8. The Rosario Chapel

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The “Rosario Chapel,” or Church of our Lady of the Rosary, is situated in the northwesterly extremity of the city, near to St. Catharine's Indian School and the National Cemetery, and is itself surrounded by a cemetery which has been enlarged from time to time until it has become one of the most important in the city.

The chapel itself is a plain building of adobe, with no ornamentation on the exterior and comparatively little within. The notable features in the interior are a large painting of our Lady of Guadalupe and a smaller picture of the Holy Family. But it always inspires interest and attracts attention because of its history and its special annual use. Unless a universally held tradition is incorrect, the chapel stands on exactly the ground where Don Diego de Vargas was encamped with his little army on his first expedition for the reconquest of New Mexico, in 1692; and was erected by him in accordance with a vow made to the Virgin Mary just before the capture of the city, which involved not only the building of a chapel in that particular place, but an annual procession or pilgrimage from the parish church to this chapel, as an escort to the statue of the Virgin

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which he brought with him from Mexico on that expedition.

After standing for over a century, the original building became so much out of repair as to be unusable even for occasional services, and a new chapel was therefore erected in 1807, which has remained unchanged down to the present time. In 1914 the need of additional room to accommodate the increasing congregation, became apparent, and a few public spirited citizens raised the necessary amount to build an important addition on the east side of the old building. This was accomplished in the fall of 1914, and the picture of the old church which illusgrates this description was taken on the day before the work was begun, in order to show the building as it had existed for so many years.

The annual procession now takes place on the second Sunday after Trinity, being the Sunday after the Corpus Christi procession from the cathedral. Until recently the Corpus Christi procession included the entire city; but since the growth of the Guadalupe parish it has been found expedient to give to that church a separate celebration, and so the cathedral congregation has its procession on one Sunday morning, and the Guadalupe congregation on the succeeding one, which had before been entirely devoted to the beautiful local celebration in honor of our Lady of Victory. This has resulted in having the latter take place in the afternoon of that day. The Guadalupe parishioners have their Corpus Christi celebration in the morning, and then, after

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the noon hours, at three o'clock, they unite with the congregation of the cathedral in forming one grand procession to escort the statue of the Conquistadora to its particular Chapel of the Rosary. There a brief service is held, the Magnificat is sung, and the statue remains there an entire week, during which time mass is celebrated every day. It is then escorted back to the cathedral by a similar procession, there to remain until the recurring festival in the next year.

The tradition connected with the building and use of the chapel and the annual procession which brings it into special prominence every spring, is set forth by the Very Reverend James H. Defouri, the pastor of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in his book entitledHistorical Sketches of the Catholic Church in New Mexico, published in 1887, in the following form, which we copy as being the most authoritative statement on the subject. Father Defouri says:


“Vargas carried everywhere with him a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and wherever he stopped, a little sanctuary was built, and devotions were offered by the army. We may meet yet several of those places, called by the people ‘los palacios,’ among others one near Agua Fria, five miles west of Santa Fé. He entered the city by the road called El Camino de Vargas, and stood with his troops near the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Thence, crossing the Rio Santa Fé at a place still called ‘Puente de Vargas,’ he went to the very spot where now stands the Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary,

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and there he erected a palacio. On the next day, September 13th, Vargas with his small troop, attacked the Indians, who were centered on a waste, which is now the beautiful plaza of Santa Fé; they had fortified themselves, and were reinforced by the neighboring pueblos, to the number of ten thousand. The battle raged with great ardor on both sides from four in the morning until nightfall, without apparent result. Then, Vargas, in the name of his troops, on their bended knees, before the statue of Mary, made the solemn vow, that should he take the city, every year that same statue should be brought in solemn procession from the principal church in the city to the spot on which they were camping, where he should build a sanctuary, and there be left for nine days, the people flocking to the chapel to thank Mary for this victory, attributed to her. On the dawn of day, the next morning, he attacked with impetuosity the fortified Indians, and drove them from the plaza; at eight o'clock they retired upon the loma, north of the city, where he attacked them, and by noon not an Indian was seen in the neighborhood.

“Faithful to his promise, Vargas built the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary, and the fulfilment of the vow, commenced then, still continues every year on the Sunday after the Octave of Corpus Christi, by carrying what is most probably the identical statue possessed by Vargas, and called by the peopleNuestra Señora de la Victoria,‘Our Lady of the Victory,’ in great pomp, with music and pious chanting, from the Cathedral of St. Francis to the

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Chapel of the Rosary; and for nine days mass is chanted there, all the people making daily pilgrimages in thanksgiving for the favor received. It is also calledLa Conquistadora. There seems very little doubt but it is Vargas' statue. It was somewhat repaired a few years ago and the repairs have spoiled the natural beauty of her face, for it is of fine execution. The church built in haste by Vargas fell into a ruinous state, and the one standing there now was commenced over the old one in the year 1807, and solemnly blessed in 1808.”


Matters of tradition can scarcely be expected to possess strict historical accuracy, and in the course of years dates which depend on human memory are likely to become uncertain, so it is not surprising that there are doubts as to the entire correctness of the foundation for this annual procession as stated by Father Defouri. Hon. B. M. Read, in hisIllustrated History of New Mexico, after quoting at length from the De Vargas narrative, published in 1693, says, in a note on page 293, that the narrative therein will set at rest the erroneous story that De Vargas fought a terrible battle in taking possession of Santa Fé in 1692, and that the Rosario Chapel commemorated that victory, and he adds “as to the Rosario Chapel commemmorating any such event, there is no authority for such an assertion.” On the other hand it is difficult to conceive how a custom and tradition involving the whole community could have originated without some foundation.

It is interesting to note in this connection that

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De Vargas himself speaks more than once in official documents, of the statue of the Virgin which he brought with him on this expedition, and of the propriety of providing it with a suitable home. Thus in the narrative of his visit to examine the condition of the San Miguel Chapel, given in full in the chapter on that venerable edifice, he tells of his appeal to the politeness and gallantry of the Indians whom he was urging to repair the building, by saying that if a lady came to visit them they would be obliged to furnish her with a house, and that they should not consider it laborious to build a house for “Our Virgin Lady who is enclosed in a wagon”; and it is still more interesting that he calls her “Our Lady of the Conquest” in speaking of the urgency of having a church building in which she “may have a becoming place.” Whatever discrepancies, therefore, there may be as to the details, it is certain that at that very early day this statue was credited by the people with affording important aid in the conquest, and that that belief has come down uninterruptedly to the present time.

There is another mention of this statue by De Vargas which is little known, but which uses the same title, and shows the very high regard and respect that he had for it. It is in a letter which he wrote to the viceroy of New Spain from Paso del Norte on October 13, 1693, in the course of his second expedition. After telling at considerable length of the obstacles which he had encountered and which had caused delay, he expresses his firm determination to

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achieve success in the reconquest, and then uses this sentence: “I have decided to bring these settlers into the country, and I wish to inform your excellency that it is also my intention to reëstablish the city of Santa Fé, and then to place again our protectrix, Our Lady of the Conquest, on her throne of greater glory of her divine majesty.”

The annual procession in which the statue is cartied from the cathedral to the Rosario Chapel, is the most beautiful and interesting of the public religious ceremonies which take place in Santa Fé and add so greatly to its interest and attractiveness. While there are other processions, as on the festival of Corpus Christi, and other interesting ceremonies, as seen in the lighting of long lines of bonfires in the streets on the day of St. Francis, and that of our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12th), yet those are festivals that are celebrated in many other places and therefore may be familiar to the traveler and tourist, but the Festival of our Lady of Victory—of the Conquistadora—with all its accompanying ceremonies, is confined exclusively to Santa Fé, and is absolutely unique; it commemorates a local event and is cherished by the people as their own local festival, belonging exclusively to them alone. Its celebration combines local pride with religious fervor, and is participated in by such numbers as to be a never-failing source of wonder to strangers who are present for the first time.

It is interesting to know that the first annual legal holiday established in the United States was in com-memoration

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of the reconquest by De Vargas, which may be called De Vargas Day. It appears from Archive No. 179, now in the Congressional Library in Washington, that on September 16, 1712, the Marquis de la Peñuela, then governor of New Mexico,


issued an order commanding the citizens of Santa Fé to celebrate every year thereafter “El Dia de Setiembre” as the anniversary of the reconquest of the Villa de Santa Fe by Diego de Vargas. Just how the time of this celebration became changed from its

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real anniversary in September to a date in May or June, varying with the ecclesiastical calendar, no one now knows; but probably the holiday established by Peñuela was altogether of a civil nature, like our Fourth of July, and it was called De Vargas Day after the civil and military commander; whereas the beautiful procession of the Conquistadora is a religious celebration in honor of the Virgin Mary, and is known as the Day of Our Lady of Victory.

The number who take part in the annual procession is usually not far from 1,500, though it has been calculated that at times it has reached 2,000. It is a ceremony of unfailing interest to strangers from its unique character and local color; and it retains all of its distinguishing features with little change from year to year. The only noticeable alteration, in a quarter of a century, is that in the olden times nearly all of the women wore black dresses; with black shawls covering their heads and shoulders; whereas in recent years there is an increasing amount of variety and color in the attire of the younger women, which shows that fashion has its votaries even among the devotees of our Lady of Victory. The following is the usual


Crucifer in purple and white.

Two acolytes in red and white.

Banner, Holy Trinity Society.

“En Honra de la Santisima Trinidad, Nuestra Patrona.”


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Holy Trinity Society.

Woman's Society, black dresses, red badges.

Banner, white and gold, with picture of the Saviour.

Girls with white veils.

Banner, San José, red and gold.

Boys in red and white.

Girls in white.

Banner, Sacred Heart, “God is Charity.”

Double line of women and girls (many hundred).

Banner, San Luis Gonzaga.

Double line of men and boys (many hundred).


Immaculate Conception, “Yo soy la Concepcion Inmaculada.”

San Francisco band.

San Francisco Society.

Banner of St. Francis.

Fifty girls in white, with sashes, carrying flowers.

LA CONQUISTADORA, ancient wooden statue, on blue and gold platform, supported by four girls, of the Sodality of St. Mary, in white with white veils.


Professors from St. Miguel's College.

General procession.


The most beautiful and unique feature of this interesting procession is presented by the four young girls who immediately precede the statue of the Virgin, walking backward, each with a large basket of roses, strewing flowers in the way throughout all the long line of march.

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It is probably known to very few, even in Santa Fe, that the sandy stretch of road which leads from the city to the Rosario Chapel was once intended to be a beautifully shaded avenue of noble width and perfect condition. Governor Mariano Martinez, who was sent from Mexico to act as governor in 1844, was probably the most energetic and progressive man of any nationality that has ever filled the executive chair of New Mexico. He was young and handsome, full of enthusiasm and public spirit, and he brought with him a wife who was as full of ideals and as anxious to carry them into effect as he was himself. It was Governor Martinez who planted the very first trees in the Plaza at Santa Fe, which until then had been a sandy waste. The oldest cottonwoods, of which a few only have escaped the axe of the vandal modernizer, were set there by his directions; and he did more. He wished the people to have a beautiful park for recreation and refreshment, and so he laid out in front of the Rosario Chapel a spacious alameda or park, and planted it with the best trees that could be procured, and dug a fine acequia from the foot of Fort Marcy heights, near where the Scottish Rite Cathedral now stands, to bring the water in unceasing flow to irrigate and hasten the growth of his alameda. Not content with this, he constructed a fine broad avenue from the westerly end of the city out to the alameda and the Rosario Chapel, and lined each side of it with thrifty trees; and believed he was doing a great work, not only for the present but the future.

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But the rapid changes in Mexican politics soon caused an overturn at the capital city, which affected even far-distant New Mexico, and the progressive administration of Governor Martinez became like a brief interlude in our history. With his retirement all that he had accomplished was brought to nought. General Armijo, who was restored to power, was too busy with politics and personal interests to find time for public improvements which only resulted in beautifying the city and affording pleasure to its people; and so the acequia filled up with sand, and the neglected trees in the alameda withered and died, and the shaded avenue disappeared, and all became the unsightly piece of desert that it is today.

Perhaps before many moons, some public-spirited citizen or patriotic city council, fired by the recollection of what a governor coming from afar did in his brief official term, may once again conserve and direct the water, and plant the trees, and make the dreary waste where De Vargas camped so many years ago to be a place of beauty and a joy forever.

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