it was necessary to import the


earth in which to bury the dead. "There are no burials in the church," Domínguez recorded, "because the rock prevents this, and in order to cover it, it was filled with earth to a depth of about half a vara."[11] But loose soil in the campo santo would have been blown away by strong winds, and so a retaining wall of stone brought from the valley was built east of the church (a wall that measures forty-five feet high in places) to form a giant box to contain the good soil for a Christian burial. The ten years' work required to construct the church is impressive, but tradition has it that an additional forty years were spent filling the box. If the pueblo did indeed have 760 Christians in 1705, it should also have had two resident priests. But in 1821 it had none.

On his visitation in 1760 Tamarón was obviously moved by the site and the missionary efforts at Acoma. "It is the most beautiful pueblo of the whole kingdom," he wrote, "with its system of streets and substantial stone houses more than a story high. The priest's house has an upper story and is well arranged."[12] (This convento, arranged in a square and not accessible to the public, still exists.) Atypically, it was sited north of the church—not a good exposure, but where land was available. Tamarón mentioned that Fray Pedro Ignacio Pino had learned enough of the native tongue to listen to confession but required the aid of some seven interpreters to give penance in return. The bishop remarked calmly that the friar "has had to whip them, and he keeps them in order, although he is not up to date with regard to confession."[13] Second only to the discussion of language was Tamarón's expressed amazement at the agility and ability of the women to carry water to the mesa's crest.

Sixteen years later Domínguez expressed unusual respect for the congregation: "There is not even a brook, earth to make adobes, or a good cart road. Therefore, it is necessary to prevent any preconception in order to achieve even a confused notion of this place. This makes what the Indians have built here of adobes with perfection, strength, and grandeur, at the expense of their own backs, worthy of admiration." He noted the entrance to the baptistry (no longer extant) under the choir to the left and the paintings and ornamentation of colored earth that embellished the interior. In total effect, "the interior is pleasant, although bare."[14] The barrenness of the mesa top impressed Domínguez, and he devoted several comments to the provision of water. In the convento, for example, "some little peach trees . . . are watered by hand."[15] The service to the mission friar consisted mostly of water bearing.

San Esteban
The church, convento, and the retaining wall of the cemetery seen
from across the mesa top.
[Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation]


San Esteban
Erosion by wind and rain had taken their toll on the body of the church early in the twentieth century. Although the
base—more easily within human reach—had been maintained, the upper portions of the walls, especially the towers,
were deeply rutted.
[Museum of New Mexico]


San Esteban
circa 1915
The great box containing soil for the Christian burial reads clearly in the
left portion of the photo.
[Museum of New Mexico]

San Esteban
The convento and San Esteban seen from the north.

"Twelve Indian women . . . bring twelve small jars of water to be used daily. . . . The reason for such a large number of water carriers is that the water . . . is very far away, and to avoid frequent trips a good deal is brought at one time.[16] On the summit water assumed the status of currency.

Shortly after Domínguez's visit Acoma became a visita of Laguna due to the ravages of smallpox in the Acoma community. Also, Acoma was isolated and difficult to reach, whereas Laguna stood on the main route between the Rio Grande pueblos such as Isleta and Sandia and the western missions at Zuñi.

"The approach is one of the most romantic imaginable, and brings to the mind of the climber all that he has ever heard or read of ascent in the Andes," Bourke wrote, stopping at Acoma while heading east.[17] "There is an old church of massive proportions but without symmetry or beauty in which Catholic priests still held Divine Service once a month."[18] Since Bourke's watercolor sketch depicted the symmetrical structure much as we see it today, he must have used the word symmetry in its classical associations with proportion. He also referred to a "ruined church of San José de Acoma: 80' broad, 55' high, towers 70' × 13' broad," a curious note.[19]

By the turn of the twentieth century the condition of the church had reached a critical level. Contemporary photos show that the erosion of the towers and the spalling of the mud plaster from the south wall had caused considerable deterioration. The tower bases were severely eroded by water and wind. With funds from the Committee for the Reconstruction and Preservation of New Mexico Mission Churches, restoration work commenced under the supervision of Lewis Riley and Sam Huddleston acting in conjunction with architect John Gaw Meem in Santa Fe.[20] At that late date the nearest railroad stop was still fifteen miles away at Acomita, which meant that the final part of the journey—and the lifting of building materials to the top of the peñol—had to be accomplished by human and animal strength. First priority was given to the roof, which leaked seriously and threatened the destruction of the nave.

Even in 1924, Riley reported, the younger men of the village lived, not in the Sky City, but in the surrounding settlements at Acomita and McCarty's. The rebuilding was undertaken cooperatively, with a "community effort which could hardly be duplicated among our own people."[21] The water was transported in five-gallon casks and steel barrels and was hauled on donkeys the two miles from the nearest spring. (Acoma still does not have a regular


San Esteban
Free of pews and still with earthen floor, the interior appears monumental.
[Wilder, Taylor Museum, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center]

San Esteban
Detail of the upper portion ceiling of the altarpiece.
[Museum of New Mexico]


source of water.) The women augmented these efforts in the traditional way by bearing water to the precipice in buckets and ollas. The roof work was completed in six weeks using lumber from Arizona and roofing materials from Denver, both brought via rail. "The convento is rapidly falling into ruins, but it preserves as yet most of its former beauty and could be restored with comparatively little expense," Riley wrote.[22] He had also hoped to repair the towers and the exterior plastering, but these had to wait until the works of 1926–1927.

The 1926 restoration was a community effort with cooperative decisions determining the allocation of human resources. On September 12, 1926, it was decided that all members of the pueblo would assemble and for three days pack and carry dirt up to the church site. From September 15 onward there would be a crew of fifteen men, to be rotated each week, who would work on the repairs until the winter weather intervened. On September 9 a large herd of burros was discovered by B. A. Reuter, who had succeeded Lewis Riley as superintendent, and these were commandeered to haul earth. Thus, drawing on the ageless tradition of human and animal labor, the church reconstruction began.

The south wall was given the first attention; the church roof shed its water toward the south, and both this splashing and the water driven back onto the wall surface by the prevailing winds had gouged out a good portion of the structure. This destructive force was exacerbated, of course, by the force of the storms themselves. After repair the canales were extended by five feet to alleviate the problem. The upper part of the wall had receded almost thirty inches between the base and the top, and "it is quite clear that the principal part of this batter is the effect of erosion."[23] The south wall had eroded an average of ten to eighteen inches to a height of about eight feet, seriously undercutting the base of the structure. The west wall of the south tower, taking the brunt of the wind and rain forces, was also seriously undermined.

The church was built primarily of adobe but incorporated some pieces of local rock. It was virtually impossible to get any new rock from the mesa because all the best material had been previously used in house construction. Photographs taken near the end of the restoration or shortly thereafter reveal a very finished and polished version of the Acoma church, looking almost as if the final polishing were a bit too perfect to be comfortable.

Today San Esteban is in a good state of repair following further preservation efforts in 1975 and roof repairs in 1981.[24] The south facade, which is normally out of bounds to visitors, often lacks some of its plaster, as it seems to be an almost impossible task to maintain this skin intact. Morning is the best time to view the church, when the facade catches the sunlight and reflects it back across the campo santo. The interior of the nave is whitewashed and sports a pink wainscot with painted decorations that recall the motifs used on the exquisite pottery for which Acoma is noted. The absence of pews is still noticeable, and the altarpiece provides the single focus to the nave. Above the altarpiece are paintings of the sun and moon, native motifs mixed into the religious framework of Catholic iconography. Acoma remains a world apart.


Zuñi Pueblo:
Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

1629–1632; 1692; 1706+; 1968

With Spanish hegemony centered on the upper Rio Grande, the western villages of the Zuñi and the Hopi remained peripheral to the missionary enterprise. The Zuñi village of Hawikuh had been the first to confront the Fray Marcos de Niza party in the mid-1500s. That confrontation resulted in the death of the "scout" Esteban and the ambiguous substantiation of the existence of the Seven Cities of Cíbola. What the friar took for gold may have been only mud and stone seen in the setting sun, but his subsequent report played a pivotal role in the move to colonize what is now New Mexico.

Traces of occupation in the Cíbola cultural area date as far back as the ninth century B.C . and are believed to be signs of a hunting culture; by the beginning of the Christian era it had been superseded by an agrarian-based society.[1] The development of a sedentary agricultural group occasioned a more substantial architecture and led to a conglomerate dwelling with storage spaces that was oriented along a northeast-southwest axis. Although the archaeological evidence does not present an absolutely conclusive picture, the Cíbola villages were probably part of the extensive system of "outlyers" that centered on the Anasazi settlements of Chaco Canyon. Characteristics of the parent culture—at times multistoried, aboveground dwellings and the ceremonial kiva—marked Cíbolan construction well into the thirteenth century.

After this time a shift in site patterns occurred, with the villages transferred to higher elevations, perhaps to capture increased rainfall during an extended period of drought. Paralleling the transference of dwellings from mesa top to cave at Mesa Verde, the Cíbolan pueblo of the late thirteenth century displayed a pronounced defensive form. Against whom is not known. And like the structures of Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde, the Cíbolan buildings were deserted early in the fourteenth century. As Steven Le Blanc noted, many gaps remain to be breached, and many questions are still to be answered. Over time attrition in population concentrated the people in fewer villages so that by the time of the Spanish entrance in 1540, there were only "six or seven pueblos along the Zuñi River."[2]

The chronicle of Spanish contact with the Zuñi pueblos, while a few years longer than that of other pueblos, is typical. Coronado used the pueblos as his point of departure; he was lured eastward away from the villages by the promise of more immediate reward. Antonio de Espejo crossed Zuñi lands in 1583, followed by Juan de Oñate in 1598. At this time, Oñate obtained the customary "Act of Obedient Vassalage" promising respect for the king and


Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
Seen from the rear, the mass of the church reveals its plan: a single nave without transepts.


the church.[3] Some thirty years later the first mission was founded. The considerable expedition that reached Zuñi in June 1629 included the provincial governor, Manuel de Silva Nieto, and Custodian Estevan de Perea. The Spanish made a good show of it: "And to give that people to understand the veneration due to the Priests, all the times that they arrived where these were, the Governor and the soldiers kissed their feet, falling upon their knees, cautioning the Indians that they should do the same. As they did; for as much as this example of the superiors can do."[4]

As a setting for the mass and a residence for the religious, "a house was bought. . . . And hoisting the triumphal standard of the Cross, possession was taken. . . . To the first fruits of which there succeeded, on the part of the soldiers, a clamorous rejoicing, with a salvo of arquebusses; and in the afternoon, skirmishings and caracolings of the horses. . . . There were knowing people of good discourse; beginning at once to serve the Religious by bringing him water, wood, and what was necessary."[5] Perea probably confused fear and discretion here with compulsion and acceptance.

The church, however, required a more elaborate expression. "And in order to make this art spectacular, he ordered a high platform to be built in the plaza, where he said mass with all solemnity, and baptized them . . . singing the Te Deum Laudamos , etc; and through having so good a voice, the Father Fray Roque—accompanied by the chant—caused devotion in all."[6] Fray Francisco de Letrado succeeded Fray Roque de Figueredo in 1630 or 1631 with three missions under construction in the Zuñi area.[7] Two principal missions were founded at Hawikuh, one dedicated to La Purísima Concepción and the other to Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria at Halona. The third church at Kechipauan never reached completion.[8] Benavides described the churches as "adorned and tidy" and credited the successful work to the devotion of the religious and the financial support of the crown.[9] These successes were short-lived. On February 22, 1632, as Fray Francisco de Letrado attempted to gather the flock into his church, a volley of arrows felled him. A second priest shared his fate five days later. In what was to be their typical response, the Zuñi fled to the protection of the nearby mesa, "Thunder Mountain (called Dowa-Yallone by the Zuñis) and fearing retaliation, remained there for three years."[10]

In 1643 the two missions were reestablished, with the priest assigned to Halona. At the very edge of the empire, this assignment was miserable at best. One Fray José succinctly remarked, "If it had been

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
Late in the nineteenth century erosion had removed the protective outer
layer of plaster, with severe deterioration from the towers and bell arch
[Museum of New Mexico]


Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
At the nineteenth century's end Nuestra Señora was quickly falling into ruin, its sagging balcony propped by a
single post.
[Hyde Expedition; Negative 4630, courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History, Department of Library


chosen for a prison for those guilty of the gravest crimes there would have not been a more severe decision."[11]

In the decades just after midcentury the weakening of Spanish power and its distance from the Zuñi nation, compounded by the famine brought on by drought, led to more numerous and violent raids by the Apache. A report ascribed to 1644 implied that the church had been destroyed and the mission abandoned. "The province of Zuñi [was] severely punished for having destroyed churches and conventos and for having killed one of the ministers who served in the work of conversion. . . . In this province there are 1,200 Indians who have asked for ministers once again."[12] In 1672 an Apache attack on the village left the missionaries dead and the church again destroyed. The Zuñi joined the rebellion of 1680, during which the resident priest was killed—although certain tales have him abandoning the cloth and joining the tribe.[13]

The church itself was ruined. Again the natives fled to the defensive security of the mesa top and were living there when Vargas coaxed them to return to their fields and restore the church. At the turn of the eighteenth century a detachment of eleven soldiers was dispatched to Zuñi from Santa Fe to maintain order in the village and to ensure the restoration of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, which by 1699 had badly deteriorated.[14]

The assignment at Zuñi was never an easy one, and the years of relative calm were also years of dire frustration. By midcentury, two priests served at Halona (a quota that was rarely filled). One incident in 1763 led to three Spanish dead and the traditional Indian departure for the higher elevations. Within two years the priest returned and convinced the Zuñi to again tend their crops. Tamarón was unable to reach Zuñi on his visitation of 1760, thwarted by intense heat and its effect on the pack animals. He was informed, however, that it was the largest pueblo in the province, with 182 families and 664 persons. The patron saint of the mission was Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the "church was good."[15]

Domínguez included Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe on his inspection tour, noting that the walls of the church were "nearly a vara thick." At this time the population was given as 1,617 persons in 396 families,[16] a drastic contrast to Benavides's figure of 10,000 souls living in ten or eleven pueblos a century and a half earlier,[17] although this was probably an inflated figure. The church, as Domínguez described it, was quite typical: built of adobe with a single nave, several steps up to the sanctuary, a choir loft "in the usual place," two windows on the

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
Interior of nave in ruined state. The walls have deposited material into the
nave, and portions of the roof have collapsed.
[I. W. Tauber, Museum of New Mexico]


Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
Nuestra Señora seen over the cemetery wall.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Plan
[Sources: Caywood, The Restored Mission , and Smith,
"Seventeenth-Century Spanish Missions"]


right side, and a transverse clerestory. The front doors, however, were simpler in construction than the inset entrance beneath the balcony visible in photos from the late nineteenth century. "The door is squared, with a wooden frame instead of masonry, with two paneled leaves, no lock except the cross bar."[18] The convento, configured as a square, abutted the church to the south and was fronted by the portico of a porter's lodge that might have doubled as an open-air chapel.

In the early nineteenth century the Navajo and Apache terror increased, and by 1821 the residence of priests at Zuñi was sporadic. In the past the church had had a considerable impact on the living pattern of the villages, but by midcentury that presence was negligible. The new bishop, Jean-Baptiste Lamy, visited the village in 1863, and priests continued to hold mass only on an irregular basis thereafter. By 1881 the merciless elements had already taken their toll. Bourke sketched the "ruined church."

The windows never had been provided with panes and were nothing but large apertures barred with wood. The carvings about the altar had at one time included at least half a dozen angles as caryatids, of which two still remained in position. The interior is in a ruined state, great masses of earth have fallen from the north wall; the choir is shaky and the fresco has long since dropped in great patches upon the floor. The presence of five or six different coats of this shows that the edifice must have been in use for a number of years.[19]

A Wittick photograph of 1890 shows the tired form of the old church, its adobe towers withered, its sagging balcony propped by a single post. Some time early in the twentieth century the north wall was rebuilt south of its original location, and new timbers and roofing were installed.[20]

Isleta's Father Docher, writing in 1913, was skeptical of Zuñi piety. "The Zuñis are more numerous," he declared. "But they are half still barbarians."[21] Around 1905 parts of the roof had been rebuilt, and the width of the nave had been reduced by ten feet and its length by twenty—but who accomplished the work is not known.[22] During the 1920s the village was split on whether to reinstate a Catholic mission or a Protestant church; the pro-Catholic force eventually succeeded.

The church standing today, excavated and last restored in the late 1960s by the National Park Service under the direction of Louis R. Caywood, is only a part of the original complex. Once flanked by the structures of the pueblo—then a multistoried configuration recalling the form of today's Taos pueblo—it now stands tall among the houses of the village. The church is basically a single-nave plan without transepts. The campo santo still fronts the church, divided in burial practice with women to the north and men to the south.[23] Replastered in hard stucco, the church shares the color of the surrounding dwellings. Today, it lacks the original sacristy, baptistry, and convento.

Decoration seems to have played an important part in the church's interior. Matilda Coxe Stevenson, the wife of an army officer at nearby Fort Wingate with an interest in ethnography, reported in 1879 that the nave was decorated with Zuñi religious images, the pieces of which Bourke recorded only two years later.[24] Today the church at Zuñi is considerably reduced from its more expansive structure of two centuries ago, its walls displaying a hardness uncharacteristic of the more malleable mud plaster. Inside painted images by Alex Seowtewa enliven the nave. Outside the flowers of the small burial ground provide intense spots of color that relieve the almost monochrome siena of the church, pueblo, and earth itself.


Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
The sculptured forms of the ovens provide a foil for the prismatic mass of the church.

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