The pueblo of Sandia is situated in one of the most beautiful and fertile portions of the valley of the Rio Grande, about four miles below Bernalillo, at the foot of the Sandia Mountains. The town itself is located about a mile east of the river, the intervening land being covered with a luxuriant growth of cottonwoods along the river bank, forming a dense “bosque,” with fields of corn and wheat, of melons, beans, and chili, and with fruitful vineyards of the mission grapes.
The pueblo itself is not attractive in appearance. It is built around an irregular plaza extending lengthwise from east to west and which is reached through still more irregular streets. The houses are generally one story in height, although two of those on the plaza, which have the appearance of considerable age, are higher. In front of many of them are water troughs, made of hollowed trunks of trees, and supported at a height of about four feet, by branched saplings firmly set in the ground. Large bee-hive-shaped ovens are also seen scattered around the plaza, and a number of these are set on top of the houses, which gives an odd appearance to the pueblo as first viewed from a distance, reminding one of the domes seen on buildings in the East.
The present pueblo is not very ancient, being the only one except Laguna that has been established since the arrival of the Spaniards. All this portion of the Rio Grande Valley was thickly settled when first seen by Coronado and his soldiers, and constituted the region known as Tihuex. But the old pueblo of Sandia, which became a center of missionary effort at a very early date, was abandoned or destroyed in the time of the Pueblo Revolution of 1680.
In 1748, Friar Menchero, the comissary general of the Franciscan organization, who had been engaged in missionary work for six years, wrote to the governor stating that he had “converted and gained over 350 souls which I have brought from the Moqui pueblo; bringing with me the Cacique of these Moqui Pueblos, for the purpose of establishing their pueblo at a place called Sandia,” and he asked for possession of the land at that point so as to prevent any convert from returning to apostasy. Thereupon the governor acceded to the request, and the new pueblo was established in due form by the name of “Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Anthony of Sandia.”
The original church in the old pueblo finds special mention in history as the final resting place of the remains of Friar Lopez, one of the three Franciscans who constituted what is usually called the Mission of Friar Ruiz, in 1581. After his martyrdom, the body of Friar Lopez was interred in the pueblo of Puará where he had lived with Friar Ruiz, and there remained for thirty-four years. In 1614,
On the western edge of the town and across the wide acequia are the ruins of the old church, built under the direction of Padre Menchero immediately after the settlement of the pueblo in 1748. This was a building of considerable size, with walls of adobe fully three feet in width and so solidly built that though unprotected by a roof and exposed to the weather for many years, parts of them are still fifteen feet in height. The interior is very long and narrow, with transepts near the chancel; and the altar end is rounded, instead of having the usual hexagonal shape.
This church was evidently the center of an important station of the Franciscans. In front was a walled enclosure, in the center of which is still to be seen a great square adobe monument which was no doubt the base on which was erected a huge cross. On the sides and behind, are extensive buildings, once constituting the convento or monastery, and adapted to the accommodation of a large number of friars. These are still in good order and are occupied as dwellings by a number of Mexican families.
About forty years ago this church was abandoned and a new one built on a slight elevation just north of the pueblo, on ground covered with the ruins of ancient buildings, no doubt a part of the old town existing before the Revolution of 1680. As previously stated, Sandia is not an attractive town. The railroad runs within a hundred yards of some of its houses, but the impression given from the cars is far different from that derived from the passing glimpse at the immaculate streets of Santo Domingo, the glistening yesoed walls of San Felipe, or the thrift of Isleta. The houses look uncared for and some are almost ruinous, and the proverbial cleanliness of the Rio Grande pueblos is not characteristic of this one. There is no system in its construction, the houses being built apparently in the most convenient vacant spot, without regard to the lines of other buildings, or the straightness or width of any street. In fact it looks in this respect more like an irregular Mexican village than a town built by that methodical people, whose ancient cities, as both history and their ruins attest, were models of rectangular regularity and whose houses were so uniform in construction that one might walk on the even terraces from one to another around the entire interior plaza of a three-storied city.
But little pottery is made here, the people being agricultural. Besides the ordinary grains and vegetables, they raise considerable quantities of apples, peaches, apricots, plums, and grapes, the sale of the latter affording quite a considerable revenue.