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Committee of Twelve and La Guadalupana-1745

By Rick Hendricks

For most residents of colonial El Paso, the ancient church of Our Lady of Guadalupe regulated their lives. The cornerstone of the mission church dedicated to Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de los Mansos del Paso del Norte was laid in December 1659 by the Franciscan friar, García de San Francisco and records indicate that celebrations were held in her honor. By 1668 the church was completed. As the southern gateway to New Mexico, travelers moving north and south along the Camino Real often stopped there before continuing their journeys so that Catholic priests could minister to their spiritual needs. In addition to masses, christenings, weddings, and funerals, the ritual round of the Catholic church punctuated the year with various feast days.

Presumably from the time of the founding of the mission the resident Native American population of El Paso, which eventually included Mansos, Sumas, Piros, Tiwas, and others, celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe without much participation by the local non-native population. The year 1745 was a time of rebellion in the far south of New Mexico. That year the Sumas of the curacy of Las Caldas staged an uprising that threatened to destabilize the region. Thus it is no surprise that the Guadalupe mission Indians did not hold their traditional feast honoring the Virgin that year. Into the breach stepped Alonso Victores Rubín de Celis, captain of the El Paso presidio and alcalde mayor of the jurisdiction. Captain Rubín de Celis met with a dozen of El Paso’s leading men that their fellow citizens had chosen. It is probably no accident that a dozen were selected; the number probably harkens back to the twelve apostles. On 1 August 1745 Francisco Joaquín Sánchez de Tagle, José de la Sierra, José Antonio de la Fuente, Celedonio de Escorza, Manuel Baldizán Calderón, Francisco Mier de Terán, Aferez. Domingo Mízquez, Francisco García de Noriega, Juan Téllez Girón, Francisco Lucero de Godoy, Manuel Téllez, and Antonio López met with Rubín de Celis to plan how future celebrations in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe would be conducted and financed. The committee agreed that every resident would contribute two pesos a year to fund an annual celebration, which was to take place on 12 December and was to include a vespers service, high mass, sermon, and procession. The money was payable to the mayordomo elected for the given year. The celebrations were to be carried out with as much dignity and splendor possible. A census of citizens, vagrants, and men in the military was to be maintained. Soldiers were exempt from paying the annual contribution as long as they remained on active duty. If, for any reason, they left the service, they became obligated to pay.

The action of the committee acting on behalf of the citizens of El Paso followed similar action taken elsewhere in New Spain. In 1737, an unspecified epidemic referred to as matlazahuatl visited a great mortality on Mexico City and environs. The citizenry appealed to their patron saint, Our Lady of Remedies, to intervene. Hernán Cortés had carried an image of Our Lady of Remedies and referred to her as Our Lady of the Conquest during his successful struggle against the Mexica (Aztec) empire. Our Lady of Remedies had a special importance in New Mexico too because she was Diego de Vargas’s special protector. The royal standard bearer of Vargas’s company carried a banner that bore on one side an image of Our Lady of Remedies throughout the 1692 ceremonial reconquest of New Mexico. Vargas requested her mediation to bring about the return of the Pueblo Indians to the Catholic faith. She was said to have made a miraculous intercession at the Hopi pueblo of Awátovi in the winter of 1692. Following Corte’s inspiration, Vargas referred to Our Lady of the Remedies as Our Lady of the Conquest and credited her with the success of his expedition.

In the case of the 1737 Mexico City epidemic, however, Our Lady of the Remedies had not proved successful. The populace, especially the criollos (Spaniards born in the New World) turned to their local patron saint, Our Lady of Guadalupe and against the foreign saint, Our Lady of Remedies. When the epidemic abated, Our Lady of Guadalupe received credit for saving the people of the viceregal capital. The ayuntamiento or city council of Mexico City asked the Archbishop to have Our Lady of Guadalupe declared the patron saint of the city and to hold her celebration on 12 December. In September, 1756, the citizens of New Spain learned that Pope Benedict XIV, in a bull of 25 May, 1754 had approved Our Lady of Guadalupe as patron saint of the kingdom and the moving of her feast day to 12 December, which had already become traditional.

Some six years earlier, on 30 December, 1750 the people of El Paso swore their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and named her as their patron saint. As with the earlier efforts to take control of the annual celebrations, Rubín de Celis was the prime mover in taking Our Lady of Guadalupe as the patron saint of El Paso. Because not all of the provisions set out in 1745 had been followed in subsequent years, the 1750 committee laid down several additional regulations governing the annual celebration. The celebration was to be held promptly and exactly as the committee had outlined. Since the celebration was set for 12 December and no other date, the committeemen felt it necessary to stipulate that neither cold nor snow would prevent the celebration on the appointed day. A mayordomo was to take charge of planning and to see that the day's events were carried out. It is interesting to note that the alcalde mayor of El Paso was to assist the mayordomo, an indication of the civic importance of the celebration.

The committee of twelve leading citizens, presumably named each year, was to continue to help with planning and execution of the festivities. Should anyone fail to fulfill his responsibilities, he would be subject to a fifty-peso fine and whatever additional punishment was deemed appropriate. One of the committee’s responsibilities was to provide altar candles and fireworks. Weather permitting; planned activities included bullfights staged in the plaza, where a viewing platform would be erected for dignitaries; dances of Moors and Christians; outdoor dramas; and bountiful meals. Following the celebrations, the candle wax was to be gathered, perhaps to be melted down and reused.

A chest with two keys was to be provided to keep everything related to Our Lady of Guadalupe. One key was to remain with the mayordomo, and the other was to be kept by the royal magistrate. The proceeds from the sale of agricultural products to finance the annual celebration were to be converted to reales and stored in the chest. The mayordomo was to keep an account book of all contributions to the fund, and the magistrate was to counter sign each entry.

Every year on 1 January, the election for a mayordomo for that year was to be held. In addition, a report listing everyone who had failed to pay the annual contribution was to be made public. It would be up to the mayordomo how the funds would be expended on festivities beyond those set forth in the guidelines. During their year of service, the mayordomos were responsible for any meals, snacks or other expenses they might incur in the course of planning events. Finally, the mayordomo was to keep an account of the sales of the fighting bulls that survived and together with the magistrate decide how to distribute the bulls that were slain.

The fact that prominent non-Natives were directing the planning and execution of the annual celebrations in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe did not mean that the Indians stopped participating. In 1779 the Indian governor of the mission pueblo at El Paso sold unused common land to a lieutenant of the local militia company. The proceeds of the unusual (and probably illegal) sale were to go to the expenses of annual celebration in honor of La Guadalupana.

Over time adherence to the established regulations wavered. In 1787 Lieutenant governor Alberto Máynez (who served as governor of New Mexico in 1808 and again from 1814 to 1816), complained that he had been informed by impartial people that preparations for the annual celebration dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe were not going according to the guidelines set down in the preceding generation. In order to nip the problem in the bud, as he put it, Máynez validated the earlier guidelines and ordered them followed to the letter. To ensure fulfillment of his orders, the lieutenant governor filled three posts charged with protecting and defending the interests of Our Lady of Guadalupe. To each he appointed a leading citizen. Apparently the main problem was that many citizens were not giving the required two pesos in alms to finance the fiesta. The first individual named was José Horcasitas, and he was given the responsibility of investing five hundred pesos that had been willed to Out Lady of Guadalupe by the late Joaquín Sánchez de Tagle.

While the general population of El Paso may have become less willing to pay for the festivities associated with the annual celebration out of their own pockets, competition for the honor to preach the annual sermon was keen. In 1793 the vice-custos of New Mexico, José Vera, who was residing in the El Paso area, reneged on a previous offer to a fellow Franciscan. It seems that Father Vera had asked fray Isidro Cadelo to preach on 12 December from the pulpit of the church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in El Paso. Although no reason was given for his change of mind, Vera so angered Cadelo that he informed the lieutenant governor, Francisco Javier de Uranga, that he intended to preach the sermon come what may.

The historical record demonstrates unequivocally that the cult of Our Lady of Guadalupe continued to grow in Spanish colonial El Paso. It continued throughout the Mexican period, 1821-1824, and is alive an well today; irrefutable evidence of one of the most lasting cultural traditions transported north from the Valley of Mexico to New Mexico over the Camino Real.

Sources Used:

Brading, D.A. Mexican Phoenix, Our Lady of Guadalupe: Image and Tradition Across Five Centuries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Dunnington, Jacqueline Orsini . Guadalupe: Our Lady of New Mexico. Santa Fe. Museum of New Mexico Press, 1999.

Hall, Linda B. Mary, Mother and Warrior: The Virgin in Spain and the Americas. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004.

Hendricks, Rick. "The Exile and Return of Fray Isidro Cadelo, 1793-1810." New Mexico Historical Review 70:2 (April 1995): 129-57.

"Faces of the Camino Real: People in El Paso del Norte in the Spanish Era," In Proceedings: Speakers Series: El Camino Real from Mexico City to Santa Fe, 1999, Chamizal National Memorial, El Paso, Texas. El Paso: United States Department of the Interior-National Park Service, 1999.

Kessell, John L, and Rick Hendricks, eds. By Force of Arms: The Journals of don Diego de Vargas, New Mexico, 1691-1693. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992.

MacLachlan, Colin M., and Jaime E. Rodríguez O. The Forging of the Cosmic Race: A Reinterpretation of Colonial Mexico. Berkeley: University of California Press.