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                                Santa Rosa de Lima and Santo Tomás de Apostle:

                                                    A Chronological Essay

                                              Santa Rosa de Lima Chapel

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 removed all Spanish from New Spain. Spanish families began to return in 1693. The first half of the 18th century over 30 land grants were issued to Spanish families in Rio Arriba County as families came to reclaim and resettle the region.i The settlers in Santa Rosa de Lima de Abiquiu were frequent victims of raids by nomadic Indians. They would retreat into the safety of Santa Cruz de la Cañada. They were told by the Spanish government that they must return to their lands and if not, their land grants would be given to others. They were told to construct fortified settlements and refrain from building the isolated dwellings that were harder to defend. The settlers in Santa Rosa de Lima refused to follow these building orders and continued to build their separate homes…and continued to be harassed by the nomadic Indians. Miguel Martín Serrano, resident of nearby San Miguel and his son-in-law, Francisco Quintana, had built a chapel for Santa Rosa de Lima de Abiquiu. Originally, the chapel was located at San Miguel de la Puente, but later relocated about a mile upstream on the south bank of the River Chama where its ruins remain today. ii

Only a few records of the Abiquiu settlements between the 1730s and the late 1740s have survived. The first license for the Chapel at Santa Rosa was apparently issued by the Bishop of Durango and Visito General Don Martin de Elisacochea in 1737.iii The chapel’s patron saint was listed as Santa Rosa de Lima. Records show that the chapel was still unfinished in 1746. Although the chapel later became an auxiliary chapel of the church established in the plaza of Abiquiu in1754 for the resident Genízaros, it was relicensed as a chapel during the visit of Bishop Pedro Tamaron y Romeral of Durango in 1760.iv The 1826 account by Vicar General Fernandez San Vicente is the last surviving document that describes Santa Rosa. The site was deeded to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe on August 30, 1975, on the Feast of Santa Rosa de Lima.v In 2010 the small chapel adjacent to the sacristy in the present day Santo Tomás de Apostle Church in Abiquiu was dedicated and renamed La Capilla de Santa Rosa de Lima.


                                     Santo Tomás de Apostle Catholic Church

The Spanish settlements continued to experience periods of abandonment and resettlement due to the Indian raids. In an effort to establish a more permanent frontier outpost that the government could control and could employ a military presence led to Governor Tomás Velez Cachupin to establish the land grant of May 1754 for the genízaro families living on the mesa about a mile and half from the Spanish settlement of Santa Rosas de Lima. The land grant documents were based on the requirements defined in the Recopilación de Leyes, more commonly known as the Laws of the Indies. These compilations of Spanish colonial law were published to the Spanish colonies after the revolt of 1680. These laws identified the Abiquiu Genízaro Land Grant as a reduccióni. Non-Indians could not live at a reducción, and only those Indians specifically assigned to the mission were allowed to be residents.ii


The Recopilación stated that: The site on which towns were to be established should have ample water, land, forest, easy accesses and tillable soil, and be at least on leaque long, where the Indians can have their herds without mixing with those of the Spanish.iii The same land grant documents stated that a “doctrinal teacher” would be provided to the community as well as specifying the construction of a mission church. Fray Félix Joseph Ordoñez y Machado became the first priest for Santo Tomás de Apostle Catholic Church in Abiquiu. Santo Tomás was the patron saint of Governor Tomás Velez Cachupin.


Indoctrination at the mission of Abiquiú was noted in Father Dominguez description in 1776 of the administrative routine of the mission Father:


Every day, morning and evening, the unmarried people go to catechism, which they recite with the Father and there is always an explanation at some point in their recitation. On feast day, the same recitation before or after Mass, during which there is usually a doctrinal sermon to settlers and Indians. Saturday and feasts of Our Lady, Rosary with the Father, and later, after dark, discipline attended by those who come voluntarily, because the Father merely proposed it to them, and following his good example, there is a crowd of Indians and citizens.iv

By the early 1800s, Indian raids were less of a threat to Abiquiu Genizaros than were land sales by individual Indians to Hispanics elites. The decline in farming at Abiquiu and the 1812 laws allowing privatization of unused pueblo lands created a situation that was ripe for exploitation by Hispanic citizens… including the priest at Abiquiu. Fray Teodoro Alcina was one of the worst offenders in the practice of wresting land from the Abiquiu Genizaros. He would refuse church rites to those who could not pay and would take land as payment, even though he had been given land from which he was to use the profits for the church. Abiqueños organized against this unscrupulous priest and many others over the years who tried to carve pieces out of their rightful land grant. There were many claims from neighboring land grant owners who were encroaching on the Abiquiu Land Grant as well as from Spanish families who had to relinguish parts of their land when the Abiquiu Land Grant was established. All claims were finally settled by the Land Claims Court and a patent was finally issued to the Abiquiu Board of Grant Commissioners on 11 November 1909. The patent included all the land cited in the original land grant except for a small piece of land contested by the change in the flow of the Chama River.v


Fray Juan José Toledo, who was minister here between 1756 and 1771, built a convent and put up the walls for a church. In 1772, the area was ministered to from the Pueblo of Santa Clara, and the following year Fray Sebastian Angel Fernandez moved into the convent and finished the church by 1773. The church of Santo Tomás de Abiquiú burned down in October of 1867. After the fire, the people of Abiquiú rebuilt the church but by 1930s it was decided that a new church was needed. vi

The present church was begun in 1935. The prominent Santa Fe architect, John Gaw Meem was contracted to design the church. John Gaw Meem IV (1894 - 1983) was an American architect based in Santa FeNew Mexico. He is best known for his instrumental role in the development and popularization of the Pueblo Revival Style and as a proponent of architectural Regionalism in the face of international modernism. Meem is regarded as one of the most important and influential architects to have worked in New Mexico. (Wikipedia)


The church was a community effort. If families could not afford to donate money for the purchase of materials they were expected to donate their time in the building effort. Many hands went to work making adobe bricks. The large timbers for the massive vigas floated down the Chama River from Burns Canyon and were then dragged up to the village by teams of horses or mules. Children were always underfoot since their family members were the builders. The local saloon owner “hired” the youngsters to peel the many latillas used in the church ceiling. If they showed up with the proper tool, sometimes it would be a kitchen knife with one end wrapped in a rag, they would be put to work peeling the thin aspen poles. For their day’s labor the saloon keeper would give each 25 pennies, which would soon end back up in the saloon coffers as the children would spend their wages on candies and treats sold in the saloon.

Building progressed smoothly until it was noticed that the architect had positioned the door to the church facing east, which was the custom for most churches. The Abiquiu church had always faced the south and the people of Abiquiu insisted that they retain this orientation. Architect Meem and the Archdiocese officials insisted that the church face the easterly direction. Work stopped as a deadlock was reached between the big city designers and local builders. It was resolved in a most unique manner. It is recorded as either a drunken school bus driver, a local Model-T driver or a concerted effort by a group of locals with their teams of oxen, mules, and plows that tore into the unfinished foundation of the new church. The result was that the repair and further building of the church had its front doors oriented towards the south, looking towards the ancient mesa of the Moqui and further on into their well guarded land grant. John Gaw Meem washed his hands of the project and did not attend the dedication ceremonies when the church was finished. However, amongst the many building attributed to his design, mission churches, Santa Fe Hotels, U&M buildings, and private residences, there is listed the “Saint Thomas Church, Abiquiu - 1935”.



Conclusion: If only the priests who served in Abiquiu had kept journals of their time from 1754 to present day- what a treasure trove of history that would be. The motivation for the establishment of Santa Rosa de Lima Chapel and Santo Tomás Church were very different. The chapel started out as a private chapel for a group of Spanish settlers who would not or could not follow the dictates of the Spanish government in settling and maintaining their land grants. The Genízaro church was established as a way of controlling a group of people who could in turn provide a fortified village under Spanish civil and military control. Over time, when the threats of Indian raids abated the two entities meshed into one. Most of Abiquiu’s history revolve around the church. One thing that comes across loud and clear when discussing the history of Santa Tomás de Apostle in Abiquiu is that it was the tenacity, perseverance and fortitude of the people that have kept it thriving. Perhaps it was the strict regiment of catechism during the reducción period and the establishment of their own church that lay the groundwork for the Genízaro spirit that was able to combat land-grabbing priests, defy big city architects and fight against encroachments on their land grant. There is a devotion and pride of place that flows through the veins of the people of Santa Tomás de Apostle de Abiquiu Catholic Church.


Analinda Dunning 2018


Palace of Governors Negative 022844

Photo by Analinda Dunning

Photo by Analinda Dunning

Photo by Analinda Dunning

This appears to be the church built after the fire of 1867. It is the same church in the following photo dated 1885 with the addition of a pitched roof. Grant Family Photo

Palace of Governors Photo Negative 08554 ( Note Bodes store in the background)

Palace of Governors Photo Negative 08668 (Note Construction of Convent/current Parish Office to the right.

i Rio Arriba, A New Mexico County, compiled by Robert J. Torrez and Robert Trapp, 2010

ii Abiquiú and Don Cacahuate: a Folk history of a New Mexican Village, Gilberto Benito Córdova, 1973

iii Abiquiú: A History of Santa Rosa de Lima de Abiquiú, Charles M. Carrillo

iv Ibid

v Four Hundred Years of Faith, Seeds of Struggle – Harvest of Faith, A History of the Catholic Church in New Mexico, Archdiocese of Santa Fe, 1998

i Reducción, in Spanish Colonial America, an Indian community set up under ecclesiastical or royal authority to facilitate colonization. Native peoples, many of whom had lived in small villages or hamlets before contact with Europeans, were forcibly relocated to these new settlements. At reducciones, missionaries and other colonial administrators attempted to convert Indians to Christianity and to teach them better farming methods and simple crafts. The Indians lived under a strict regimen and were required to contribute their labor to various agricultural and construction enterprises. (Encyclopedia Brittanica)

ii Pedagogy of Missionization: Reducción and Hispanicization of Santo Thomas Apostle de Abiquiu, Gilberto Benito Córdova, 1978

iii Ibid

iv Ibid

v Rio Arriba, A New Mexico County, compiled by Robert J. Torrez and Robert Trapp, 2010

vi Four Hundred Years of Faith, Seeds of Struggle – Harvest of Faith, A History of the Catholic Church in New Mexico, Archdiocese of Santa Fe, 1998

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