6. The Cathedral of St. Francis

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Naturally the first of the churches in the capital to be considered, is that which has arrived at the dignity of a cathedral. For more than two centuries it was the parish church of the city, until the long delayed coming of a bishop, who made this his official home, brought the higher honor.

Singularly enough it was not the oldest church in Santa Fé but the reason for this is clearly set forth by Father Alonzo de Benavides in his celebrated report of 1630, and it is certainly creditable both to the missionary zeal of the Franciscans and to the unselfishness of the first Spanish settlers. The distinguished missionary in his address to the king, after describing the capital city itself, says: “Only it lacked the principal thing, which was the church, that which they had being only a poor ‘jacal’ because the Friars gave their first attention to building churches for the Indians whom they converted and among whom they lived and labored; and therefore as soon as I became Custodian, I began to build the church and convento, to the honor and glory of God.”

As will appear when “Old San Miguel” is described, the suburb of Analco, across the river, was

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the home of the converted Indians from Mexico, and consequently the first church building was erected for them; and it was years before the Spanish soldiers and citizens had a separate place of worship of their own. As Benavides came to New Mexico in 1626, we may safely conjecture that the first parish church, bearing the name of the patron of the city, San Francisco, was built in 1627. It is a satisfaction to have a date of so much interest clearly established.

There is no reason to suppose that this church, built by Benavides, was not located exactly where the parish church has ever since been established, and where the cathedral now stands. It was practically destroyed at the outbreak of the Pueblo Revolution of 1680, and was not rebuilt until 1713.

In Archive No. 491, in the office of the surveyor general of New Mexico, relating to a suit over some land in Santa Fé, in 1713, reference is made to the “Church which is now being built in Santa Fé.”

Archive No. 1072 is a deed from Antonio Godines, to Nicolas Ortiz, made in 1714, and it describes a house “on the main street which goes from the Plaza to the new Church now being built.”

Archive No. 1074 is a deed from Pedro Montes de Oca to Nicolas Ortiz, and describes another house quite similarly situated “in the principal street of this villa which goes to the new church which is being built.rdquo; This is dated December 6, 1714; and these three documents conclusively fix the time of the rebuilding of the church as being in 1713 and

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1714. Archive No. 162 also refers to a church then being built, in 1713, and Archive No. 181 to its building in 1714, and they thus corroborate the above.

This church stood and performed its mission until the new cathedral was ready to take its place. The present Cathedral of St. Francis is a monument to the indefatigable energy of Bishop Lamy. From the time of his arrival, the new bishop saw the necessity of erecting an edifice which should be worthy of its position. The nearest Roman Catholic cathedral on the south was at Durango in Mexico, and there was then no important church building west of St. Louis. The people were comparatively poor, but the bishop had faith and determination. After years of preparation the corner stone was laid on July 14, 1869. The new edifice was built around the old adobe structure without disturbing the latter, so that services were continued without interruption. The part of the main building from the front to the arms of the transept is 120 feet long and sixty feet broad, with a height in the middle nave of sixty-five feet. The walls are massively constructed of native stone, and the ceiling is made of a very light volcanic tufa, of a red color, brought from a mountain twelve miles distant. When the towers had reached a height of eighty-five feet, work on them was suspended, and has not yet been resumed. Every effort was then made to complete the roof, and when that was accomplished, the adobe walls of the old building were taken down and carried away, and the services continued uninterruptedly in the magnificent new edifice.

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The east end of the old building still remains, however, as the completion of the entire cathedral will cost a very large sum and is unnecessary for any practical purpose now. The most notable feature, at least historically, in the church, is in this remaining east end of the former building, being the immense stone reredos originally carved under Governor Del Valle for the Church of Our Lady of Light in the Plaza, and removed to the cathedral when that church was demolished. A full description of this will be found in the chapter on the Castrense. The new building has been beautified by the gradual acquisition of fine stained glass windows and other appropriate ornaments, many of which have been donated as memorials; and the whole interior was expensively decorated quite recently under Archbishop Pitaval.

To the tourist, however, its interest is rather in the rare old pictures and images which have belonged to the parish through many generations. Some of these have been changed in position from time to time, and some for lack of space have been relegated to the Museum which adjoins the building; but none has been disposed of, and all can be found by the zealous lover of medieval art. The following is a list of the principal objects as they were arranged about thirty years ago, and shows what a mine of artistic wealth is presented to the visitor with time and patience to devote to their examination.


“Opposite the chancel, and facing the altar (which

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is itself well worthy of notice for the beauty of its metallic workmanship) are two very large paintings, made to match each other, one being of San Francisco, and one of San Antonio de Padua. Each is surrounded by cherubs.

“The chapel to the south is that of San José. In this are a number of beautiful and valuable pictures. Over the altar the large picture is St. Joseph, and underneath that, is a statuette of the same Saint, crowned, and with the Infant Jesus.—On the right the upper picture is also of St. Joseph, then comes a narrow portrait of a monk, and below that one of St. Augustine wearing a bishop's mitre. On the opposite side are pictures of the Good Samaritan, of a Saint in penitential robes, and of a Franciscan Friar.

“On each side of the altar is a life-size image, made of wood, one being of Our Lord crowned with thorns, the other of St. John the Apostle.

“On the left is a large picture of Our Lady of Carmel aiding suffering beings in purgatory, another of the crucifixion, and modern paintings of Our Lady of Sorrows, and ‘Ecce Homo.’ Opposite are pictures of the Virgin and Child, and of the Resurrection.

“On the north side is the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin, also containing many interesting works of art. On each side of the altar is a life size figure of a female saint, the one on the right in bright colors, and that on the left in black. Over the altar is an image of the Virgin clothed in rich silk vestments, above which is a picture of the Madonna, and beneath

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an ‘Ecce Homo.’ On the left and right are paintings of the Assumption of the Virgin and of St. Joseph, companion pieces, and between them and the altar smaller pictures representing two female saints. On the right side of the chapel, as you approach the altar, are pictures of the Virgin standing on the new moon; of the Crucifixion, St. John, the Virgin, and Mary Magdalen being at the foot of the cross; and of the Holy Family, with a representation of purgatory below. On the opposite side is a very large picture of the Holy Family.

“In the body of the church are the usual ‘Stations of the Cross,’ of large size, and on the north side a niche containing an image of Christ in the Tomb, used in the ceremonies between Good Friday and Easter. Over the chancel are three stained glass windows, with figures representing St. Francis, St. Joseph, and the Immaculate Conception.

“In the sacristy, is a most admirable painting of Our Lord; add a statue in wood and enamel of San Antonio de Padua, of Spanish origin, eighteen inches high, and similar in style to those at Santa Cruz and the Guadalupe Church. In the same place is a large image of the Santo Niño Conquistador.”


This church possesses additional interest on account of being the last resting place of the bones of a number of those who were distinguished among the early missionaries.

Governor Marin del Valle, who built the Castrense church in 1759, in that same year made two journeys, one to Picuris and one to Cuaré, in order to

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exhume the remains of two venerable priests who had been interred in those places, and give them suitable burial within the consecrated precincts of the Santa Fé Church. The body of Friar Ascencion Zarate was found in the ruins of the old Church of San Lorenzo at Picuris, and that of Friar Geronimo de la Llama in the ruins of the deserted Mission of Cuará in a place pointed out by the old Indians. Both were carried to the capital, and on August 31, 1759, were buried in a large coffin which was placed in the wall of the Gospel side of the parish church, where it still remains. The burial ceremonies were conducted with great solemnity in the presence of the governor and other high officials and a vast concourse of people.

On the coffins are two inscriptions in Spanish, of which we give English translations, as follows:


“Here rest the bones of the venerable P. Fray Geronimo de la Llama, an apostolic man of the order of St. Francis. These bones were unearthed from the ruins of the old Mission of Quarac in the Province of Las Salinas, on April 1st, 1759.”




“Here rest the bones of the venerable Fray Ascencion Zarate, an Apostolic man of the order of St. Francis. These bones were exhumed from the ruins of the church of San Lorenzo, of Picuris, May 8th, 1759; and the remains of the two venerable missionaries were transferred to this Parish of Santa Fe, and buried on August 31st, of the same year, 1759.”


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The church records show that Father de Llama died exactly a century before, in 1659, and was greatly venerated by the Indians of Cuaré.

Governor Del Valle's administration was further signalized by one of the very rare visits of a bishop, and the longest and most important one which ever took place until New Mexico became a diocese itself. In 1760, Bishop Tamaron of Durango came in April to visit this northern district of his great diocese, and remained until July. During this period he visited all of the principal towns of the territory and confirmed no less than 11,271 persons, including many adults who had had no previous opportunity of being presented to a bishop. Naturally a large amount of time was given to the capital city, and the Church of San Francisco was the Central point of the visitation. The journeys of the episcopal party were like a royal progress. The bishop was always accompanied by the custodio with a guard of twenty-two men, and the entire party included no less than sixty-four persons. Everywhere the people turned out, from the “ancianos” feeble with age and infirmities to the youngest child carried in its mother's arms, to do honor to the dignified ecclesiastic. Many stories are still current connected with this notable occasion. At one time, on a steep hillside, the bishop's carriage was overturned, and he might have been seriously injured but that the prelate with rare sagacity fell on top of the custodio, who was a well-rounded man admirably adapted to serve as a cushion, and was absolutely uninjured. We are also told

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that the bishop's visit was attended by such copious and long-continued rain that the crops in all of the valleys were almost miraculous both in volume and quality, and the Jornada del Muerto, whose name was generally synonymous with absolute dryness, became thoroughly saturated and covered with standing pools of water.


There are many interesting ceremonies which take place in the cathedral, marking special occasions in the church year.

On the eve of the day of San Francisco, the whole vicinity of the building is aglow with innumerable bonfires which illuminate the scene half through the night and present a special attraction to tourists.

But the most conspicuous celebrations are the processions of Corpus Christi and the Conquistadora or Lady of Victory. The latter will be found described in the chapter devoted to the Rosario Chapel, and no visitors should miss seeing it if they can possibly arrange to be in Santa Fé at that time. It is unique, because it is local and identified with the early history of the capital city.


The festival of Corpus Christi is made the occasion of special services and a grand annual procession in Santa Fé. This festival was instituted by Pope Urban IV in the year 1264, and in most Roman Catholic countries is celebrated with much ceremony and splendor, and usually with processions carrying

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the consecrated Host through the principal streets. This is not common in the United States, but the day has never ceased to be observed in Santa Fé with unabated fervor.

The festival itself comes on the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday, called the First Sunday after Pentecost in the Roman calendar; but for the convenience of the people, who are mostly engaged in necessary occupations on a week day, it is celebrated in the Cathedral of Saint Francis on the succeeding Sunday, and of late years there has been a second celebration, by the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe, one week later.

Early in the morning, or the night before, the streets through which the procession will pass are lined with evergreens brought in from the mountains, and present quite a gala appearance. The route of march is lined with people long before the hour of starting. At various places private altars are prepared in front of the houses of prominent members of the church, who are glad to manifest their devotion in this manner. These altars are surmounted by canopies and are tastefully and beautifully decorated with paintings and statues, which are preserved from year to year exclusively for this purpose. A photograph of the altar in front of the Sena residence on Palace Avenue is reproduced as an illustration, to show the general form and style of these street altars. Sometimes there have been as many as six, but the number varies with changes in families, and of late years those of the Sena, the

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Delgado, and the Ortiz families have been the most attractive.

This procession, as explained by the vicar general of the archdiocese, is for the purpose of allowing the faithful to show their faith. It is not considered


by them an ostentatious declaration of faith but as a beautiful ceremony in which the sacred Host is carried through the streets for the adoration of the believers in the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

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The procession leaves the cathedral at 11 o'clock, after the principal mass, and proceeds through the leading streets of the eastern part of the city which comprises the parish directly connected with the cathedral. The route is arranged so as to pass all of the street altars which have been erected. While the order of procession varies somewhat year by year, yet the following is substantially the order usually observed:

Directors of the procession, usually twelve in number.

The bands of the different societies afford the music for the march, and from time to time the “Salve Maria’ is sung all along the line, led by

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some of the older participants and quickly followed by the mass of those marching, and especially by the hundreds of women who form a large portion of the procession and are most fervent in their devotions. The number who participate in the ceremony is really remarkable in a place no larger than Santa Fé, the resident parishioners being largely augmented by those who flock to the city to take part in the ceremony. At the street altars a special service or benediction takes place and the faithful on bended knees receive the blessing. The procession finally returns to the cathedral where the Host is replaced in the tabernacle.

The clergy who take part in the procession are headed sometimes by the archbishop in person and sometimes by the vicar general of the diocese, and comprise all of the cathedral clergy besides as many visiting priests as are able to be present.

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