Padre Antonio José Martinez
Padre Martinez was born in Abiquiu January 17, 1793. His father was Don Severino Martínez and his mother was Marie del Carmel Santistévan of La Plaza deSanta Rosa de Abiquiu. In 1804, the 11 year-old Antonio José and his family moved to Rancho de Taos. The Martinez Hacienda today is a historic home open to the public.
After the death of his wife, Antonio José traveled to Durango and enrolled in the Tridentine Seminary. After 6 years he was ordained a priest and returned to New Mexico. After a few years in other parishes, he became the parish priest of Taos and from then on was known as Padre Martínez. One of those parishes he served prior to Taos was in Abiquiu from May to September 1826.
Padre Martínez’s life spanned the turbulent years of the 19th century where he would be governed by Spain, Mexico and America. As an educator and publisher, Padre Martínez established the first co-educational primary school in Taos in 1826. In 1835 Padre Martinez obtained the first printing press in New Mexico and printed grammar, mathematics, and law books for his schools. Martinez also had a political career during the establishment of New Mexico as a territory under the government of the United States.
There was a major change in the leadership of the Catholic Church that came about with the American conquest. The newly established Archdiocese of Santa Fe and its Bishop, Jean-Baptiste Lamy, created a cultural conflict with the practices of the local priests. These differences led to the excommunication of Padre Martinez in 1858. However, he chose to ignore the fact that he had been excommunicated and continued to serve in his Taos church, even after the Archbishop sent another priest to Taos.
Padre Martinez is not treated kindly by author Willa Cather in her book, Death Comes to the Archbishop, published in 1927. As an outsider she did not understand many of the cultural practices and her interpretation of this priest was influenced by the French Bishop, Lamy. However, later research has shown that Padre Martinez, indeed, was a valued founding father of New Mexico.
Upon his death on July 27, 1867, the New Mexico Territorial Legislative Council issued a proclamation recognizing Padre Martinez as “The Honor of his Homeland.” A life-size bronze statue of Padre Martinez erected in the Taos Plaza was dedicated in 2006.