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Franciscan Ritual in Seventeenth-Century New Mexico: Possession of Churches

By Rick Hendricks

 

Introduction

As the Brothers of St. Francis toiled in the Lord's vast and desolate vineyard that was the province of New Mexico under imperial Spain, they were rarely able to escape the mundane struggle for existence in an often harsh, unforgiving land. Nevertheless, in the absence of secular clergy, they assumed a much larger role in the performance of the ecclesiastical rites and ceremonies of the Catholic Church. In many instances, this ritual activity was distinguished by a particularly Spanish character born of the special relationship between the Spanish state and the Catholic church. In others, it reflected centuries old Iberian traditions transferred to the New World.

After providing a general overview of Franciscan activity in colonial New Mexico from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, this article will briefly explore one aspect of Franciscan ritual activity in seventeenth-century New Mexico that has been completely ignored by scholars--the possession of churches in the El Paso area on the eve of the reconquest of the province by the Spaniards.

 

Before 1680

The history of New Mexico divides decisively at the Pueblo-Spanish War that erupted in New Mexico in 1680 with the victorious Pueblo allies drive their Spanish oppressors out of the province.[1] Before, Spain had maintained the distant colony at government expense as a Franciscan ministry to the Indians. Afterward, when Spaniards reoccupied New Mexico in 1692, military considerations outweighed missionary. The crown continued to pay for mission expenses throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, but a larger proportion went to maintain soldiers, Indian auxiliaries, and militia. After the Pueblo-Spanish War, New Mexico became a buffer against marauding Indians and French and English imperial rivals. The era of spiritual conquest evolved into one of imperial defense.

In terms of methods, tradition, and zeal, the Franciscans' seventeenth-century ministry to the Pueblo Indians was a delayed final episode in the spiritual conquest of central Mexico begun in the sixteenth century. Seen from this point of view, it is best explained within the context of northern exploring expeditions, whose chaplains experienced initial contact with new indigenous peoples; during the half-century-long Chichimec War, when Spaniards first tried to reduce seminomads to settled life, and through the massive conventos of New Spain, which supplied precedent and ideal.

Five Franciscans, among them the zealous fray Juan de Padilla, participated in the ill-starred expeditions of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado in 1540-42.[2] They accompanied the entry of armor-clad Spaniards into the interconnecting worlds of native Americans from the Colorado River to the plains of Kansas. Although they set up crosses and preached, these first missionaries raised no churches.

With Coronado's disgraced return to New Spain, the Spanish advance from the south collapsed on itself. Silver mining, beginning on a large scale with the Zacatecas strikes of the late 1540s, accompanied by ranching and Indian slaving, now fueled a more gradual, economically motivated northward movement of the Spanish-mestizo frontier. Franciscan friars played significant roles in pacifying the Gran Chichimeca, the vast high desert of jagged sierras and seminomadic peoples that drew Spaniards northward again, now in pursuit of rich ores and ranch land.

Attracted anew by the one group of clothed, town-dwelling native agriculturalists, whom they distinguished as Pueblo Indians, rediscoverers as early as the 1580s began calling this the new Mexico in hopeful anticipation.

In 1598 Juan de Oñate founded a permanent colony in New Mexico. He led the Pueblo Indians through ritual acts of vassalage and assigned to them resident Franciscan missionaries. Try as he might, Oñate could discover no readily exploitable resource, save the Pueblo Indians themselves, who in the early 1600s may have numbered 50,000. The friars, meanwhile, objected to the harshness of Oñate's rule. When Oñate resigned as governor in 1607, certain officials recommended that the colony be withdrawn, along with the few baptized Pueblo Indians. New Mexico, they believed, should be abandoned.

The Franciscans protested. How, the missionaries asked, could church and state turn their backs on more than seven thousand Pueblo Indian baptisms? The figure was almost certainly inflated, but since so rich an alleged harvest of souls made Oñate's failed enterprise look better, no one challenged the friars. Instead, in 1609, the Spanish crown, which had paid the costs of Oñate's Franciscans, converted New Mexico from a proprietary colony to a royal missionary colony. Henceforth, Spain would maintain New Mexico at government expense.

Because the colony's reason for being after 1609 was mainly missionary, and the Franciscans were New Mexico's only Roman Catholic priests, the friars exercised unusual authority. That fact, combined with abiding poverty, remoteness, and overlapping church-state jurisdictions, made a struggle between friars and civil officials almost inevitable. At issue were Pueblo Indian labor, land, and loyalty.

In contrast to their mundane quarrels with civil officials, the Franciscans' ideal for Christianizing the Pueblo Indians grew out of the crusading zeal and millennialism of the sixteenth century. Only in that context do the fervent exaggerations, miracles, and propaganda of fray Alonso de Benavides make sense and allow a fair ethnohistorical appraisal of his two valuable reports of 1630 and 1634.[3] Still, it is difficult to reconcile the orderly and productive mission routine, accompanied by seventeenth-century church music, with the mutilated bodies of the friars killed in the outbreak of 1680.

The Franciscans' most visible monuments were the forty or fifty churches they caused to be built, a number of which survived the Pueblo-Spanish War, if only in ruins. Geographically, the pre-1680 mission colony of New Mexico had come to extend from El Paso in the south to Taos in the north and from Pecos pueblo on the east to the Hopi pueblos of present-day Arizona in the west.

In 1598 Oñate had abruptly imposed the Franciscan missionary regime on the Pueblo Indians. For the next three generations, the crown maintained New Mexico and its contentious colonists, primarily in support of the missions. In 1680, when finally the Pueblo Indians united in opposition, they threw off Spanish church and state just as suddenly. The break was decisive. 

 

After 1680

With crusading zeal, New Mexico missionary fray Alonso de Benavides had condemned Pueblo Indian ceremonialism as Satan's handiwork. Nevertheless, he predicted a great harvest of souls for the Christian faith, a process he believed was well under way by 1630. A century and a half later, however, in 1776, the meticulous, urbane fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez despaired that the Pueblo Indians would ever become good Christians.[4] He described their dances, inventoried their kivas, and turned them a blind eye.

Act one of the Pueblo-Spanish War--the stunning overthrow of Spain's remote missionary colony of New Mexico in 1680 and the flight of Spanish survivors downriver to exile in the El Paso area--temporarily freed the Pueblo Indians from their European oppressors. The ferocity with which they mutilated and put to death twenty-one of the Franciscan friars and profaned their mission churches gave vent to generations of frustration and resentment. The causes were many. The Spanish intruders had suppressed their religious practices, extracted tribute of foodstuffs and trade goods, and defiled the most intimate recesses of their culture. Once the Spaniards were gone, however, and the good times promised by Pueblo leader Popay failed to come, Pueblo communities and factions tended once again to go their own ways.

Disunity characterized the second act of the Pueblo-Spanish War, from 1681 to 1691, not only among the Pueblos, but also among the Spaniards, many of whom deserted the El Paso area in search of security farther south. Except for several armed Spanish forays up the Rio Grande and an occasional Pueblo delegation to El Paso, the combatants kept their distance.

The war's third and final act opened in 1692, when Spanish Gov. Diego de Vargas, relying on personal bravado and diplomacy, as well as Pueblo Indian disunity, boldly toured the native communities, performing in each ritual acts of repossession for the king of Spain.[5] Yet, when he returned with colonists at the end of 1693, his people, aided by Pueblo Indian warriors, had to wrest Santa Fe from its native occupants in a bloody, two-day assault. Over the next two difficult years, several hundred additional colonists arrived. Certain Pueblo communities or factions aligned themselves with the returning Spaniards. Others remained menacingly fortified on mesa tops. Gradually, through negotiations and military action, Vargas brought them down. He saw also to reinstalling Franciscans in the missions.

By the spring of 1696, most of the missionaries feared a second uprising. Their Pueblo Indian charges, particularly those north and west of Santa Fe, were openly disrespectful of them and the Christian faith. The friars appealed to Vargas to station armed guards in the missions. He could spare only a few; moreover, he did not want the Pueblos to believe that he doubted their renewed loyalty. In the meantime, in a remarkable series of letters, the Franciscans of New Mexico debated the definition of true martyrdom and the conditions under which they are willing to die.

Five died that summer in the predicted outbreak of 1696. Though as intense as the eruption of 1680, it was not as widespread. By the end of the year, after more fighting and negotiations, Vargas had managed to restore Spanish rule, and the missionaries had returned to their posts. Never again was there open warfare between Pueblo Indians and Spaniards. Until the end of the Spanish colonial era in New Mexico in1822 and beyond, they lived in close proximity; traded maize, beans, and cultural traits; and rode together on campaigns against their common Apache, Comanche, and Navajo enemies. Fitfully and almost imperceptibly, intolerance gave way to a practical modis vivendi, inside and outside missions.

Demographics played a large part in the shift. To date, no one has produced the definitive study on the scope and results of Pueblo Indian population decline in the seventeenth century. On the eve of 1680, mission Indians still outnumbered the small Spanish community roughly 15,000 or 20,000 to 3,000. Pueblo population, excluding the Hopis who were not returned to the Spanish fold, dropped to 8,000 or 10,000 in the early 1700s and then leveled off. Meanwhile, the number of Hispanos grew slowly but steadily, overtaking that of the Pueblos around 1750. By the year 1800, there were twice as many Hispanos as Pueblos.

Partly as a result of population trends--along with the Spanish monarchy's drift toward secularism--the influence of the Franciscans declined. They no longer dictated the affairs of the colony, as they had so often before 1680. The Spanish government's justification for subsidizing New Mexico, which had been largely missionary, was now principally defense against French and English threats and the devastating raids of nomadic bands. Even the friars' spiritual monopoly broke down, as three bishops of Durango actually visited New Mexico. 

Hindered by shortages, raiding nomads, and obstructionist officials, the friars ministered to the pueblos, where they were criticized for not learning the Indian languages; to heathen non-Pueblos, apostate Hopis, and the Hispanicized servant class known as Genízaros, where their successes were few; and to the growing Hispano community, where they and the governors of New Mexico clashed verbally in terms reminiscent of the previous century.

Pedro Tamarón y Romeral, sixteenth bishop of Durango, toured his farthest and most beleaguered jurisdiction.[6] The bishop's report, The Kingdom of New Mexico, 1760, included his reproachful revelation of an "Extraordinary happening in Pecos", in which he records a burlesque of his visitation staged by the Pecos Indians several months afterward, conveys a message far beyond what he intended. They had suffered famine, disease, Spanish oppression, attacks from the plains, factionalism within, and the fifteen-fold reduction of their numbers, yet nothing had broken the spirit of the Pecos people.

Along with the declining influence of New Mexico's Franciscan missionaries went an apparent decline in their moral fiber, a result, it would seem, of late eighteenth-century secularism, Franciscan recruitment of less ardent candidates, and, above all, the friars' confused and frustrating role as ministers not only to Pueblo Indians, but also to Hispanos. The latter, in the main rustic frontier Catholics, should have been supporting diocesan priests by this time, while the former, nominal mission Indians for generations, showed little promise of further acceptance or understanding of the Faith.

Fray Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, stiff, young idealist cast reluctantly in the role of superior, sought, in his revealing "Letter to the Missionaries of New Mexico" in 1777, to admonish his brethren to a more rigorous observance of the rule of St. Francis.[7] He cautioned them especially to guard their professed poverty and chastity against the entanglements of trade and the wiles of local women. His admonitions speak volumes about his assessment of the decline of the Order in New Mexico.

Over the course of time, Pueblo Indian views of the Franciscan missions have been difficult to discern. If the goal of missionaries like fray Alonso de Benavides in 1630 was to annihilate Pueblo culture and substitute Spanish Catholic Christianity in its place, they failed miserably. Instead, some syncretization, or more likely among the Pueblos, compartmentalization of religions occurred.

 

Possession of churches

In El Paso, on 21 August 1691, fray Francisco de Vargas, minister, custos, and ecclesiastical judge ordinary of the Holy Custody of the Conversion of St. Paul and the provinces of New Mexico directed a letter to Gov. Diego de Vargas.[8] After a thorough examination of the custody's archive, Custos Vargas had found no record that the Franciscans had been given possession of the five conventos in the El Paso area. Therefore, he requested that Governor Vargas grant possession of the coventos, along with all the necessary documents, in his capacity as governor and captain general of the kingdoms and provinces of New Mexico. In addition, fray Vargas requested sufficient lands, clearly delineated, for the support of the conventos. The governor responded the same day that he was prepared to give possession to the custos, but that the matter of the land needed further clarification. There ensued a bitter conflict between civil and ecclesiastical authorities over the question of the land, which delayed the granting of possession of the conventos until the following year.

On 16 May 1692, fray Joaquín de Hinojosa, president in capite of the custody of New Mexico wrote Governor Vargas.[9] Fray Joaquín took up the matter of the possession of churches again, citing the concessions made to the Franciscan Order by Pope Leo X that provided that "missionaries who serve in the lands of the infidel and the newly converted might raise and construct churches and dwellings in which the true God and His holiest name will be praised."[10]

The following day, 17 May 1692, Governor Vargas declared that he was prepared to grant possession to the current petitioner, President Hinojosa. Vargas, his secretary, two squads of soldiers, and the captain of the presidial company met Hinojosa, his secretary, and the guardian of the convento of El Paso in the patio of the church called Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe del Paso. In his campaign journal of what the governor described as a general tour of inspection, Vargas recorded the act of possession of the church in the following manner.

Possession of the convento of El Paso[11]

In the pueblo of El Paso del Rio del Norte on 17 May 1692, in compliance with the foregoing proceedings, which I provided and my secretary of government and war, as I ordered, made known today, I, the governor and captain general, came to this convento of our father, St. Francis with my secretary of government and war, the two squads from the plaza de armas who guard this presidio, and the captain of its company, Mre. de campo Roque Madrid.[12] I asked for the father president, fray Joaquín de Hinojosa, and His Paternidad immediately came out, accompanied by his secretary and guardian of the convento, fray Agustín de Colina.[13] While we were outside the convento in the patio of his holy church, called Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe del Paso, he asked me to give him possession of the holy church and remaining property. I, the governor and captain general, in accord with the proceedings I provided on 30 August 1691 and those dated today, entered the holy church, leading the very reverend father president by the hand, and gave him possession in the name of His Majesty. His Reverend Paternidad took it de facto and de jure, walking around the church. Making the sign of the cross, he lifted and replaced on its high altar the holy cross, the altar cloths, and everything else that belonged to the church.[14] In like manner, I led him by the hand into the baptistery, opening and closing the door and examining the font. He also entered the sacristy, closing and opening the door, examining the vestments and other adornments pertaining to the use of the holy church. He came out to the patio with me, the governor and captain general, and I again took him by the hand. Making witnesses of those present, with the attendance of my secretary of government and war, I said in a loud and clear voice how in His Majesty's name I also gave him possession of the convento. I led him by the hand through the door, and he took possession de facto and de jure. We walked through the cloister and entered hand in hand into his cell and into the others, opening and closing their doors. I gave him the two documents of possession in His Majesty's name, which he took calmly and peacefully, gainsaying nothing. Having come outside again, in the presence of the witnesses and with the attendance of my secretary of government and war, I repeated in a loud and clear voice the proceedings I provided on 30 August of last year, 1691, and 10 and 17 May of the present year, 1692. In compliance with them, I said that I was likewise giving him the documents of possession and pointed out the amount of 4 fanegas of wheat for seed planting; 1 for corn; and other land to sow beans, squash, and other vegetables, and for a garden. Since these lands were by declaration, I pointed out which ones I gave him possession of in His Majesty's name, so that he could receive them for himself, as he received and accepted them, de facto and de jure. As head of this custody and in the name of his holy Order, he received it and would make use of it. Two days later, on 19 May 1692, the principals traveled to the convento of Corpus Christi de la Ysleta de Tiwas and repeated the granting of possession.

Possession of the church and convento of the pueblo of Ysleta

In the pueblo of Ysleta of this district of El Paso del Río del Norte in the kingdom of New Mexico on 19 May 1692, I, the governor and captain general, have come to carry out the general inspection, which is my responsibility, and as His Majesty, the king, our lord, so orders me. The very reverend father, fray Joaquín de Hinojosa, president of this holy custody, in compliance with the proceedings I provided on 16 and 17 May of the present year, asked me to give him the possession contained herein and reviewed by me, the governor and captain general. In the presence of the captain of this company, some soldiers, and other people who are settlers of this pueblo, and with the attendance of my secretary of government and war, on the patio before the door of the pueblo's church, called Corpus Christi de los Tiwas, I, the governor and captain general, led the very reverend father, fray Joaquín de Hinojosa, president of this holy custody and ecclesiastical judge in capite, by the hand through the door of the church and gave him possession of it. He took it de facto and de jure for himself, as head of this holy custody and in the name of his holy Order. Walking through the church, he examined the figures of the images and santos that were on its high altar, the cloths, and the cross, moving it in sign of possession. In like manner, I led him by the hand through the door of its sacristy, where he examined some vestments and other adornments of the church's use. He went out into the church again and examined the baptismal font and removed and then replaced the lid as a sign of possession. He received possession quietly and peacefully, gainsaying nothing. At the door of his convento, he asked me for possession, and in the presence of the customary witnesses and my secretary of government and war, I led the reverend father president by the hand and in His Majesty's name gave him possession of it both de facto and de jure, which he took for himself, as head of this holy custody, and in the name of his holy Order quietly and peacefully, gainsaying nothing. He walked through the cloister, entering and leaving the cells of the convento and its workshops, opening and closing the doors as a sign of possession, which I gave in His Majesty's name, as is stated, to the reverend father.

Having come out to the patio of the convento and church again, I said in a loud and clear voice that I also gave and pointed out to the reverend father president in His Majesty's name, the possession of 4 fanegas of land for wheat and 1 for corn, as well as the land required for a garden and planting the other foodstuffs, beans and squash, as they see fit.

    

On 20 May 1692, the same proceedings were recorded at Nuestra Señora de la Limpia Concepción de los Piros del Socorro.

Possession of the church and convento of the pueblo of Socorro

In the pueblo of Socorro on 20 May 1692, in pursuance of the general inspection, while I, the governor and captain general, was on the patio at the door of the church with the captain, some soldiers, and some other people, with the attendance of my secretary of government and war, the very reverend father president, fray Joaquín de Hinojosa, asked me to give him the possession of this holy church and convento. In compliance with the proceedings I provided, I led him through the door of the holy church, whose name is Nuestra Señora de la Concepción de Socorro, and having taken him in by the hand, I gave him possession, de facto and de jure, in His Majesty's name. As a sign of it, he walked up the steps of the high altar and moved the vase and cloths. As a sign of possession, he moved and returned the adornments to their places. Likewise, I led him by the hand into the sacristy, where he unfolded, looked at, and straightened up some adornments and vestments. He came out with me, the governor and captain general, through the church and examined the baptismal font. When he was on the patio, he asked me to give him possession of the convento. Taking him by the hand, in the presence of the witnesses and with the attendance of my secretary of government and war, I gave him possession, de facto and de jure, in His Majesty's name, which he took as head of this holy custody, for himself and in the name of his holy Order. He walked through the convento, entering and leaving the cells, examining the workshops, and opening and closing the doors as a sign of possession. Having come outside to the patio of the convento, in the presence of the witnesses and with the attendance of the secretary of government and war, I told them in a loud and clear voice that in His Majesty's name, I also gave to the very reverend father president possession of the land he might need and pointed out 2 1/2 fanegas for wheat for planting, 1 for corn, and what might be needed for a garden, together with the other grains and vegetables, as specified as to preference in the proceedings I provided and according to their clauses and the foregoing possessions.

The group proceeded to San Antonio de Senecú, and on 21 May 1692, Vargas granted possession of the church and convento to Hinojosa.

Possession of the convento and church of the pueblo of Senecú

In the pueblo of Senecú, in pursuance of the general inspection, I, the governor and captain general, arrived today, 21 May 1692, in the company of the very reverend father president, fray Joaquín de Hinojosa, as well as the captain, soldiers, and other people who have followed me and been present on this general inspection, with the attendance of my secretary of government and war. I carried out the inspection of this pueblo, and the president asked me to give him possession of its church, convento, and the land indicated, according to the proceedings I provided on 30 August of last year, 1691, and on 16 and 17 May of the present year, 1692. In compliance therewith, at the door of the church, I, the governor and captain general, with those in attendance took the reverend father, fray Joaquín de Hinojosa, by the hand and led him into the church, saying that in His Majesty's name, I was giving His Reverend Father possession of the church, the name of which is San Antonio de Senecú. He walked through the church and examined its high altar, moving from one side to the other the furnishings of adornment that were on it. He likewise entered the sacristy and there examined the vestments, opening and closing the boxes. Having come out into the church, he examined the baptismal font. In His Majesty's name, I gave him possession, de facto and de jure, which he took for himself and as head of this holy custody and in the name of his holy Order. Outside on the patio of the church, in the presence of the aforesaid people, with the attendance of my secretary of government and war, I pointed out to him 4 fanegas of land for wheat, 1 for corn, and what is necessary for gardening and the planting of other grains and vegetables.

After concluding the activities at Senecú, they passed on to the real of San Lorenzo the same day.

Possession of the church and convento of the real of San Lorenzo

On 21 May 1692, in pursuance of the general inspection, I, the governor and captain general, arrived at the real of San Lorenzo, a Spanish pueblo in this district of El Paso del Río del Norte of this kingdom of New Mexico at about five o'clock in the afternoon, accompanied by the reverend father president, fray Joaquín de Hinojosa, the other people named in the foregoing proceedings regarding possession, and my secretary of government and war. I carried out the inspection of the real and the native Mexicans who are gathered together there. On the patio at the church door, the very reverend father, fray Joaquín de Hinojosa, president of this holy custody and temporary ecclesiastical judge in capite, asked me for the possession of the church and convento. In the presence of the people who have followed me, the governor and captain general, and assisted in the general inspection, representing the members of this cabildo and other settlers of this real, in the presence of all, I led the reverend father president by the hand through the door of the church, saying that, in His Majesty's name, as they were all witnesses, I was giving possession of the church to the reverend father president. He accepted it de facto and de jure in the royal name, for himself and as head of this holy custody and in the name of his holy Order. As a sign, he walked through the church, looked at the high altar and the others, on which he passed their images from one side to the other, and then returned them. He entered its sacristy and there looked at and examined the furnishings and clothing used in the church and while there also examined its baptismal font. When he came outside, I, the governor and captain general, led him by the hand through the door of the convento, in the presence of the people in attendance and my secretary of government and war. He walked through, entering and closing the doors of its cells and other workshops. In His Majesty's name, I gave him possession, de facto and de jure, which he accepted for himself and as head of this holy custody in the name of his holy Order, gainsaying nothing. Having come outside to the patio, I, the governor and captain general, said in a loud and clear voice to the people in attendance and in the presence of my secretary of government and war that in His Majesty's name I was likewise giving possession to the father president of 2 fanegas of land for wheat, 1 for corn, as well as the land required for gardening and planting other grains and vegetables.

 

Analysis

To better understand the nature of the ritual act of possession recorded in Vargas's journal, it is necessary to clarify the status of the churches and conventos in question. In contrast to the churches to the north of the El Paso area, the five structures mentioned in this document had not been profaned during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. At the time possession was granted to President Hinojosa, the churches had been blessed and were being used for the administration of the sacraments. Therefore, despite some similarities with the ritual concerning the blessing or consecration of a church, as contained in the Roman Ritual and Roman Pontifical, the ceremony performed by fray Joaquín was  not, strictly speaking, a sacred rite of the Catholic church.[15]

As the highest ecclesiastical authority on the scene at the time, President Hinojosa was sanctioned by canon law to take possession of ecclesiastical goods as the rightful property of the Universal Church or the Apostolic See and sacred goods as those things dedicated by blessing or consecration to divine worship.[16] The churches were in use, and therefore in effective possession of the Franciscans, but the transfer from the secular authority to the ecclesiastical did not have the force of law derived from recording the transaction in the local church archive.

Governor Vargas, as the representative of the king of Spain, and therefore the highest secular authority in New Mexico, was required by the laws of the Castile and the Indies to grant possession of land for the erection of churches to the Franciscans.   This situation arose out of the Patronato Real, the special relationship between the Spanish crown and the Catholic Church.[17] A bull issued on 16 November 1501 by Pope Alexander VI gave ecclesiastical tithes in newly discovered America to the kings of Spain. In exchange, the sovereigns obligated themselves to introduce and finance the church in the Americas. In July 1508, Pope Julius II issued another bull that granted the crown the exclusive right of patronage in the New World. This gave control over the founding and construction of churches and conventos.

Seen in this light, it is clear that the right of possession as recorded is the embodiment of the patronato real. Vargas, serving in lieu of the king of Spain, exercised his royal prerogative and fulfilled his responsibility to Hinojosa, the representative of the church.

The ceremony itself, is an ecclesiastical variant of the act of possession of real property practiced in Spain since time out of mind.[18] The "toma de posesión" or act of possession involved walking around the property, picking up dirt or stones and tossing them, pulling up grass, and proclaiming possession in a loud and clear voice. This physical act of possession is a symbolic representation of possession as derived from Roman law, where possession was related to use of real property.[19] In English Common Law, the livery of seisin, which was a ceremony that involved the transfer of a twig, piece of grass or a key, is of like origin. Seisin belonged to someone who used the land, the person who plowed it. President Hinojosa ritually reestablished the possession that was already established in fact by "using" the sundry church furnishings.

The act of possession of churches as practiced in colonial New Mexico joins an ancient Iberian tradition with elements of civil and canon law under the aegis of a unique reciprocal relationship between the Spanish monarchy and the Holy See, the patronato real. The result provides a glimpse into the often complex nature of Franciscan ritual activity on the mission field in Spain's far-flung empire.



[1] The discussion of Franciscan activity in colonial New Mexico is drawn from the introductions to a two-volume reader. John L. Kessell and Rick Hendricks, eds., The Spanish Missions of New Mexico: A Sourcebook (New York: Garland Press, 1991-92).

[2] Father Padilla, from the Franciscan province of Andalusia, was one of five Franciscans who accompanied Coronado in 1540. He remained behind in New Mexico after the disappointed expedition returned to Mexico City. He was one of the friars martyred by the Pueblos. Fray Angelico Chavez,O.F.M., Coronado's Friars (Washington, D.C.,: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1968): 14-27.

[3] See Alonso de Benavides, Fray Alonso de Benavides' Revised Memorial of 1634, eds. Frederick W. Hodge, George P. Hammond, and Agapito Rey (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1945).

[4] Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez was born in Mexico City around 1740 and professed in the Franciscan Order at age seventeen, in 1757. In 1775 he was sent to New Mexico to carry out an ecclesiastical inspection tour. He compiled a detailed report on the status of the province. Eleanor B. Adams and Fray Angelico Chavez, eds. and trans, The Missions of New Mexico, 1776: A Description by Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez, with Other Contemporary Documents (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1975): xiv-xv.

[5] Diego de Vargas Zapata Luján Ponce de León y Contreras was born in Madrid in 1654. He served two terms as governor of the province of New Mexico, from 1691-96 and from 1703 until his death the following year. Because he lead the Spaniards in the reconquest and recolonization of New Mexico, it fell to him to supervise the reestablishment of the Franciscan missions abandoned during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. See John L. Kessell, Remote Beyond Compare: Letters from Diego de Vargas to His Family, 1676-1710 (Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press, 1989) and J. Manuel Espinosa, Crusaders of the Río Grande: The Story of don Diego de Vargas and the Reconquest and Refounding of New Mexico, 1942, reprint (Salisbury, N.C.: Documentary Publications, 1977).

[6] Tamarón was born in Villa de la Guardia in the Province of Toledo, Spain around 1695. In 1719, he traveled to Caracas where he took a doctorate in canon law from the university. He became bishop of Durango in 1758. The following year he began a visitation of his jurisdiction. The inspection tour, which lasted two years, took him on the long, overland journey to New Mexico. Eleanor B. Adams, ed., Bishop Tamarón's Visitation of New Mexico, 1760, 15 (Albuquerque: Historical Society of New Mexico Publications in History, 1954): 1, 19-21.

[7] Fray Silvestre Vélez de Escalante was around born 1750 in the Spanish province of Santander. He professed in the Franciscan Order in Mexico City at age seventeen. By 1774 he was serving in New Mexico at Laguna Pueblo. Adams and Chavez, Missions of New Mexico, xiv.

[8] Fray Francisco de Vargas came to New Mexico from the Franciscan Province of the Holy Gospel in Mexico, into which he had been incorporated in 1665. In 1680 while assigned to the mission at El Paso, a fray Francisco de Vargas was sent north with the relief party for the settlers fleeing the Pueblo revolt. In February 1682, and in June 1683, he resided in El Paso. From August to November 1683, he was at the mission of San Lorenzo. In 1685 Vargas was guardian at Guadalupe del Paso and by 1688, was elected custos, a post he filled again in 1689-91, 1693 and 1696. From February to September 1693, he was president and guardian at El Paso. From August to November, 1694, he was vice-custos at El Paso when he succeeded custos fray Rodríguez de San Antonio, and vice-custos in Santa Fe in November and December of the same year. Adams and Chavez, Missions of New Mexico, 339. Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Arizona and New Mexico:1530-1888, 1889, reprint (Albuquerque: Horn and Wallace, 1962):192, 213, 220-21. Fray Angelico Chavez, Archives of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, 1678-1900 (Washington, D.C.: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1957):14, 16. J. Manuel Espinosa, The Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1696 and the Franciscan Missions in New Mexico: Letters of the Missionaries and Related Documents (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988):53-55, 57-58. Francisco Antonio de la Rosa Figueroa, Becerro general menológico y cronológico de todos los religiosos que de las tres parcialidades conviene, a saber Padres de España, Hijos de Provincia, y Criollos, ha habido en esta Santa Provincia del Santo Evangelio desde su fundación hasta el presente año de 1764, Newberry Library, Chicago, Ayer Collection, folio 136.

            The Custody of the Conversion of St. Paul, so named in commemoration of the assistance of St. Paul on his feast day, 25 January, at the battle of Acoma (1599), was subordinate to the Franciscan Holy Gospel Province in Mexico. As a result of church-state jurisdictional conflicts from 1612 to 1616, the New Mexico mission field was raised to the status of a custody. Previously, its superior had been a commissary, but with the new status as custody, New Mexico gained a father custos, its own chapter, and definitors. Kessell, Kiva, Cross, and Crown (Washington, D.C., 1979):96, 103.

[9] Fray Joaquín de Hinojosa, born around 1661, professed in the Franciscan order in Puebla, Mexico, on 5 May 1677. In early 1687, he was at La Junta de los Ríos accompanied by fray Agustín de Colina and another Franciscan (perhaps a fray known as San Miguel); he remained there for one year and eight months. In March, 1689, he was at El Paso and, in 1690, Socorro. On the death of fray Diego de Mendoza, elected custos of the custody of New Mexico on 23 April 1691, Hinojosa became the president in capite of the custody. In 1692, he played a principal role in the controversy of religious and civil jurisdiction in El Paso. "Don Diego de Vargas sobre la competencia de jurisdicción con los religiosos," El Paso, 23 June 1692-22 Oct. 1692, Biblioteca Nacional de México 4:4. Adams and Chavez, Missions of New Mexico, 260, 264, 334.

[10] Autos about the possession of churches in the El Paso Area, Archivo General de la Nación (AGN), Historia, 37:5. See also John L. Kessell and Rick Hendricks, eds. By Force of Arms: The Journals of don Diego de Vargas, 1691-1693 (Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press, 1992).

            Giovanni de' Medici was born into one of the most powerful families in medieval Italy in 1475. He became pope Leo X in 1513 and served until his death in 1521. It was during the pontificate of Leo X that an obscure Augustinian canon in Wittenburg, Martin Luther, challenged the sale of indulgences and papal authority. As a result of his bitter dispute with Leo X, Luther broke with the Roman church, thus putting into motion the essential elements of the Protestant movement. Eric John, ed., The Popes: A Concise Biographical History (New York, 1964):329-30. For an extensive, if biased, biography of Leo X see William Roscoe, The Life and Pontificate of Leo the Tenth, revised by Thomas Roscoe, (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1846).

            Pope Leo X issued a brief "Religionis suadet" on 3 February 1515 that granted the privileges of reconciling their churches to major superiors of the Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscans. They were also permitted to bless the water, especially when they were located more than forty miles from a bishop. The nearest bishop was in Durango, in the province of New Biscay. John Theophilus Gulczynski, The Desecration and Violation of Churches: An Historical Synopsis and Commentary (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America, 1942):46.

[11] In 1691, the El Paso district comprised the mixed Spanish and Indian settlements of El Paso proper with its presidio of Nuestra Señora del Pilar y Glorioso San José, founded in 1683, and the mission of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, dating from about 1657; the real of San Lorenzo; and the pueblos of Senecú, Ysleta, and Socorro; with a total population of something more than 1,000. The El Paso mission was founded in 1657 or 1658 by Father García de San Francisco y Zúñiga, with the help of fray Francisco de Salazar. It was located near El Paso, approximately 2 kilometers from the Río del Norte. Walz, "El Paso Area," 11-17. A census of the district, undertaken from 22 December 1692 to 11 January 1693, is in AGN, Historia 37:7. Espinosa translated the Archivo General de Indias copy in "Population of the El Paso District in 1692," Mid-America: An Historical Review 23 (Jan. 1941):61-84.

[12] Roque Madrid was born in New Mexico about 1644. He was the younger brother of Lorenzo, and like him, a survivor of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. He escaped with his wife, Juana de Arvid López, and children. In 1685, he was named head of the El Paso presidio and a sargento mayor and captain. By 1688, he was a sargento mayor. He served Vargas on dozens of military campaigns, and eventually settled at Santa Cruz. From 1699 to 1707, he was alcalde mayor. He rose to the rank of maestre de campo before his death some time after 1715. Chavez, Origins, 66, 216. Naylor and Polzer, Presidio and Militia, 1:509. Barnaby Thomas, After Coronado: Spanish Exploration Northeast of New Mexico, 1696-1727 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1935):87.

[13] Paternidad, an honorary title equivalent to "provincial father, or father of the Order," was, with other titles, privileges and exemptions, abolished by Urban VIII's 1639 brief, with some limitations. The reforms, however, did not persist and the titles reappeared. Lázaro Iriarte, O.F.M., Franciscan History: The Three Orders of St. Francis of Assisi, trans., Patricia Ross (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1979):255-56.

            Fray Augustín de Colina, who had earlier been custos of Zacatecas, served in various capacities in the mission field of El Paso between 1689 and 1692. He then spent several years as a missionary to the Jumanos, submitting a report in 1693 concerning the state of the missions at La Junta de los Ríos. Between 1703 and 1707, fray Augustín tended the missions at Zia, Santa Ana, Bernalillo, Jemez, San Ildefonso and Tesuque. In 1707 he served as custos of the New Mexico missions. Chavez, Archives, 9, 22, 245. Adams and Chavez, Missions of New Mexico, 259, 329.

[14] Typical church furnishings in New Mexican missions included the following items: vestments, altar cloths, chalices (communion cups) patens, cruets, thuribles, monstrances, ciboria, bells, lamps, and sacred images. James E. Ivey, In the Midst of a Loneliness: The Architectural History of the Salina Missions, Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument Historic Structure Report 15 (Santa Fe: Southwest Cultural Recources Center Professional Papers, 1988)213-17.

[15] The rites for the dedication of a church are among the oldest in the Catholic church. Those contained in the Roman Pontifical remained largely unchanged from 1644 until 1961, when the rites were simplified and reformed. Pontificale Romanum: Ritus Solemnis pro Dedicatione Ecclesiae et Consecratione sive unius sive plurium altarium tam fixorum quam portatilium (Cincinnati: Sumptibus, Chartis et Typis Friderici Pustet, 1890); Rituale Romanum (Madrid: Typografia Regia, 1776).

[16] The laws pertaining to temporal goods of the church are contained in canons 1491-1497. Stanislaus Woywod, A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, rev. by Callistus Smith (New York: Joseph F. Wagner, 1957):189-202.

[17] Clarence H. Haring, The Spanish Empire in America (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1952):166-67. Victor Westphall, Mercedes Reales: Hispanic Land Grants of the Upper Rio Grande Region (Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press, 1983):13-16.

[18] Formal acts of possession also took place when land for the site of a church was given to the religious by secular authorities. On 14 September 1692, Governor Vargas gave possession of the site of the destroyed church at Santa Fe to fray Francisco Corvera, who performed the rite of exorcism and absolution of apostasy. On this occasion the grant of royal possession was made "velquasi." On 13 November 1694, Governor Vargas granted possession to fray José Diez of a chapel at Tesuque Pueblo where the ceremony was akin to the one performed at the El Paso churches. J. Manuel Espinosa, The Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1696 and the Franciscan Missions in New Mexico: Letters of the Missionaries and Related Documents (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988):65, 107.

[19] W.W. Buckland, The Main Institutions of Roman Private Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1931):104-112, 145-152.