20. Albuquerque

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Having considered the missions established in all of the pueblos in the central Rio Grande Valley and westward to the limits of Zuñi, for geographical convenience it may be well to take up the church in Albuquerque before proceeding to the more northern pueblos.

Albuquerque was the third town or “villa” established for Spaniards in New Mexico, not counting the short-lived capital at San Gabriel. This latter was founded in 1598, on the arrival of the first colonists on July 12th, and continued to be the capital until 1605, when the seat of government was moved to Santa Fé, and a villa was established there under the title of “La Villa real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco’—The royal City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis. During the next seventy-five years the few Spaniards who came to New Mexico either settled in the little pueblos of the Indians, in all of which churches or Chapels were erected and occasional religious services held, or else on separate ranches in the river valleys. At the time of the retreat of Governor Otermin in 1680, mention is made of a number of these ranches, including that

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of the lieutenant governor near where Albuquerque was afterward established.

After the reconquest under De Vargas it became necessary to found a second town for colonists, as there was not room in Santa Fé for the families that came up from Paso del Norte; some being old refugees of 1680 now returning, and others new settlers who had been induced to come to the reconquered province. Sixty-six families arrived in June, 1694, and had to remain in very crowded quarters in Santa Fé, to their own great discomfort and that of the older inhabitants. It was finally decided to found a new villa for them at Santa Cruz, and the order for settlement was made by Governor De Vargas on April 12, 1695. This was the second colonial town, and was burdened officially by the remarkable title of “La Villa Nueva de Santa Cruz de los Espanoles Mejicanos del Rey Nuestro Señor Carlos Segundo”—“The New City of the Holy Cross of the Mexican Spaniards of Our Lord the King Charles II.” But in all ordinary documents it is called “La Villa Nueva de Santa Cruz de la Cañada”; the place of settlement being commonly called La Cañada.

So matters stood when De Vargas died, April 14, 1704, and the viceroy of New Spain, the Duke of Albuquerque, appointed Francisco Cuervo y Valdez as governorad interimuntil the regular governor appointed by the king should arrive.

Knowing that his term of office would be short, Governor Cuervo determined to do something that

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would both please his patron, the viceroy, and also immortalize his own name; so he proceeded to establish a third Spanish villa in the center of a fertile portion of the Rio Grande Valley, between the pueblos of Isleta and Sandia, and named it “La Villa de San Francisco de Alburquerque” and immediately forwarded voluminous documents to the City of Mexico to inform the viceroy of this action. The result was not as satisfactory as he had anticipated.

But the whole story, including the vexed question as to the correct patron saint of Albuquerque is so well told by Rev. Ceferino Engelhart, O.F.M., the well known Franciscan historian, that we insert his letter on the subject.


“In March, 1705, Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdez entered upon the discharge of his duties as temporary governor of New Mexico, by order of the viceroy, until such time as the monarch himself would name the governor definitely.

“That gentleman with thirty or thirty-five Spanish families founded in 1706 the town of Albuquerque, called so in honor of the viceroy, and to perpetuate his own name he called it San Francisco de Alburquerque.

“Nevertheless, his action was irregular, because he only occupied the position temporarily, the governor having been appointed by the king in 1706. He was Don José Chacon Salazar y Villaseñor, who had not arrived yet. Also because the naming of a mission or a town pertained to the viceroy or another person delegated by him.

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“When the said Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdez notified the viceroy of what he had done, he received in reply a reprimand for having established a new town without authority, and the viceroy himself changed the name of the locality to that of San


Felipe de Alburquerque in honor of the kind, Don Felipe.

“The first and only Father who employed the name of San Francisco Javier as titular saint of the church of Albuquerque, was Father Manuel Garcia.

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In order to begin a new series of baptismal records, because the first series was already full, that father began each record with the words, ‘In this parochial church of San Francisco Javier.’ He did this the first time about the middle of October, 1776; but on pages 6 and 7, dated April 21, 1777, after having registered the baptisms of eighteen persons, the same father returns to the old formula, ‘In this parochial church of San Felipe,’ and followed on afterwards employing it as the fathers who preceded him had done, and also his successors; so also in the records of marriages on page 5, dated April 2, 1777, he again uses the name of San Felipe, instead of San Francisco Javier, after having omitted doing so for nine months.

“The fact of Father Garcia having written ‘San Francisco Javier’ instead of ‘San Felipe’ may be explained only by saying that he believed all the fathers and custodians, his predecessors, were mistaken. But he was soon convinced that he himself was the one who had erred.”


Thus the villa of Alburquerque was founded in 1706 and became the third Spanish town in New Mexico; and its church was built almost immediately thereafter. Time has proved that Governor Cuervo “builded better than he knew” when he paid his compliment to the Duke of Alburquerque, for certainly the foundation in his honor of this city, with its ever increasing permanence, has done more to preserve his name and fame to the present generation than any other event of his administration.

The set of parish registers belonging to the

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Church of San Felipe is of much interest, not only in establishing lines of ancestry, but on account of the glimpses of history which are incidentally afforded, and some curious personal traits of the clergy. Father Engelhart mentions one priest who endeavored single handed to change the time honored name of his parish and hand the parishioners over to the care of St. Francis Xavier instead of St. Philip; but an equally curious case is that of another parish priest, who evidently was a devotee of Our Lady of Sorrows, and who insisted on giving to every child, male or female, that he baptised during his pastorate the name of Dolores. The record will show that not a single boy or girl during that period escaped having to carry that rather mournful name throughout his life.

Owing to the prosperity and wealth of the community in Albuquerque, almost from its foundation, the church has always been well sustained, and not only kept in good order, but enlarged and improved as increasing population has required. It has never been entirely destroyed and rebuilt, so that the present beautiful edifice, though different in many respects from the modest foundation of a century ago, may still claim to be a continuation of the ancient edifice and to preserve all the hallowed associations of the past.

That due attention was paid, even in the earlier days, to proprieties of conduct and the respect due to sacred places, is shown by one of the official archives, filed in 1733, and only recently published,

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which is a record of proceedings before the governor on a complaint brought by Fr. Joseph Antonio Guerrero, comisario of the holy office, against two men for disrespectful conduct in the church in Albuquerque.

Being so prominently located in the territory, the ample residence for the accommodation of the parish priest and visiting clergy became a center of hospitality; and that this was dispensed with every attention to the comfort and pleasure of guests of distinction is amply evidenced by the interesting description of these entertainments recorded by Lieutenant Zebulon Pike in the diary of his enforced journey from Santa Fé to Chihuahua in 1806. The priest of the parish at that time was the Rev. Ambrosio Guerra, and the young officer seems to have been particularly impressed with the beauty of some of the orphan girls whom the good padre had adopted and was bringing up in his household; and enthusiastically writes, after describing the dinner at which he was entertained, “and to crown all, we were waited on by half a dozen of those beautiful girls, who, like Hebe at the feast of the gods, converted our wine to nectar and with their ambrosial breath, shed incense on our cups.”

The last of the priests of the old régime was Padre Gallegos, who was in charge of the parish at the time of the arrival of Bishop Lamy, but who, in the new order of things, was soon superseded by Father Macheboeuf, afterwards first Bishop of Denver. Padre Gallegos was a man of large popularity and

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was twice elected to Congress after entering secular life.

About forty years ago, when the Jesuit Fathers came to assist in the missionary work in New Mexico, Archbishop Lamy placed the parish of Albuquerque in their hands, and it has so continued to the present time. During all this period substantial improvements have been made both in the exterior appearance and internal ornamentation of the church.

In the old church, the nave was ninety-one feet in length from the chancel to the door, and twenty-seven feet in width. The main walls were very massive, being five and a half feet in thickness.

The porch at the entrance of the church was built by Father Macheboeuf. The pulpit and sounding board were put in place under the direction of Father Truchard. The next improvement was the laying of a wooden floor, by Father Gasparri; the floor having been of earth down to that time. This distinguished Italian priest is buried in the sacristy. One of the most important alterations was the extension of the chancel, which required the cutting down of the earth fully three feet in order to secure the proper level. Fortunately no graves were encountered in this work, which afforded accommodation for the present beautiful altar of white and gold.

A number of modern paintings of much beauty, together with some of the works of medieval Spanish artists, form a background for the altar, and include portraits of San Felipe de Neri, San Francisco

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Xavier and St. Aloysius, as well as a large and beautiful painting of the Adoration of the Virgin and Child.

We present two illustrations showing this church at different periods; the first just after the erection of the porch at the main entrance, and the second when various other alterations had been made affecting the towers as well as the entrance and surroundings. No tourist, or other sojourner in the modern city of Albuquerque, should neglect a visit to the “Old Town” and this venerable edifice.

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