25. Santa Clara


Up: Contents Previous: 24. San Juan Next: 26. Nambé


[page 292]

About three leagues south of San Juan, on the opposite bank of the Rio Grande, but below the two branches, the Chama and Santa Cruz, which add largely to its volume, stands the pueblo of Santa Clara.

The agricultural land around it is of small area, but its industrious people long ago sought out the fertile spots along the winding course of the Santa Clara River, in its well shaded cañon, and there made their summer homes and their fruitful fields.

Its Indian name is Kah-po, and the ordinary mortal loses some of his implicit faith in the infallibility of the professional ethnologist when he finds three authors of distinction differing so widely in their interpretation of this name as to give these varied translations: “Enclosed water,” “Wild Rose,” and “Eyeball”! The reader thus has the advantage of the right of choice.

Santa Clara, though not one of the larger pueblos, yet is not at all decadent; on the contrary its population has increased about twenty per cent in the last century. In addition to its grant, made by the Spanish authorities after the Pueblo Revolution, it enjoys a “reservation” made within recent years in


[page 293]

Washington, which includes the Santa Clara cañon. The original grant was the usual square measured from the church, and included both sides of the Rio Grande, but in some way which is practical even if not legal, the Indians have ceded their rights to the eastern side and confine themselves to the western.

The town is an irregular oblong, built around a plaza, with lines of corrals outside of what we may call the “residential quarter.” The church was situated at the northeast corner of the village beyond the line of the houses.

Among the older buildings are several two stories in height, but, as in other pueblos, the newer houses are of but one story, and are entered “American fashion” by modern doors. We have the direct statement of Father Benavides that he built the original church there in 1629. That was situated a little southeast of the present location and the spot can still be distinguished by the mound of earth remaining there.

The church which was recently destroyed was erected shortly after the reconquest by De Vargas, and had a set of rooms for the accommodation of the priest on the south side. These rooms were decorated with rude carvings, generally of animals, and they contained in old wooden chests a number of ancient ecclesiastical vestments and a quantity of time-worn documents which probably contained matter of much interest if they could have been examined, but which the Indian sacristan always watched with a most jealous eye.


[page 294]

The church itself was very large and one of the best specimens of the old Franciscan Missions. It was cruciform in shape, the nave being 105 feet long below the transept, the transept eighteen feet wide,

OLD MISSION CHURCH OF SANTA CLARA

and the chancel twelve feet in depth, making a total length of 135 feet. The most conspicuous feature of the church was its great entrance, eight feet wide and ten feet high. This was furnished with two massive doors which were only opened on grand occasions,


[page 295]

each of which was divided into ten deeply indented squares, containing escutcheons in high relief. In one of these great doors was cut a smaller door about three feet by six, which was the usual entrance-way into the church. The front wall of the church was run up about ten feet above the roof to a point in the center and another at each corner, with a square opening beneath the Central point, in which the bell was hung; the whole uniting to give the building an attractive architectural appearance. The roof was flat and supported by enormous vigas which extended beyond the walls and afforded partial protection in times of protracted rain.

The church was so massively built that apparently it would last for ages; but the very confidence thus inspired caused its destruction. The spirit of innovation reached even to Santa Clara, and a promise of a roof that would never leak was sufficient inducement for a change. So the old timbers were removed and a modern roof placed on the adobe walls; and alas! when the storm came, the great building which had withstood the vicissitudes of centuries fell with a great crash, as did its sister church in Nambé; and one of the historic landmarks of New Mexico was gone forever.

The annual festival of Santa Clara is on the saint's day of its patrona, which is August 12th. Excursions are usually run from Santa Fé and sometimes from Alamosa; and the pueblo is easy of access in many ways. As this festival comes only one week after the fiesta of Santo Domingo, it is rather


[page 296]

overshadowed so far as long-distance travelers are concerned; but they are scarcely missed, for all the inhabitants of Rio Arriba, men, women, and children, have been waiting anxiously for weeks for the arrival of the day. All business is suspended, nothing is allowed to interfere with Santa Clara Day, and from

DOOR OF OLD CHURCH AT SANTA CLARA

early dawn the roads are lined with pilgrims bound for the popular shrine. It is safe to say that not a horse within thirty miles is left at home; every young man rides, at top speed, to the fiesta.

The Pueblo celebration is usually a tabla dance, carefully executed, but inferior to that of Santo Domingo


[page 297]

for lack of numbers. And when the dance is over all the young horsemen of the county indulge in wild races, and excitement runs high until the festivities cease from very exhaustion. It is well worth the seeing, and no one who is within any reasonable distance should miss the chance.

Fortunately, though the old church is gone, we can present an excellent picture of the edifice, with the surrounding walled campo santo, as it was before the modernizing spirit made any change; and another, of the great double door with its twenty raised escutcheons. Some day, perhaps; there will be a reaction; and these pictures will preserve the old models unchanged.

Up: Contents Previous: 24. San Juan Next: 26. Nambé




© Arizona Board of Regents