Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Inquisition in New Mexico

This ruined church, Nuestra Señora de La Purisima Concepción de Cuarac, stands at the edge of the Southern Plains, southeast of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is one of three large mission churches built in the early 1600s by forced labor from the Indians who lived at the adjacent villages. The interior is about 100 feet long.

It is now part of Salinas Pueblos National Monument.

Constructed by the Franciscan order, it was also the location of the Inquisition in New Mexico, which could bring charges of heresy, witchcraft, etc., against the few thousand Spanish colonists in the province.

The remote Spanish colony of New Mexico suffered from two command structures: one religious and one secular-military, with frequent "turf wars" between them -- all very medieval.

You can imagine the conflicts:

Don Somebody y Somebody de Someplace, encomendero: "I need los indios to to work for me, to herd my livestock and build my new house."

Fray Somebody, Franciscan priest: "Oh, no, señor, they must work building the new rooms on the church. Such labor helps in the conversion of their heathen souls."

(Los indios, in Tiwa: "Do we ever get to hoe our own corn fields?")

Fray Somebody, playing his trump card: "And we have reports that you have permitted los indios to perform their devilish kachina dances. Could it be that you are sliding into heresy? We have prepared these documents for the holy Inquisition. . . ."

Meanwhile, the Apaches and Comanches of the Plains, having mastered the horse-riding lifestyle, started playing the game of "Let's attack the settled agriculturalists, kill them, and take their stuff."

The Spanish were spread too thin to fight them off, and arming the Pueblo Indians went against their plan of keeping the Indians subservient and helpless.

Between raids and drought, things got so bad at the three Salinas pueblos that the Franciscans pulled the plug. In 1677, the priest at the church in the picture, Fray Diego de Parraga, locked the doors and rode off in a cart with all the altar goods and the church bell, accompanied by the remaining residents of the pueblo of Quarai (Cuarac). They went to Isleta, where the people spoke the same language.

And then three years later came a significant event in American Pagan history: the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, when all the missionized Indians of New Mexico and northern Arizona revolted simultaneously.

The revolt's cultural effects linger to this day, as David Roberts explains in The Pueblo Revolt : The Secret Rebellion That Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest.

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Anonymous vs-f said...

Had Easter dinner last night with my Russian Orthodox friends, and, because this was your typically diverse Berkeley, California crowd, I ended up sitting next to a woman who is an Orthodox Jew. We started talking about Sephardic Jews, the Ladino language, and Sephardic liturgical music, which is quite different from what is heard in the Ashkenazi tradition. Anyway, we got onto the subject of Conversos, i.e. the secret Jews who nominally converted to Catholicism, but kept their Jewish religious practices secret for fear of the Inquisition. She said they've discovered some old old Spanish families in New Mexico have ``odd'' practices, like lighting candles on Friday nights, that are beginning to be deconstructed as remnants of Converso practices.

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...

Ah, the "crypto-Jews." That idea has been floating around for a while. The trouble is that the people who embrace it seize on every bit of evidence: every six-pointed star design is a sign of secret Jews!

The Inquisition in Spain and Portugal did actively seek out Jews whose conversion to Christianity was less than enthusiastic.

Some of those "conversos" may have ended up in New Mexico -- but the trail gets pretty thin, especially when you consider the relatively small number of Spanish colonists in the 17th century, the fact that they were all chased away in the 1680 revolt, and the rather small number that came north again in the "Reconquest."

8:39 PM  

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