Preferred Citation: Treib, Marc. Sanctuaries of Spanish New Mexico. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1993 1993.



"Every day at sunrise the bells call the Indians to Mass." Although this remark was contained in a late-eighteenth-century report by Fray Joaquín de Jesús Ruiz, a missionary at Jemez, the picture he painted of mission life had probably been typical for at least several decades. His text, which is worth quoting at length for its wealth of details, suggested that mass held little of the solemnity for the Indians that it did for the Spanish and that attendance was highly regulated.

The bell is rung at sunrise. The married men enter, each one with his wife, and they kneel together in a row on each side of the nave of the church. Each couple has its own place designated in accordance with the census list. When there are many, the married couples make two rows on each side, the two men in the middle and the women at the sides. This may seem a superficial matter, but it is not, for experience has taught me that when these women are together they spend all the time dedicated to prayer and Mass in gossip, showing one another their glass beads, ribbons, medals, etc., telling who gave them to them or how they obtained them, and other mischief. Therefore the religious who has charge of the administration must have a care in this regard. After all, it is a house of prayer, not of chitchat.

The widows and widowers form another row, the widows on the Gospel side and the widowers on the Epistle side,[118] leaving the passage from the altar to the door of the church free for the ceremonies of Asperges and [nuptial] veiling.

From the pulpit to the altar on the Epistle side are seated in order the boys receiving instructions in doctrine, as I shall explain below. The girls are on the Gospel side. Beside them are the two fiscales mayores and their subordinates, six in number, so that they may not permit them to play games and laugh (which they do even under this regime) or play pranks or fall asleep or draw unseemly things upon the wall.

The petty governor and his lieutenant have their places at the door so that the people may not leave during the hour prayer and Mass.

When all are in their places, the fiscal mayor notifies the father, who comes down with his census lists and takes attendance to see whether everyone is there, whether they are in their proper places, and whether their hair is unbound. If anyone is missing, the petty governor goes to fetch him. If he is not in the pueblo, it is indicated by the thong and he is punished on the following Sunday or holy day of obligation. If the truant is a woman, her husband is sent to fetch her.


Even those in positions of trust were not above suspicion: "Do not entrust the key of the baptistry to the sacristans. Take great care lest they steal the holy oils and the consecrated water for their suspicions."

Frontier conditions presented difficulties little dreamed of in larger cities: "Remove the water from the font in winter so that the bowl may not be damaged by ice. Keep your cloth vestments in your cell, for even if the chest in the sacristy is good there are many mice."

Religious instruction was rigidly disciplined, although Fray Joaquín continually cited incidents of mischief to substantiate the necessity for such treatments:

In the morning the bell is rung at the same hour as for Mass, and in the evening before sunset. All the unmarried people come, even if they are old, and some young married women who have not yet borne children or who were married (for urgent reasons) before they knew the Christian doctrine well, and all the children over six years of age. In the summer they gather at the north portal; in the winter, in the cemetery. Some will say that it is unsuitable to have them come here to these places because the church is intended for this purpose and these functions are held in the church in all the missions. Moreover, they will say that it is cold in winter, the cemetery is full of snow, and it is an unkind thing. With my father's permission I shall say that when I came to this mission and went down to the church at the hour for devotions, I saw youths and girls romping, laughing, and pulling one another around by the fringe of their buckskins or blankets, and the women by their girdles, and, during a certain prayer, a nude fiscal with his private parts uncovered performing many obscene acts. So if one has compassion, they do not pray; and since they only behave this way when there is comfort, let him not grieve for them.[119]

To the friar resident at a pueblo with only his charge and some meager supplies, the attainment of even such a limited routine alone was a significant accomplishment.


Preferred Citation: Treib, Marc. Sanctuaries of Spanish New Mexico. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1993 1993.