Places and Persons

Spencer, Lilian White

6oo THE COMMONWEAL October 15, 1930 Places and Persons ON THE PADRES' TRAIL By LILIAN WHITE SPENCER THE Franciscans were the first and best of our kind in the red land that is New Mexico....

...Both seemed prophets of old crying portent on the town...
...In 1680, Spain was murdered in New Mexico...
...One must walk monotonous fields to reach the brink and find the secret of this awesome rift...
...It is for our padre who will be here next Sunday to say Mass...
...A Cimabue Madonna is dingy on the wall...
...Winter is coming...
...The result is silhouetted against eternity incredibly lovely and remote...
...He is right...
...Sadly one observes how the inartistic good-will of our century has altered these poetic shrines...
...different accounts mention from one to twenty years...
...Earth for graveyard and mission was carried from the plain far below, up to these towering crags...
...Here was built in 1598 the first church in New Mexico, whence seven padres walked forth, alone, unarmed, to found as many missions in that savage virgin field...
...The interior of the chapel is small and shabby...
...Mexico declared independence, the Franciscans were exiled and the missions died, though in the parish churches of many old clan towns, their lamps burn on...
...Never a mission, it dates only from 1772...
...It was the work of years...
...Ugly in unwise restoration and tawdry touches of a later time, it is touching still...
...So courteous was their reception that a new title was bestowed: "San Juan de los Caballeros" "Saint John of the Gentlemen...
...It is of Fray Juan de Padilla, of Coronado's train, martyred and buried on the desert, whose body in after years was conveyed to this sanctuary to lie beneath its floor...
...Isleta, prosperous by the Rio Grande, is charming with its radiating streets and low adobes...
...A new "American" chapel took its place...
...In early Christian days San Ildefonso was an important mission...
...San Francisco de Asis of Nambe, founded in 1598, was razed in the great rebellion, but Spain came back and its church of that far time endured until it fell into ruins...
...The future may grind the stones of their chapel into dust but when all are one with earth again and only the cactus burns candles of remembrance, those who pass here must know that it is holy ground...
...The oceanto-ocean highway cuts it sharply in two and the pueblans are distinctive in flat sombreros and white, gaily piped shirts elaborately inset with lace...
...During half a century the two pueblos fought themselves into bankruptcy over its possession...
...On every fifteenth of August its people dance an ancient, spectacular red prayer...
...Pecos is a Franciscan monument whose broken walls are dramatic at prehistoric Cicuye...
...All honor to the eastern school that has lifted the shattered splendor of Pecos from the enshrouding dust of time I San Miguel at Santa Fe, now the chapel of a school, is said to be the oldest church in the United States...
...But the sword prevailed over the cross...
...These houses are as dramatic as the new step-back architecture of New York, with a spirit indescribably poetic and old...
...Rancho de Taos, a Mexican settlement beside the road, seems a pueblo with its adobe houses, plaza, old church and swarthy folk, but the difference is an abysmal gap of races between Amerindia of the ages and Spain of yesterday...
...The illusion of a young heathen god was spoiled by his waving cigarette...
...Its parishioners are also children of the sun and race in honor of that brilliant god...
...Here, in a country of surpassingly beautiful native pottery, they chose a rarer thing for the blessing of the Lord...
...Santo Domingo, after the bloody episode of 1680, built a new mission in 1707, that was swept away in the Rio Grande flood of 1886...
...So the two chiefs up there are telling every man, woman and child in the pueblo to lay a bundle of wood on the heap before the governor's house...
...Once "Yunque" was the name of a pueblo, but that was before Onate came up from the south, his great wagon train moving on the first wheels in our United States...
...Laguna borrowed it for its October 15, 1930 THE COMMONWEAL 601 own mission whose pale walls and windowed bells endure in primitive purity and strength...
...An acquaintance strayed toward us, black eyes smiling out of his immaculate robes...
...They do not forget the massacre of 1599 when Spain took their fortress, deemed unconquerable, and so held the pueblos in a yoke of fear for eighty years...
...Then the fathers came back with the conqueror De Vargas, to labor in this picturesque field for more than a century...
...From it the two great communal dwellings of summer and winter clans mount in regal terraces to the sky...
...Yellow buds were thick on spreading cactus bushes making a green-gold garden of this hushed place...
...Their white draperies set off the stateliness which is the heritage of their mingling of Apache blood...
...Now he said: "It is Sunday evening and no one has to work at this time...
...Modern statuary of no high order jars here with santos and boltos of primitive art, and back of the altar are faint paintings worn by a hundred and fifty years...
...His name is not White Eagle nor Son of the Morning, as it should be, but Pat Concha...
...Thirty passed before the vanquished had the heart to rebuild their town...
...has a legend...
...Old San Augustin is "restored" with New England spires on its imposing native bulk...
...Superb, changeless, San Esteban rises on its imperial base...
...In them, Spain is aureoled...
...Passionate in piety as in conquest, the government sent the frailes too: spiritual envoys seeking souls for heaven as no less important than new citizens for the state...
...The present San Geronimo keeps lovely fitness of vigaed walls, stepped gateway, high cross and bell tower...
...San Diego of Tesuque was built before 1625 and survives...
...They brought crafts and garden seeds as well as religion and gave to art, with primitive labor, the simplest tools and crude wood, stone and earth, a pure and noble architecture based on the native dwelling, which is music in its harmony with the western scene and unique in the world...
...San Agustin: that dates from a mission of 1629, destroyed in 1680...
...It will be an education for them...
...But fair Ildefonso is very gentle now...
...It was the heaviest blow ever dealt to the white man in America...
...Santa Ana is pale and massive in primitive beauty in its pueblo and Neustra Senora de la Ascension at Zia knows no change...
...The first mission of San Geronimo at Taos died in the tragedy of 1680...
...Rebuilding has insulted massive walls with foolish roofs or incongruous steeples, undignified as cap and bells...
...The scene was fantastic...
...This little town derives from the conquistadores...
...In 1680 church and pastor died together...
...perhaps because the terrible revolution was directed from this somnolent adobe town...
...The clear ever-flowing little river gurgles between...
...These monks were mostly young and cultured dons from the universities, aflame for service on a strange, far continent...
...Amid the stern rude glory of these now ruined walls, Fray Salmeron wrote, while Pilgrims voyaged east, a catechism in the Jemez language for his wondering proselytes...
...American courts decided the ownership in 1847...
...Each cacique in turn took up the, to us, unintelligible call...
...On to Taos...
...The wayside is a golden aisle of flowering chimisa...
...Wealth grew around them, held in trust, for the sons of Francis are vowed to poverty...
...The padres knew better, though they hoped that a few generations of training in the white culture would set their dusky charges free...
...I crossed the high road before the inn at Jemez Hot Springs in the bright stillness of early sun...
...All around its beautiful stricken austerity is the other mighty debris of masonry, once convent, schools, shops of Franciscan settlement...
...Miles of submerged ruins, old when Europe was young, surround the dead chapel...
...Some were gathering wood, some were chopping trunks into logs at their doorways and others, young and old, big and little, hastened with armfuls of fuel to where a huge pile awaited further contributions...
...Sacred dust is there and legend says its bell was cast in fourteenth-century Spain...
...The holy-water font near its threshold is a coarse yellow mixing bowl, whose counterpart can be bought for a quarter at any kitchenware counter in the United States...
...We entered the pueblo on an enigmatic sight...
...The plaza of the pueblo is a striking spectacle...
...In despite of which fervor Acoma is pagan...
...Its priests were killed at the altar in 1680 and, years later, the padre who succeeded these martyrs was burned to death in the convent...
...This valley with its gushing waters and great fertility has called pueblo farmers down the ages...
...Its latest church is beautiful, in pure pueblo style, but pagan and Christian symbols war upon its doors...
...Throughout the village men, women and children were mysteriously active...
...The golden adobe walls are ten feet thick and the story is that the immense timbers were brought from forests leagues away, and on their journey never touched the ground...
...He does not disapprove, as Taos does generally, of tourist visitors...
...In the sky-city of Acoma, one finds a Gregorian chant colossal in clay shouting from the cliffs...
...On the highest ledge of each great house, sunset light streaming over him, stood a commanding figure wrapped in whiteness...
...We must keep him warm...
...Priest and soldier lie together there near the ancient altars of San Miguel...
...On festal days colorful prehistoric ceremonies salute the newer saints...
...Since the padres preached and practised patience under outrage, a simple race became confused and thought their doctrine as evil as the yoke of slavery...
...Suddenly, without warning, I came to the ruins of Jemez Abbey, and for an ineffable moment was caught up beyond space, beyond time...
...Yet it is a precious thing to these poor Mexicans, because it is unlike the vessels that they know and comes from afar...
...Southward, the Rio Grande is choked by sand or flows sluggishly in mud, but here it is alive with sparkle of its mountain birth...
...Taos pueblo is some miles beyond the famous little yellow town that art has made its own...
...Abruptly the path rises to table-land...
...We were the only strangers there and felt ourselves intruders on a secret pagan rite...
...however, its dour, handsome people go in pompous barbaric parade in honor of Saint Stephen every year...
...The king and queen of the Belgians must remember Isleta through the varied pageantry of royal lives...
...Its magnificent canyon is tense between sheer walls and hilly slopes, solemn in black basalt, cloudy with grey sage...
...Some have been ruthlessly destroyed...
...It was thought at home that the Indians, then in the New Stone Age, could be educated quickly to a normal status...
...Let them come...
...When it could bear no more, vengeance sought all alien blood...
...In the home of the artist Gerald Cassidy at Santa Fe are doors and vigas carved and painted and dim with exquisite age, that were rescued from Nambe when it tumbled down...
...Deep shade, sleepy quiet, dark bluffs of lava and always water, splashing against jet rocks or dreaming in blue pools...
...There, after Mass, they were enthroned on magnificent Navajo rugs and Amerindia danced for them its gorgeous best...
...Legend says that his corpse, perfectly preserved, rises to the surface at stated intervals...
...The day I saw it white clouds rested over the zenith and the south, white clouds covered horizons ahead, but high on the pale north, a snowy wonder of white against white, emerged the stupendous heads of the Taos peaks...
...The pueblos were at bay twelve years...
...Founded in 1617, destroyed in 1680, rebuilt in 1693, it was deserted in 1840, when the last five inhabitants of the venerable city in which it stands withdrew to dwell with kindred folk at Jemez...
...The men of this Amerind village are famed for their picturesqueness...
...There is an arresting old life-size picture of Christ, remarkable with its thorn-crowned, tortured head and crimson robe...
...The land has been American since, on August 18, 1846, General Kearny fiew the stars and stripes over the old palace of the governors at Santa Fe...
...the second fell in 1847 when the pueblo warred with the United States...
...Its chapel, built in 1700, has been remodeled into prose...
...Ofiate's chapel, damaged then, was repaired and served till 1890...
...An appalling black gash cuts across the landscape beyond, where an indomitable current, sweeping down like a sword on the level plain, still gouges at the earth below...
...Happily, a crusade has begun for proper restoration...
...Its masterpiece is a chapel of ponderous buttresses and bell towers that look as though molded from one gigantic saffron block...
...His English is as good as ours...
...Yet, Pope, leader of the 1680 war, was of San Juan...
...Today, as in the sixteenth century, they dance the ancient steps of Yunque in honor of Saint John...
...Neither they nor their country's policy was cruel to Amerindia, though conquistador armies were...
...The padres found a flourishing village at their world's end...
...San Esteban has many treasures, especially a painting of Saint Joseph given to its first padre by Charles II of Spain...
...Then the Franciscans came, and glory that is San Esteban...
...Santa Clara has the same tale to tell...
...Its great beams and walls, puncheon pavement and faded native and Spanish art arouse interest plaintive and profound...
...Years later De Vargas brought the bones of Padre Juan de Jesus to Santa Fe...

Vol. 12 • October 1930 • No. 24


 
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