The Church in Frontier New Mexico
From the time of initial Spanish conquest in New Mexico, the Franciscan order was committed to converting the numerous natives residing in the region. However, in their zeal to convert and control the Indians, Franciscan missionaries went too far in trying to also control civil government. This, among other reasons, encouraged the Pueblo Indians to revolt in 1680. With the exiled Spanish went the Church and eighty years of work.
In 1693 the Spanish returned under the leadership of Diego de Vargas. The Franciscans who went back to work setting up missions and reconverting the natives. It was this deep moral commitment on the part of the Church that helped Spain decide that she must retake New Mexico.
The first and most important step taken by the Church on its return was the decree that priests should not interfere in any way with the political situation. Further, they were ordered to remain away from Santa Fe and were enjoined not to communicate with any government officials without permission from the Bishop of Durango. In addition, the friars were told not to write to one another without approval. 
As a result, the missions developed into single small communities devoid of Spaniards, except for the friars, and perhaps some of their helpers. Each mission was accountable to the Custos of New Mexico, a Franciscan superior. New Mexico was under the jurisdiction claimed by the Bishop of Durango. Hence ecclesiastical control was exercised from that city. The missionaries reported on the condition of their missions and recorded deaths, births, and marriages. As the tour of Bishop Crespo proved, there were occasional visits of high church officials who examined the missions and tried to suggest improvements for those lacking essentials such as friars. The missions and their records provide revealing examples of vital statistics about the natives.
These records cover long periods of time and are indicators of the development of the missions in New Mexico. For example, at Pecos and Nambe lists of Indian marriages, baptisms, and burials covering a period from 1706-1728 are found.  In Tesuque from 1694-1728 a number of burials were recorded, including nineteen persons buried between December 21st and 30th, 1706. This clearly indicates that an epidemic or some sort of battle took place. 
Devastating smallpox epidemics and other diseases brought to the pueblos by the Europeans caused much concern among the mission friars. In Jemez a series of epidemics resulted in the burials of a large number of natives in 1728 and again in 1733. More than 100 Indians died from the 1728 epidemic. Fray Camargo recorded these many deaths.  In Zuñi, according to Camargo, some 200 natives died of smallpox but were not recorded by the mission priest because the Indians insisted that their dead be buried secretly with native rites.  In 1729 "many died" at Acoma from an epidemic lasting two years. At Isleta, in that year, two men were killed by Apaches.  A smallpox epidemic at Bernalillo killed a number of natives between April and August in 1733.  In 1719 more than forty Indians were buried at Nambe by Fray Camargo between January 1 and January 13.  In 1738 Pecos was struck by smallpox and again in 1748 another epidemic wiped out an undetermined number of natives. In that same year, 1748, thirteen men were killed by Comanches. 
The number of natives who died from smallpox and other contagious diseases is greater than those killed by raiding Apaches, Utes, or Comanches.  Although the friars looked upon the natives deaths with despair, they also realized that nothing could be done about it. They felt that it was God's will that the natives should die in this fashion. On the other hand, the killing of Indians by hostile raiders caused the Fathers to demand protection from the government.
The friars objected to having Spaniards among the Pueblo Indians, which made it hard to keep garrisons in the missions. In the end, the friars realized that their best protection was a local Indian militia operated from the missions and that could be used as supplementary troops to the Spanish garrisons at Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Santa Cruz.
In addition to recording deaths, the friars in each pueblo also kept careful records of marriages. The Franciscans decided that in order to christianize their wards, marriage had to be considered a sacred rite that bound a couple together for life. This was in many cases distasteful to the Indians who were used to rather informal unions in which the husband could take another wife if he so desired. To discourage polygamy, all marriages were recorded. In Nambe all but one marriage were between Indians, while Pecos recorded nothing but Indian marriages. 
Likewise, Jemez held only Indian marriages until 1769, when some Spanish marriages were recorded. These were, in fact, from the nearby settlements of Vallecito and Nacimiento.  At Laguna, all marriages were native until 1756 when a Spanish marriage was noted in June. Between 1761 and 1764 nine more marriages from alcalde mayor Baca's family were noted.  In addition to Pueblo Indians, other tribes were also baptised. In 1708 seventeen adult Apaches, reportedly owned by Antonio Valverde were baptized at Albuquerque. Early entries also show some Tiguas and a few Apache as having also been baptized in that city. 
Generally all baptisms were Indian. When, on October 15, 1744, Fray Irigoyen of Jemez baptized seventeen men and women, he named all the women Barbara and all the men Cristoval.  In the case of baptisms at Zia, most were multiple and all were Indian. In 1770 seventy-five were baptized; in 1773 more than 100 Indians received this sacrament at Zuñi.  The Santa Fe baptismal records included a separate book for Indians. Even "hostiles" were recorded since in 1759 eleven Apache children were baptized at Santa Fe. 
Most of the pueblos were located in areas near Santa Fe, Santa Cruz, and Albuquerque. In these localities a rare Spaniard was included in the baptismal lists.  However, Galisteo showed that marriages were much more rare than baptisms at that pueblo.  Fray Angelico Chavez, compiler of the documents at Santa Fe's archdiocese, states that at Cochiti Spanish baptisms were classified by Fathers Junco and Marulanda as "mulattos". As Chavez notes, presence of Negro blood among the Spanish was not proved. 
The outlying pueblos of New Mexico had baptismal records of Indian entries almost exclusively. More instances of the baptism of hostile natives occur at these missions than nearer the centers of population along the rivers. At Isleta in 1742 and 1743 a hundred Moqui children and adults, moved to this location by the Spanish, were baptized by Fray Carlos Delgado.  Fray Andres Garcia also baptized several Moqui in 1743 at Laguna.  At Acoma all the baptisms were multiple and included numerous hostiles among them. Over a period of fifty years only four Spanish baptisms were recorded at Acoma.  Other outlying pueblos such as Pecos recorded occasional baptisms of Apache and other tribes.  In Taos baptismal entries for Indians were found exclusively. Three names had Spanish surnames, but since they were not listed as espanoles they were probably mulattoes.  When Taos began to grow, after 1776, a great increase in Spanish surnames was recorded. In addition, many plains Indians were baptized after that date because of the increase in trade through Taos. Also, the establishment of an annual fair helped bring in more plains natives. 
Baptisms were of great importance to each mission priest because every Indian who sought Christianity gave credit not only to his mission, but to the Bishop of Durango, the Archbishop of Mexico, and the Catholic Church. The natives gained some benefits other than purely spiritual in that they who were baptized were looked upon with favor by both the Church and the government.
While the purpose of the missions was to help christianize and civilize the natives of New Mexico, the Catholic Church also felt that these installations should pay for themselves. Since in other parts of New Spain the missions and churches did so, the work in New Mexico should be no different. The missions could pay their own way in several manners. In wealthy areas, such as those near Mexico City and around the mining cities of New Spain, the Church could count on donations, gifts from estates, tithes, fees for weddings, baptisms, and burials, plus a number of sources that would keep the Church on a paying basis. In New Mexico the poverty of the land itself made it difficult for the missions and churches of the province to depend on gifts and donations. In a few cases, estates were willed to the bishopric of Durango and these gifts were used to defray the cost of the missions. But in most situations, fees for services rendered were the mainstay of the missions.
The missions were by no means rich, as inventories showed. The August 7, 1753 inventory at Laguna listed as having on hand: ten fanegas  of wheat, ten fanegas of corn, half a fanega of beans, half a barrel of salt, six strings of chili, a small quantity of butter, and ten bedsthat is, room for ten men. The list was signed by Fray Juan Padilla.  Such an inventory makes it clear that the missionaries lived on a modest basis. The Cochciti inventory of July 31, 1753 shows exactly the same inventory as that of Laguna, indicating that these two missions were of the same size and probably were supplied from a central commissary. 
Rarely would a mission come out ahead financially. In the case of the mission/church complex at Santa Cruz, a deficit resulted. Even in predominantly non-Indian churches such as that at Santa Cruz an expense ledger of 1763 shows that the year's expenses totalled 1,874 pesos while the church's income was only 1,783 pesos leaving a deficit of ninety pesos. Not bad considering the difficulty in raising funds. On the other hand, Santa Cruz's church was fortunate because it served a Spanish population and was able to collect nearly enough money to break even. The Indian missions had no hope of doing so, and consequently continually drained the treasury of the Bishop of Durango in order to make up deficits that the royal subsidy failed to meet. 
The missions and churches could raise revenue by charging fees for burials, marriages, and sometimes baptisms. The Santa Cruz church, which was not a mission, had a set scale of burial fees that ranged from nineteen pesos for burial in the center of the church to two pesos for interment away from the nave. 
The New Mexican missions were successful in some areas of endeavor. One of the most worthwhile works of the missionaries of the province was the settlement of the natives. The Pueblo Indians, sedentary by nature, were encouraged by the government, the Church, and various leaders of the Indians. Most pueblos were at least run on a self-sustaining basis. However, this did not always apply to the missions themselves. A serious lack of supplies existed among the missions. Imports were necessary and, because of a constant shortage of food, the missions never were self-supporting. An attempt to raise cattle and sheep, for the wool and hides, in order to bring a balance of trade to the missions, was not successful until near the end of the eighteenth century, when the whole of the New Mexican economy saw an upswing. The missionaries of the province made great sacrifices in order to Christianize the natives. Living conditions were extremely poor. The friars rarely lived better than their wards. The missions of New Mexico never were like those of California, which were not only self-supporting, but also brought considerable income to the Church. 
New Mexico's missions were also failures regarding native education. Little real effort was made at teaching the Indians how to read and write Spanish. In most cases, the mission priests contented themselves with teaching the necessary catechism in Spanish without worrying about comprehension.  Probably most pueblo natives who knew Spanish were able to recite rote verses and little else. They never learned fully to communicate in Spanish and they certainly did not learn to write. House servants in Santa Fe or Santa Cruz probably knew more and better Spanish through continual contact with the Europeans than did most of their fellows.
The Church realized that the education of the pueblo natives was a major problem. During his visitation of 1760, Bishop Pedro Tamaron y Romeral saw the weaknesses of the educational system and urged that the friars teach the natives Spanish so that they could at least confess annually or, failing that, produce an Interrogatorio in native languages for this purpose. 
The friars really could not be blamed for the lack of education among the natives. Far too few priests were available for masses of natives. In 1730 Bishop Crespo noted that there were not enough priests to serve the missions, while in 1760 Bishop Taamaron made the same observation. Considering the number of friars in the field and the huge numbers of Indians wanting conversion, the missions did a crediable job. 
In another way the missions were successful. As has been seen, the Revolt of 1680 was due partly to the missions and the friction they caused between the Church and the Spanish government. After Vargas' return, the Church was determined not to deal with secular issues without specific permission.  Another problem that the 1680 rebellion pointed out was the constant bickering among mission priests. Again, the Church was determined to stop this and forbade communication between missionaries and secular individuals, and between the missionaries themselves. Only when permission was granted could they write to one another. It was hoped that there would be less fighting for the local Indians to observe. There would also be far less quarreling over the missions themselves. Possibly these orders stopped what could have been excellent cooperation among the missionaries that could have resulted in a better system for New Mexico. But considering previous experience, the Church was wise to forbid communication and to demand that the civil government be left alone. 
In addition to the friars, New Mexico also had several parish priests. The principal centers of Spanish population, Santa Fe, Santa Cruz, Albuquerque and El Paso del Norte each had their own churches, but not necessarily their own pastors. Santa Fe was given a pastor in the 1740s while El Paso got one later.  Santa Cruz and Albuquerque had friars who worked as pastors among the Spanish population and then did missionary work with the natives. 
The Catholic Church developed a system of checks to keep its worshipers tied closely to it. One of the primary instruments was the Santo Oficio [Holy Office], commonly known as the Inquisition. The Inquisition was a product of late medieval Spain. When the first Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, took the throne in 1474, Spain was beset by Moors and, in the opinion of the Crown, Jews. In order to root out these alien religions, the Inquisition was established to determine exactly who was faithful and who was not. The Protestant revolt helped strengthen the Inquisition in that the crown took steps to prevent the seepage of Protestantism into Spain. Within a hundred years of its establishment, the Inquisition became a feared and hated institution within the greater Spanish bureaucracy. 
The natives of America were exempted from the Inquisition and despite the protests of the Church that native practices continued, the Inquisition was unable to prevent native religious activities. 
The Inquisition in eighteenth-century New Mexico, as in the rest of the Spanish Empire, was primarily a force to keep worshipers in line. Instead of the earlier ruthlessness of the Inquisition, the Holy Office was a system of ecclesiastical courts that kept track of misdeeds and, much in the same fashion as a modern day grand jury, turned over the results of its investigations to civil authorities to determine if criminal action had occurred. If there was cause for a trial, officials of the Inquisition might be brought in to testify against the accused. The worst the Catholic Church could do, in New Mexico at least, was to excommunicate the offender. 
Not only did the Inquisition of the eighteenth century deal with offenders of Church policy, but apparently it also approved or disapproved appointments of clergy. It further dealt with matters of clerical indiscretion by removing and punishing priests for unbecoming activities.  In 1740, for instance, the Holy Office appointed Lorenzo Saavedra as the comisario for New Mexico's missions and also for Santa Fe. He had charge of seeing that the Church's interests were upheld in the province.  Another function of the Inquisition was naming notaries for the province. The notary was of utmost importance to the Church, for he kept the records, made legal notations of violations and also served as notary public. His was an important position and the Church passed on the appointments of such worthy men. Very often these appointees were laymen, citizens of the province, who could be trusted. 
Inquisition records show that very few cases were prosecuted in New Mexico during the eighteenth century. The population of the province was small and probably produced little activity to interest the Inquisition. Most of the denunciations for New Mexico are dated at El Paso del Norte. It was from here that the Inquisition worked. There is no indication as to why El Paso was the center for the Inquisition in the area, but probably cases from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and northern New Spain were sent here from whence they went to the tribunal at Mexico City. There are also indications that a visiting Inquisitor worked from El Paso and semiannually went into New Mexico to hear cases in order to determine if they were worth sending on to Mexico City.
The New Mexican Inquisition had two types of cases that predominated. The first, and possibly most serious, was witchcraft and non-belief. The second (and more common) were cases that dealt with marriage and the violation of the holy vows. 
Generally a person was not investigated unless he had been denounced by another citizen. With a denunciation (to a priest), the Inquisition would then take steps. Testimony was taken by either a local priest or by a notario. Often proceedings would last several years while the Inquisitors tried to determine the guilt of the accused. The case, having been brought in New Mexico, would be sent on to El Paso where the tribunal sat. Here the merits of the case were decided. If there were serious violations, the case would go on to Mexico City.
Often the results of an investigation ended with nothing having been found and the whole matter was simply dropped. In the case of Joseph Antonio Dias, alias "el Cuchillo" [the Knife], the defendant was accused of being married twice. He was a Spaniard, and since he was not a widower, the charges seemed valid. Testimony began on February 6, 1734 at Socorro, and was completed two and a half years later on October 14, 1736 at El Paso del Norte. The results were so confusing that no sentence was handed down and no criminal charges could be filed. 
Other Inquisition matters included investigations of "superstitions," another term for witchcraft. While witchcraft was common among natives, and was prosecuted by civil authorities, Indians were not subject to the Inquisition. However, Spaniards were and when one of them was accused of such a crime, it was serious. No Spaniard was actually accused of witchcraft but "superstition" was the same thing in the eyes of the Church. Superstition further implied that the person involved did not believe in the Catholic faith.
Women tended to be more vulnerable to such charges. Michaela de Contreras was accused by Isidro Sanchez and Juana Rosa Contreras of superstitions and trickery. She was denounced to Fray Andres Vaso, who took the matter up with the Inquisition at El Paso del Norte. Señora Contreras was found guilty perpetrating "frauds and trickery" as a midwife and was excommunicated. There was no record of criminal charges against the woman. The fact that Juana Rosa Contreras was Michaela's sister indicates that a family feud was the real cause for denunciation.  In the same year, Beatriz de Cabrera was accused of "superstitions," but after extensive testimony she was found not guilty and no further charges were pressed. 
The Inquisition went to great lengths to gather testimony both in favor and against the accused, and after weighing the evidence, handed down sentences. Most cases were fairly handled and those accused got what they deserved.
The Inquisition handled all cases that dealt with the Catholic faith. One of the hardest was the matter of belief. Although many Indians professed to believe, their faith was open to question. Anyone questioning faith could count on trouble.
A major case occurred when Francisco Arias, a Spaniard, was denounced by Fray Pedro Montaño for not being a believer in the holy faith. A series of witnesses was produced and testimony was taken, Arias was found to be shakey in his faith but the trial produced so much confusion and conflicting testimony that the defendant was found not guilty. It was Fray Montaño's word against Arias'. Probably the whole matter was caused by a personal feud between the two men, and Montaño saw his denunciation as a way to get even with Arias. 
The case is of interest, not because of the philosophical question of faith but because the Inquisition was unable to decide. Two hundred years earlier, Arias would not have had a chance; he would have been automatically condemned and probably put to death. Clearly the powers of the Inquisition were been greatly moderated and the Holy Office was now little more than a board that governed morals and protected the faith. No longer was it a dreaded office for purification of the church. Those powers had long ago been lost. All the Inquisition could do in the eighteenth century was to excommunicate non-believers in the hope that such actions would discourage others from temptation. 
The Inquisition had other duties than handling cases dealing with civilians. Fray Pedro Diaz de Aguilar of an unnamed mission in New Mexico was charged with inciting the Indians of his mission to rebellion. He was removed and the Indians were given a severe warning about attempting a revolt against Spanish authority. The case was investigated by the Inquisition and it was handled without the aid of civil authorities. 
The Inquisition in the eighteenth century was not a feared institution but rather it performed much of the investigative work for the government. In this way it helped to keep the Church pure and it was certainly of importance within the societal structure of New Mexico. 
The primary features of the Catholic Church in eighteenth-century New Mexico were the missions and the Inquisition. Neither institution was powerful and each had its own functions to fulfill.
The missions did their job, but they fought an uphill battle of too few priests, too little money, and far from cooperative Indians. New Mexican missions cost the Franciscans a good deal and, other than large numbers of baptized Indians, returned very little. The initial conquest of 1598 was said to have provided some 50,000 Indians ready for baptism. However, after an early surge of Christianization the number of natives baptized greatly decreased. During the eighteenth century, records indicate that possibly 4,000 to 5,000 natives were baptized over a hundred year period. 
This is why the mission friars were so anxious to baptize as many natives as possible; baptismal statistics provided the only method of proving that the missions justified their continuance. The New Mexican missions did nothing for native education and were of precious little value to the whole of society. Perhaps the real value of the New Mexican missions lies in keeping the natives submissive and in doing so providing the Spanish with security.
The overall picture of the missions in New Mexico, however, was bleak. Much of the same can be said for the Inquisition in New Mexico. It did indeed function and cases were brought before it, but the powers that it once had were long diminished. It could do little more than warn the faithful that should they misbehave they would be punished, perhaps lightly in this world, but certainly harshly in the other.
41 See: Hubert Herring, A History of Latin America, (New York, 1968), pp. 169-171. Also see: C. S. Braden, Religious Aspects of the Conquest of Mexico, (Durham, N.C., 1930), pp. 23-24. Other general histories of the conquest that bear examining are C. H. Haring, The Spanish Empire in America, (New York, 1947) and Bailey W. Diffie, Latin American Civilization, (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1945). The Inquisition in New Spain is best described by Richard E. Greenleaf, The Mexican Inquisition of the Sixteenth Century, (Albuquerque, 1969). Also see: Richard Greenleaf, "The Inquisition and the Indians of New Spain," The Americas: A Quarterly Review of Inter-American Cultural History, XXII (1965), 138-166; and "Mexican Inquisition Materials in Spanish Archives," The Americas: A Quarterly Review of Inter-American Cultural History, XX (1964), 416-420. Other Inquisition materials may be found in Henry C. Lea, A History of the Inquisition of Spain, 4 vols. (New York, 1908) and Irving A. Leonard, Baroque Times in Old Mexico, (Ann Arbor, 1959).
42 Inquisition records from the Archivo General de las Indias indicate that the Santo Oficio in New Mexico was not a potent force. Sentences handed down were light in that the most severe on record was excommunication. See: Inquisition, 902 and 912, 1740, in: Archivo General de las Indias, hereinafter cited AGI.
43 Records of the Inquisition in New Mexico indicate that appointments were approved or disapproved by the tribunal at Mexico City and then the results were forwarded to the appointee. See also: Kessell, op cit., for a discussion of the Santo Oficio at Pecos pueblo.
53 Case against Miguel de Quintana for questioning the faith, May 22, 1732 at Santa Cruz; 849 Case against Maria Dominguez for being married four times, July 12, 1732 at Santa Fe; 849, Juan Garcia de la Mora, gauchupin, for being married twice, November 5, 1734 and 872, Augustin Miguel de Estrada, half-breed, for being married twice, July [?] 15, 1736, at El Paso del Norte and appealed at Guadalajara, Inquisition, 849, in AGI.
Last Updated: 20-Nov-2008