2. Colonization and Religion

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In considering the promptitude with which the Mission Churches in New Mexico were founded, after the discovery and very first settlement of the country, we must bear in mind the intimate connection which then existed in all Spanish dominions between colonization and religion, and the important place which the conversion of the heathen held in all projects for exploration and conquest.

The ecclesiastical influence at that time, especially in Latin countries, was the dominating power, and had at least as much to do in shaping public events, as the civil authority; and in addition to this, it was the age of the high fide of the great religious orders, most of which had been founded not very long before, and were now in the full exercise of their vigor and enthusiasm; and after the discovery of a new continent, filled with a great heathen population awaiting conversion to Christianity, the desire to accomplish that work permeated the whole Spanish nation with almost as much force as the determination to rescue the Holy Sepulchre from the unbelieving Moslems had aroused all over Europe in the days of the Crusades.

The sovereigns of Spain in that era were zealots

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in religious matters, and showed in all their acts a genuine desire to bring about the conversion of the millions of new subjects that the discoveries by Columbus and his successors had providentially brought under their control, and to extend the bounds of Christian influence farther and farther into the unknown regions of the New World.

The connection between Church and State was never stronger and closer than at that period. Pope Alexander VI, under a claim to universal dominion, had divided all of the newly found regions of the world between the sovereigns of Spain and Portugal, by establishing a line which gave to the latter country all of what is now Brazil, and to the former the remainder of the American continent; and this became the foundation of the claim to sovereignty over newly found regions more relied upon even than any right by discovery. The power thus bestowed was of course to be exercised for the establishment of ecclesiastical institutions as well as civil ones; and this idea of the “two authorities” was constantly expressed in formal documents, and was almost the first thing taught to the newly discovered races. “There is one God who rules in the Heavens above, and one Emperor who reigns upon earth,” in the time of Charles the Fifth, was the foundation of all the teaching to the natives, and of the organization of government.

The first documents that relate to the discovery and settlement of New Mexico are excellent illustrations of these conditions. The grant made by the

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Emperor Charles V to Panphilo de Narvaez, included all of the continent from the extremity of Florida to the Rio de las Palmas in Mexico, and by it Narvaez was authorized to take possession of the whole of that enormous territory and assume the government thereof. This Rio de las Palmas is on the east coast of Mexico considerably south of the Rio Grande; so that the region to be explored, occupied, and governed, embraced not only the States of our Union which border on the Gulf of Mexico but also all of northeastern Mexico, including what is now New kexico, and that great unknown and undefined country beyond.

The petition of Narvaez for this vast grant of power sets forth clearly its religious objects as well as the more material ones connected with sovereignty and riches. It begins as follows:


“Sacred Caesarean Catholic Majesty: In-as-much as I, Panfilo de Narvaez, have ever had and still have the intention of serving God and Your Majesty, I desire to go in person with my means to a certain country on the main of the Ocean Sea. I propose chiefly to traffic with the natives of the coast, and to take thither religious men and ecclesiastics, approved by your Royal Council of the Indies, that they may make known and plant the Christian Faith. I shall observe fully what your Council require and ordain to the ends of serving God and Your Highness, and for the good of your subjects.”


This petition was referred to the Council of the Indies, and they acted favorably upon it, largely perhaps

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because Narvaez had offered to pay all of the expenses of the expedition from his own funds; and they recommended that the king concede the right of conquest requested by Narvaez on condition that he take no less than two hundred colonists from Spain and found at least two towns. He was provided with a proclamation to be made to the native inhabitants, when they were discovered, which distinctly sets forth the grounds of the Spanish claim to sovereignty over America. It is addressed “To the inhabitants of the country and provinces that exist from Rio de las Palmas to the Cape of Florida,” and reads in part as follows:


“In behalf of the Catholic Caesarean Majesty of Don Carlos, King of the Romans and Emperor ever Augustus, and Doña Juana, his mother, Sovereigns of Leon and Castilla, Defenders of the Church, ever victors, never vanquished, and rulers of barbarous nations, I, Panfilo de Narvaez, his servant, messenger, and captain, notify and cause you to know in the best manner I can, that God our Lord, one and eternal, created the heaven and the earth. All these nations God our Lord gave in charge to one person called Saint Peter, that he might be master and superior over mankind, to be obeyed and be heard by all the human race where-so-ever they might live and be, of whatever law, sect, or belief, giving him the whole world for his kingdom, lordship, and jurisdiction. This Saint Peter was obeyed and taken for King, Lord, and Superior of the Universe by those who lived at that time, and so likewise have all

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the rest been held, who to the Pontificate were afterward elected; and thus has it continued until now, and will continue to the end of things. One of the Popes who succeeded him to that seat and dignity, of which I spake, as Lord of the world, made a gift of these islands and main of the Ocean Sea to the said Emperor and Queen, and their successors, our Lords in these Kingdoms, with all that is in them, as is contained in certain writings that thereupon took place, which may be seen if you desire.”


Having thus demonstrated the rightful power of the sovereign, the proclamation calls on them “to recognize the Church as Mistress and Superior of the Universe, and the High Pontiff, called Papa, in its name; the Queen and King our masters, in their place as Lords Superiors, and Sovereigns of these Islands and the main, by virtue of said gift. If you shall do so, you will do well in what you are held and obliged; and their Majesties, and I, in their Royal name, will receive you with love and charity. If you do not do this, and of malice you be dilatory, I protest to you that with the help of Our Lord I will enter with force, making war upon you from all directions and in every manner that I may be able, when I will subject you to obedience to the Church and the yoke of their Majesties.”

Unfortunately for Narvaez, this proclamation never was actually used, as this was the ill-starred expedition of which Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca was treasurer, and which was destroyed on sea and land until only that historic man and his three companions

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were left to tell the tale, and to be the first strangers from the Old World to tread on the soil of New Mexico.

The history of all the subsequent expeditions shows the same religious character and influence. When the “Land of the Seven Cities” was to be explored from Mexico, it was Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan, who was placed in charge. Two years later, when Coronado started on his wonderful march, he was accompanied by a goodly number of Franciscan friars; and of these, two—Juan de Padilla a priest, and Luis a lay brother—remained in the newly discovered regions, one at Quivira and one at Cicuic, when the disappointed little army commenced its homeward march; and they soon received the crown of martyrdom which was their sure reward. The next to penetrate the New Mexican region were Friar Ruiz and his devoted companions, Francisco Lopez and Juan de Santa Maria, all three Franciscans; and their journey was exclusively a missionary pilgrimage, induced by their burning zeal for the conversion of the unknown tribes who lived in the Rio Grande Valley in heathen darkness. They penetrated the wilderness as far as Puará, near the present Bernalillo, and then the little guard of soldiers was afraid to proceed or even to remain; and so they separated; the soldiers of the king returned to the safety and ease of their garrison life, and the Soldiers of the Cross went forward, braving hardships and dangers, until they also joined the “noble army of martyrs.”

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And when the actual settlement of New Mexico came, under Oñate, the colonists were accompanied by no less than ten Franciscan friars, for the conversion of the Indians. This expedition started from San Bartolomé, in Mexico, on January 20, 1598, and three months later encamped in a beautiful grove on the banks of the Rio Grande, a little below Paso del Norte, where Oñate raised the royal standard and took possession of New Mexico and the adjoining provinces for God and the king. The formal declaration made by Oñate on this occasion, is so characteristic of the time, and illustrates so well the union of the religious and the secular powers, that we present its essential parts, as of general interest. It reads as follows:1


“In the name of the Most Holy Trinity, and the undivided Eternal Unity, Deity and Majesty, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, three persons in one sole essence, and one and only true God, that by his eternal will, Almighty Power and Infinite Wisdom, directs, governs and disposes potently and sweetly from sea to sea, from end to end, as beginning and end of all things, and in whose hands the Eternal Pontificate and Priesthood, the Empires and Kingdoms, Principalities, Dynasties, Republics, elders and minors, families and persons, as in the Eternal Priest, Emperor and King of Emperors and Kings, Lord of lords, Creator of the heavens and the earth, elements, birds and fishes, animals and plants and all creatures corporal and spiritual, rational and irrational, from1

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the most supreme cherubim to the most despised ant and tiny butterfly; and to his honor and glory and of his most sacred and blessed mother, the Holy Virgin Mary, our Lady, gate of heaven, ark of the covenant, in whom the manna of heaven, the rod of divine justice, and arm of God and his law of grace and love was placed, as Mother of God, Sun, Moon, North Star, guide and advocate of humanity; and in honor of the Seraphic Father, San Francisco, image of Christ, God in body and soul, His Royal Ensign, patriarch of the poor, whom I adopt as my patrons and advocates, guides, defenders and intercessors.

“I wish that those that are now, or at any time may be, know that I, Don Juan de Oñate, governor and captain general, and Adelantado of New Mexico, and of its kingdoms and provinces, as well as of those in their vicinity and contiguous thereto, as settler, discoverer and pacifier of them and of the said kingdoms, by the order of the King, our Lord. I find myself today with my full and entire camp near the river which they call Del Norte, and on the bank which is contiguous to the first towns of New Mexico, and whereas I wish to take possession of the land today, the day of the Ascension of our Lord, dated April 30th, of the present year 1598; through the medium of the person of Don Juan Perez de Donis, clerk of his Majesty, and secretary of this expedition and the government of said kingdoms and provinces, by authority and in the name of the most Christian King, Don Felipe, Segundo, and for his successors, (may they be many) and for the crown

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of Castile, and kings that from his glorious descent may reign therein, and for my said government, relying and resting in the sole and absolute power and jurisdiction of the Eternal High Priest, and King, Jesus Christ, son of the living God, universal head of the Church, because they are his, and he is their legitimate and universal pastor, for which purpose, having ascended to his Eternal Father, in his corporal being, he left as his Vicar and substitute, the prince of Apostles, St. Peter, and his successors legitimately elected, to whom he gave and left the Kingdom, power and Empire. By the medium of the aforesaid power, jurisdiction and monarchy, apostolical and pontifical, there was granted and sanctioned, recommended and entrusted to the kings of Castile and Portugal and to their successors since the time of the Sovereign Pontiff Alexander VI, by divine and singular inspiration, the empire and dominion of the East and West Indies, in and to the kings of Castile and Portugal and to their successors, transferred and lodged upon them by the Church militant, and by the other sovereign pontiffs, successors of the said most holy pontiff of glorious memory, Alexander VI, to the present day, on which solid basis I rest to take the aforesaid possession of these kingdoms and provinces, in the aforesaid name.

“And therefore, resting on the solid basis aforesaid I take the aforesaid possession, in the presence of the most Reverend Father Fray Alonzo Martinez of the order of our lord Saint Francis, Apostolic

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Commissary, (and others). And this said possession I take and apprehend, in the voice and name, of the other lands, Pueblos, Cities, and Villas, solid and plain houses that are now founded in the said Kingdoms and Provinces of New Mexico, and those that are neighbors and contiguous to it, and which were founded before in them, with the mountains, rivers, river banks, waters, pastures, meadows, dales, passes, and all its native Indians as are included and comprised in them, and the civil and criminal jurisdiction high and low from the edge of the mountains to the stone in the river and its sands, and from the stone and sands in the river to the leaves of the mountains. And I, Juan Perez de Donis, clerk of his Majesty and post secretary, do certify that the said lord Governor, Captain General and Adelantado of the said Kingdoms, as a sign of true and peaceful possession placed and nailed with his own hands on a certain tree, which was prepared for that purpose, the Holy Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, an turning to it, with his knees on the ground, said: ‘Holy Cross, divine gate of heaven, altar of the only and essential sacrifice of the Body and Blood of the Son of God, way of the Saints, and possession of their glory; open the gate of heaven to these infidels; found the Church and Altars where the Body and Blood of the Son of God may be offered; open to us a way of safety and peace for their conversion and our conversion, and give to our King, and to me, in his Royal name, peaceful possession of these Kingdoms and Provinces for his holy glory. Amen.’

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“And immediately after he fixed and set in the same manner with his own hands the Royal Standard with the Coat of Arms of the most Christian King, Don Felipe, our lord; on the one side the Imperial Arms, and on another part, the Royal, and at the time this was being done, the clarinet sounded, and the arquebuses were discharged with the greatest demonstration of gladness.”



1. This translation is taken by courtesy of Hon. B. M. Read from Read'sIllustrated History of New Mexico.

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