"In the Midst of a Loneliness":
The Architectural History of the Salinas Missions
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"Of the various bits of evidence concerning the seventeenth-century friars, however, the most eloquent are the isolated ruins of such missions as Abó, Las Jumanas, and Pecos--massive monuments to the zeal of the friars, situated in the midst of a loneliness akin to what they knew."

Friar Hans Lentz, OFM, "Franciscan Missiology in Seventeenth-Century New Mexico,"
manuscript at Duns Scotus College, Southfield, Michigan, 1969.

"In the mystery that envelopes everything connected with these ruins--as to when, and why, and by whom they were erected; and how, and when, and why, abandoned--there is much food for very interesting speculation. Until that mystery is penetrated so that all these questions can be answered without leaving a doubt, Abó belongs to the region of romance and fancy; and it will be for the poet and the painter to restore to its original beauty this venerable temple, to rebuild its altars, and to exhibit again unto us its robed priests, its burning censers, its kneeling worshippers."

Major James Henry Carleton, United States Army, at Abó, December 17, 1853.

Congress established Salinas National Monument "to set apart and preserve for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people the ruins of prehistoric Indian pueblos and associated seventeenth century, Franciscan Spanish mission ruins." In order to preserve these ruins, an effective plan of stabilization and maintenance is needed. The trouble with the stabilization and maintenance of a ruin, however, is that it inevitably changes the nature of the ruin. The visible stonework gradually, through small steps of repointing, dismantling and rebuilding, and capping, becomes the product of a generalized National Park Service policy rather than the product of a particular people at a particular time in the past. To slow down this process of the loss of the original nature or cultural imprint of a ruin, a careful maintenance program that minimizes changes to the appearance of the building is necessary. The most important single document for planning such a program is the Historic Structure Report, that determines the original appearance of a building and the previous attempts at stabilizing it. After its preparation, interpreters frequently use the Historic Structure Reports as one of the sources of information in their effort to make a site more understandable to the park visitor.

This Historic Structure Report was written with the needs of both managers and interpreters in mind. The narratives of design, construction, and change over time attempt to present the life and the mind behind the structure, as well as the material of which it was made. This approach has led to some surprising insights. Most significant among these was the determination that the present church of Abó had been partially torn down and enlarged at one time, and that the church of San Buenaventura had never been completed. Equally important in the author's mind is the definition of the methods of construction, the human activity itself. The buildings did not simply grow like weeds; human hands placed each rock on top of the others, and lifted each beam into place.

The analysis generated a number of recommendations. In the area of further research, for example, this report recommends that the nineteenth century structures at Abó and Quarai receive their own Historic Structure Reports when acquisition of them is complete. These buildings and their associated archeological resources are unique properties within the National Park Service and should be as carefully managed as the mission churches themselves. Of equal importance is the recommendation that stabilization of the nineteenth-century structures be included in the cyclic maintenance program.

In general, this report found that the resources of the three units of Salinas National Monument are far more extensive and varied than originally thought. These units are of great value, both as records of Spanish colonial culture and of human life. They should be managed with great care and respect.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006