5. Churches in Santa Fé


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A century ago there was perhaps no town of its size in the United States that was so amply supplied with places of worship as Santa Fé. While they were not all Missions in the strict sense of the word, yet they are all of such historic interest, that to omit them from this work would be unreasonable and would detract from a proper appreciation of the labors of the founders of Christianity in the Southwest. For more than two hundred and fifty years Santa Fé was the center and headquarters of the missionary work, and no history or description would be complete which ignored the work at the capital and the influences originating there.

A hundred years ago there were in Santa Fé no less than five churches and three private chapels, as follows:

1 The Church of San Francisco, which was the parish church of the villa.
2 The Church of San Miguel, first church erected, in the ward of Analco, and primarily intended for Indians, including the Tlascalans from Old Mexico.
3 The Rosario Chapel, at the western end of the town, where De Vargas encamped in 1692.
4 The Church of Our Lady of Light, otherwise known as the Castrense or Military Church, on the south side of the Plaza.
type="catalogue"5 The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the southwest section.

Besides these churches, where services were regularly held, there were at least three private chapels.

1 The Chapel of the Ortizes.
2 The Chapel of the Vigiles.
3 The Chapel of Pablo Montoya.

The Ortizes were at that time the wealthiest and most influential family in the town. They were the direct descendants of Nicolas Ortiz Niño Ladron de Guevara, who accompanied De Vargas in the resonquest, and whose son of like name was the grantee in 1744 of the large tract of land lying between Santa Fé and the Rio Grande, known as the Caja del Rio Grant, and covering over 60,000 acres of land. The peculiar addition to the original name of Ortiz, that is, “Niño Ladron de Guevara,” which, as “ladron” means thief, at first sight appears like a disgrace instead of an honor, originated from a famous exploit of one of their ancestors, who in the Spanish wars against the Moors, by surprise “stole” from the latter the city of Guevara, and was rewarded by the king by this addition to his name, as a lasting distinction. In the latter part of the eighteenth century the richest and most important citizens of Santa Fé were the brothers Juan Antonio and Antonio José Ortiz, grandsons of the Caja del Rio grantee, and they were the owners of the private chapel,


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which was situated on lower San Francisco Street at the west corner of the present Sandoval Street where the large stone building that narrows San Francisco Street at that point now stands.

The Chapel of the Vigiles (Holy Trinity) was situated on the west side of the Plaza, somewhat south of the center of the block, and in the early part of the last century belonged to Juan Bautista Vigil y Alarid, who for many years was an official under the Spanish and Mexican governments, postmaster for a long time, and finally as secretary and acting governor after Armijo had left the city, received General Kearny when he entered Santa Fé in August, 1846, and was continued in office by General Kearny until the appointment of Charles Bent as governor and Donaciano Vigil as secretary, on September 22, 1846. This chapel afterwards became the property of Manuel Alvarez, who moved it, after the American Occupation, to his ranch at Tesuque, with all of its appointments for religious services, and on his death it, with the remainder of the ranch, came into the possession of Major José D. Sena.

The chapel in the house of Pablo Montoya was named the Chapel of San José. This and the two preceding were examined by Don Agustin Fernandez, vicar general of the diocese, under direction of the vicar capitular of Durango about 1826 and found in excellent condition. At the same time this official examined another chapel in Santa Fé, being that of the Third Order of St. Francis, adjoining the parish church on the south side; but he made a very unfavorable


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report as to it, as it lacked everything required for the celebration of the mass; and its concession was annulled by the vicar general.

There was one other chapel in the town, being that connected with the ancient cemetery that existed for years in the north of the town on the road ascending to Fort Marcy Heights, and not far from the garita. This cemetery was used for many years until about the time of the American Occupation, and contains the remains of many of the most distinguished citizens of the capital. Unfortunately there are no tombstones by which to distinguish the graves, but tradition points out the location of some of those best known, and among them the final resting place of the four leaders in the Revolution of 1837, Desiderio Montoya, Antonio Abad Montoya, Juan José Esquibel, and José Vigil, who were executed at the garita on January 24, 1838. In the center of the east side of the cemetery was the chapel, the walls of which are still standing, but it is understood that it was only used as a mortuary chapel and not for any other religious services.

For more than forty years this cemetery was entirely neglected and made the depository of all the rubbish in that section of the city. The desecration of the chapel went so far as to lead to its use as a goat corral. But in 1914 the Society for the Preservation of Spanish Antiquities applied to Archbishop Pitaval for permission to clean up the premises, level and regrade the cemetery, and repair the walls of both chapel and campo-santo. Permission


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being obtained, the work was begun in May, 1914, and has resulted in the restoration of the premises to a proper condition.

Separate chapters will be devoted to the principal churches in the capital city.

The following verses, by a New Mexican now deceased, Mr. Fred B. Harris, tell the story of the Old Bell which after long years of service in calling the people of Santa Fé to worship, is now forever mute.

The old church-bell of Santa Fé,

Brought centuries ago from Spain,

Though fallen from its tower so gray

Yet still on earth it doth remain.

What stories strange might it not tell,

Had it a tongue,—that old church-bell.

Once highly proud in air it swung;

For centuries its potent voice,

In mighty tones, far distant rung,

Exultingly did it rejoice;

With eloquence it seemed to swell,

That mute and tongueless old church-bell.

Its rare voice swayed the human heart

Alternately with joy and woe;

E'en as by some enchanter's art

Both grief and joy did from it flow;

The marriage-peal, the funeral-knell,

Alternate rang that old church-bell.

Each morning at the rise of sun,

With its resounding, steady stroke,


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Announcing a new day begun,

The sleeping multitude it woke;

Afar its tones arose and fell;

The music of that old church-bell.

At each day's long and weary close,

Its welcome sounds pealed on the air,

Inviting all to calm repose,

To blessed sleep, devoid of care.

To all around who there did dwell,

A firm friend was that old church-bell.

Its solemn summons, loud and clear,

Unto God's temple, oft was heard,

Calling the people far and near,

To hear the blessed, heavenly word;

The tidings glad proclaimed full well,

This ancient, voiceless, old church-bell.

Companion, monitor and friend,

Of generations of the past,

Sad, sweet, strange memories ’round thee blend,

Of ancient scenes too fair to last;

For ages, faithful sentinel,

Wert thou for all, thou old church-bell.

Finished thy mission, thou dost rest

Half buried in the darksome ground;

With eloquence once rarely blest,

Devoid now of the faintest sound.

Like all on Earth, it tells too well

Of Life and Death, that old church-bell!

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