26. Nambé

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Though but a few miles from the main thoroughfare, Nambeacute; is one of the least visited of the Indian pueblos. It can easily be reached by following the Nambé River a few miles to the eastward, from Pojuaque; or by going almost directly north from the Rio Tesuque near the crossing of the main road from Santa Fé.

Like some of the neighboring pueblos, it is in its decadence, but this did not detract from its interest down to the time when its fine old Mission Church was unfortunately destroyed. According to a census near the end of the eighteenth century, Nambeacute; had a population of 180; by Governor Alencaster's enumeration of 1805 it contained 143 persons, and the number is now reduced to 75 or 80.

All this is sad, but the destruction of the great church, and the similar loss at Santa Clark, are far more so. They were two of the finest Specimens of the old Franciscan Missions; and both were lost through an ill-directed ambition to modernize the antique, There could not be a better illustration of the futility of trying to “put new wine into old bottles,” which was condemned by the parable nineteen hundred years ago. If they had been intelligently repaired

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by replacing any decayed viga by a new one, or even if they had been let alone altogether, both churches would be intact today; but the attempt to change the roofs entirely from the construction adapted to the adobe walls, brought them quickly to the ground, and deprived New Mexico of two of its most interesting historic Objects, and two of its most valuable assets.

Nambé was the seat of one of the first of the Franciscan Missions in New Mexico after the colonization of the country in 1598. As stated in the preceding chapter on the Tehua pueblos, the Tehua missionary district was placed in charge of Rev. Cristobal de Salazar, and the work of converting the Indians began with great vigor. In this report written in 1629, Benavides states that among the Tehuas there were eight pueblos with churches and three with conventos or clergy houses, one of these latter undoubtedly being Nambé. It was then a large pueblo and the priest stationed there had charge of Pojuaque and other small communities.

Notwithstanding all this apparent success, when the shock of revolt came, the result was exactly the same here as elsewhere, and Fr. Tomas de Torres, a native of Mexico, who was the priest in charge of the Mission, was killed without any hesitation. Of course the church was destroyed with all its contents, as everywhere else in New Mexico.

Then the usual reaction came, after the twelve years of anarchy and the reconquest, and on April 23, 1695, Governor De Vargas records in his diary as follows:

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“Namb“—April 23, 1695—Went to Nambeacute; with the Very Reverend Father Custodian, Fr. Francisco de Vargas, and the people being assembled in the plaza in front of the Chapel and the house adjoining for the minister, I told them I had come to instal the Reverend Father who was to be there to aid them and administer the sacraments, and I gave possession of said chapel and house to the Rev. Father Antonio de Acevedo.”


We can hear the people shout their loud acclaims as the spectacular ceremony proceeded! The men are forgiven, the children are baptized and all is well!

Again the pendulum swings and we have another change. In just a year there is a new priest at Nambé, and on the 4th of June he makes a little trip to San Ildefonso to visit his friend, Father Corvera, there. And, as is narrated elsewhere, in the night the good people set fire to the priest's house where they were asleep, having first carefully closed all avenues of escape, and the two Franciscans are suffocated to death. Whether the people of Nambé joined with those of San Ildefonso in this deliberate murder, we do not know; but we will hope that it was not so.

Then the church was rebuilt, at least sufficiently for necessary services, and so continued for more than thirty years; but it evidently was not as large as was needed nor equal in grandeur to what was desired, for suddenly a benefactor appeared, full of public spirit and a desire to serve God and the people

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and perpetuate his name. It was no less than the governor himself, Juan Domingo de Bustamante, one of the few governors to serve for two full terms. The Marquis de la Peñuela when governor had rebuilt the San Miguel Chapel in Santa Fé, but that was a small building and the walls were still standing; but Governor Bustamante built a great church, fully a hundred feet long, and with walls of almost unparallelled thickness, and all “at his own cost.” That is the church that stood for more than one hundred and eighty years and should be standing yet.

We present an engraving of this church from a photograph made shortly before its downfall, which shows its wide entrance and massive walls; and we add a description of the church as the author found it at the same period.


“The church is a very large edifice, built of adobe, and the first glimpse at its scarred sides shows its antiquity. The constant wearing of water for over a century and a half has made lines and seams down through the adobes, and if they had not been of extraordinary thickness would long since have washed them away. But the church with its solid walls was evidently built when labor and material were plentiful, and when religious fervor and zeal did not permit any but the most substantial work in a temple of the Most High.

“We pass through the enclosed yard in front, with its high adobe walls, past a high double cross of roughly hewn wood, and approach the entrance. There are two immense doors, quaintly carved by the crude tools of the beginning of the last century,

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and in one of these is a small door which is used on ordinary occasions which do not warrant the trouble of opening the more ponderous portals. The adobe buildings adjoining the church and now falling into decay tell of the days when this was a convento inhabited by a number of devoted Franciscan Friars, who went forth from this center to preach the Christian faith in all directions. Now, alas, the church is only opened for religious services about six times in the year, when the priest from Santa Cruz, who has a parish as large as a diocese, comes to say mass and attend to the spiritual welfare of this part of his flock.

“We enter the church, and find the interior of large proportions, fully one hundred feet in length and as wide as the style of architecture with its fiat roof will permit. On the right hangs a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the central figure being surrounded by four others in miniature, and on the left is a quaint old confessional, surmounted by a skull.

The altar piece is very modern, and of crudest art, being executed by Indians of the pueblo itself. Nothing could be more startling than its extreme brightness of color, scarlet and blue predominating, the coloring being solid, without shading. The recent date, 1885, gives hope that time will tone down the general effect to something more appropriate in the ‘dim, religious light.’ On the left of the altar is a picture of San Francisco, being crowned by an angel, a familiar subject in these churches planted by his devoted followers, this picture having been executed by a Mexican of the neighboring town of Pojuaque.

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“The church, taken altogether, has a bare appearance, but the spirit of modern improvement has invaded even its quiet precincts, and before another year, its hard smooth earthen floor will be replaced with one of boards. Near the door, together with candlesticks, and other needful utensils is a matraca or rattle of unique design, called by the pueblos ‘pahponé’. A flat piece of board about the size of the metallic part of a shovel is perforated by a dozen holes, and from each of these hangs by a short cord a little wooden tube. The whole when vigorously rattled produces a sound which can be easily heard throughout the entire pueblo, and it is used to call the faithful to church during Lent when the more joyful bells are not allowed to ring.

“Close to the door on the first great square viga which supports the gallery is the most interesting feature of the church, being the inscription which tells of the erection of the building. This is of considerable length, extending entirely across the church, and was deeply graven in the wood. Untold coverings of whitewash have filled the lines so that most of the letters are almost illegible, but the date 1729 is still easily to be distinguished.

“The entire inscription, put into modern Spanish with the abbreviations removed, reads as follows—‘Esta Iglesia la hizo á su costa el Senor General Don Juan Domingo de Bustamante, siendo gobernador y capitan-general. Año de 1729‘—’This Church was erected, at his own cost, by the Señor General Don Juan Domingo de Bustamante, he being governor and captain-general. In the year 1729.’”


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