National Park Service
Kiva, Crown, Crown


The Invaders

The New Mexico: Preliminaries to Conquest

Oñate's Disenchantment

The "Christianization" of Pecos

The Shadow of the Inquisition

Their Own Worst Enemies

Pecos and the Friars

Pecos, the Plains, and the Provincias Internas

Toward Extinction



Chapter 4: The 'Christianization' of Pecos, 1617-1659

To unburden his conscience the witness states that five years ago more or less, he went to the pueblo of Pecos to collect certain tribute payments that the encomendero of that place owed Gov. don Juan de Eulate. He found me, the present notary [Fray Pedro de Ortega], at the time guardian there, distraught because an Indian called by the evil name Mosoyo who lived there had spread a perverse doctrine, persuading the Indians that they should not go to church and that they should set up idols, many of which I the present notary state that I ordered smashed.

Testimony of Francisco Pérez Granillo,
January 27, 1626

Franciscan New Mexico

The Franciscans' expanding ministry to the Pueblo Indians rested in 1616 on the fervor of sixteen friars. In addition to Santa Fe, they maintained "conventos," however tenuously, among the Tewa at San Ildefonso and Nambé; among the Keres at Santo Domingo, "ecclesiastical capital" of New Mexico, and at Zia; among the Tano at Galisteo and San Lázaro; and among the Southern Tiwa at Sand&icute;a, Isleta, and across the Manzanos at Chililí. Several other pueblos were designated visitas, or preaching stations. Still, no missionary worker had returned to the harvest at Pecos. [1]

Seal of the Franciscan Custody of the Conversion of St. Paul

At about this time, the Order's superiors in Mexico City—galvanized, it would seem, by the Peralta-Ordóñez troubles—decided that the New Mexico field should be elevated to custody status. Previously, the local superior in the colony had worn the title comisario, which implied delegated, temporary authority. By erecting the missions of New Mexico into a semi-autonomous administrative unit with its own chapter, its own definitors, and its own Father Custos, the Holy Gospel Province was belatedly acknowledging the success and permanence of the enterprise. It was also girding up its loins.

Still, because of the great distance from Mexico City, the missions' utter financial dependence on the crown, the example of the violent, headstrong Isidro Ordóñez, and the precedent for church-state conflict, the mother province did not surrender to the new custody as much autonomy as she might have. The New Mexico custodial chapter would not choose its own superior, as was customary. Rather he would be elected by the province. [2] The new entity would be known as the Custody of the Conversion of St. Paul, in honor of that saint who, on the feast of his conversion January 25, in the year 1599, divinely aided the Spaniards at the battle of Ácoma, almost certainly delivering the little Christian colony out of the jaws of Satan. [3]

Zambrano Assigned to Pecos

The long-awaited supply train of 1616 reached the missions in the dead of winter—before the end of January 1617—bringing among the baggage seven cold, trail-worn Franciscans and a patent from Mexico City naming as Father Custos of New Mexico the able and unbending Fray Esteban de Perea. Soon after, at his first chapter, Perea probably assigned one of the new friars to the populous pueblo of Pecos.

Fray Pedro Zambrano Ortiz, guardian of "the convento of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de los Pecos" at least as early as 1619, was born in the Canary Islands about 1586. At the age of twenty-three, he had received the Franciscan habit at the Convento Grande in Mexico City along with two other young Spaniards. As was customary, the service of investiture took place in the evening after compline—last of the seven canonical hours—on Tuesday, October 27, 1609. Exactly a year later, his novitiate behind him, Fray Pedro pronounced his simple religious vows. When the mission supply caravan bound for New Mexico had headed out in the autumn of 1616, Zambrano, already ordained a priest, and half a dozen of his brethren rode with it. [4]

Given the size of the pueblo de los Pecos—still reported at about two thousand souls—and its strategic location for pueblo-plains trade and intercourse, it is strange that the Franciscans delayed two decades in taking up their mission there. Certainly the harvest was potentially greater at Pecos than at Chililí. Perhaps the Pecos themselves, or a faction of them, had made it clear that they did not want a friar. Yet if that were the case, why did the veteran Esteban de Perea assign to Pecos an untried newcomer?

The first convento of Our Lady of the Angels at Pecos was doubtless a makeshift affair. St. Francis had originally bestowed that name on Our Lady of the Assumption at Portiuncola near Assisi, the Order's mother church. It may be that Fray Pedro Zambrano and some of his fellow missionaries dedicated the new convento on August 2, 1617 or 1618, the very Franciscan feast of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Porciúncula.

Unwilling to move into the great pueblo itself—or forbidden to—the friar likely had living quarters built in or adjoining the southern end of a low, mostly unoccupied ruin, later expanded and peopled by the "Christian faction," the so-called South Pueblo. As for a church, Zambrano evidently asked some of the more favorably inclined Pecos to put up a temporary shelter where Mass could be said for them in some decency, perhaps the "jacal in which not half the people will fit" described by a successor in 1622. [5]

Our Lady of the Angels painted on hide. Museum of New Mexico.

Opposition of Eulate

Whatever Zambrano accomplished at Pecos, he did it in spite of the governor at Santa Fe, Don Juan de Eulate, veteran of Flanders and the Spain-to-Mexico fleet, has been characterized by France V. Scholes, the historian who knows him best, as "a petulant, tactless, irreverent soldier whose actions were inspired by open contempt for the Church and its ministers and by an exaggerated conception of his own authority as the representatives of the Crown." [6] A saying frequently attributed to Eulate summed up his allegiance: "The king is my patron!" For obvious reasons, he idolized the Duke of Bourbon, that French ally of Charles V whose troops had sacked Rome a century before. [7] A particularly avaricious exploiter of Indians in the friars' eyes, Eulate took office in December of 1618 and held it until 1625, precisely the years that Zambrano and his successors were trying to establish themselves at Pecos, to overturn the pueblo's "idols," and to raise up a monumental temple to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Zuñi sacred clowns, or mudheads, photographed by John K. Hillers, 1879. Museum of New Mexico.

In testimony heard by Custos Perea—which eventually found its way to the Tribunal of the Holy Office in Mexico City—the Franciscans and their allies damned Eulate on a variety of counts, making him out a blaspheming ogre, a mortal enemy of the church, the faithful, and the Indian. To ingratiate himself with mission Indians and loosen the friars' hold, the governor deliberately encouraged these natives to continue their pagan ways. At Pecos in 1619, Father Zambrano heard that interpreter Juan Gómez, encomendero of San Lázaro and minion of the governor, was going about proclaiming that newly converted Indians did not have to give up their idols or their concubinage, at least not for many years. As a result, the Tanos of Galisteo and San Lázaro wallowed in sin while their missionary, Fray Pedro de Ortega, grieved. Eulate protected and favored Pueblo ceremonial leaders, "idolaters and witches," alleged Zambrano, "because they trade him tanned skins." [8]

The governor paid no heed to Indian rights, charged the missionaries, only to Indian exploitation. He condoned forced labor, slavery, and even the kidnapping of "orphans." As a reward for loyalty to him, Eulate issued to his henchmen licenses on small slips of paper, vales, entitling them to seize one or more orphaned Indian children, a practice Zambrano witnessed at Pecos. "Like black slaves," these children, the friars averred, ended up perpetual servants in Spanish homes. The slips merely read: "Permit for Juan Fulano to take one orphan from wherever he finds him, provided that he treats him well and teaches him the Christian catechism." [9]

Vale, or permit to abduct an orphaned Pueblo child, December 16, 1623, signed by Governor Eulate (AGN, Inq., 356).

Sometime between mid-1619 and August of 1621, Fray Pedro Zambrano changed places with the missionary of Galisteo. During Zambrano's tenure at Pecos, he had built a temporary convento and dedicated it to Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, but evidently no more of a church than the jacal. How much of the time the missionary was actually in residence at the pueblo is impossible to say. From his testimony, it would appear that he was often in Sante Fe. He may well have chosen to reintroduce the reluctant Pecos to Christianity by gentle stages. He hinted at resistance from an anti-Spanish element in the pueblo, a resistance that surfaced under his successor. Whatever else he managed, Pedro Zambrano did put Pecos on the missionary map.

At Galisteo, and especially at its visita of San Lázaro, the reassigned Father Zambrano found the Tanos practicing idolatry publicly. When he reprimanded a native catechist for the sin of concubinage, the Indian replied that interpreter Juan Gómez was at that very moment en route from Mexico City with permission for the Tanos "to live as before they were Christians." Behind this and every other woe in the land, Zambrano saw the malevolent figure of don Juan de Eulate, "a man," in his words, "more suited to a junk shop than to the office of governor he holds."

None of the friars, not even Custos Perea, was more constant or more zealous in his attack upon Eulate. In a scathing letter to the viceroy, setting forth the governor's venal acts, his defiant immorality, and his crass misuse of the natives, Zambrano characterized his adversary as "a bag of arrogance and vanity without love for God or zeal for divine honor or for the king our lord, a man of evil example in word and deed who does not deserve to be governor but rather a hawker and [a creature] of these vile pursuits." Years later, in 1636, Fray Pedro Zambrano Ortiz was still alive in New Mexico, still railing at a royal governor. [10]

Fray Pedro Zambrano Ortiz

Ortega Confronts the "Idols"

Youthful Fray Pedro de Ortega cannot have been more than twenty-seven when he came to live with the Pecos. At Galisteo, native idolaters had made him doubt his calling. He would not give them the satisfaction at Pecos. He was determined also to build a church, a lasting structure large enough to hold all the Pecos. But his resolve was not enough. Both of his intentions fell short, not for any lack of zeal on his part, but rather because don Juan de Eulate prevailed against them.

Ortega was a Mexican, a criollo born in Mexico City about March of 1593. His parents, Pedro Mateos de Ortega and Catalina de Ortega, were "not only noble," said Fray Alonso de Benavides, "but so wealthy that, although there were numerous children, more than seventy thousand ducats fell to the share of Father fray Pedro de Ortega alone." His father, who wanted him to be a secular priest, thwarted the lad's early desire to become a Franciscan. But when the elder Ortega died, eighteen-year-old Pedro straight-away renounced his inheritance and sought the friar's habit, which he received in the Convento Grande at the hour of Compline, Sunday, May 8, 1611. He professed on the same date a year later. [11]

Fray Pedro de Ortega

Soon after ordination to the priesthood, which he must have received at the canonical minimum age of twenty-four, Fray Pedro volunteered for the missions of New Mexico. He had just missed the supply caravan of 1616. The following year however, the viceroy dispatched a new governor. It was Eulate. In his train, escorted by Capt. Francisco Gómez and a detachment of soldiers, Father Ortega and Fray Jerónimo de Pedraza, a medically skilled lay brother returning to the missions, traveled the long road to New Mexico.

The young Franciscan and the crude governor quarreled en route. Somewhere along the camino real, while the party was camped, Eulate allegedly declared in front of everyone that marriage was the more perfect state than celibacy. Captain Gómez and Alonso Ramírez applauded. The others seemed to agree, which was too much for the boyish Fray Pedro who jumped up and tried to admonish the governor for saying such a thing. Eulate, smiling wryly as the friar recalled it, retorted in a most condescending manner "that religious didn't work, that all they did was sleep and eat, while married men always went about diligently working to earn their necessities." Fray Pedro was neither intimidated nor amused. "To that I replied that the sleep of John had been more acceptable to Christ Our Lord than the diligence of Judas." But his words were wasted on Eulate. [12]

Don Juan and Fray Pedro had entered Santa Fe together in December 1618. Not long after, Custos Perea placed the new missionary at Galisteo. During his ministry there, which probably lasted not much more than one year, Fray Pedro had found himself on the defensive. Try as he might, the young Franciscan could not break the pernicious hold of the governor's men, the likes of encomendero Juan Gómez, who emboldened the Tanos to flaunt their old religion in the missionary's face. He apparently vowed to seize the initiative at his second mission.

stone effiges
Left: Flat-bodied human effiges from Pecos, taller 2-1/2". Kidder, Artifacts. Right: Pecos effigy heads, broadest 2" tall. Kidder, Artifacts.

At Pecos, where he likely took over from Pedro Zambrano sometime in 1620, Ortega summarily launched a campaign to break the back of pagan idolatry. In a bold frontal assault, he rounded up and smashed "many idols," the clay, stone, and wooden figurines and effigies, the curiously painted stone slabs, and the other ceremonial paraphernalia they venerated. This was the first direct all-out Christian attack on the native Pecos religion. It would not be the last.

Why did the Pecos, still relatively unsubjugated, still two thousand strong, stand by and watch? Given the irreverence of Governor Eulate, it is unlikely that Father Ortega relied on a large, heavily armed military escort to cow the pueblo. Obviously the Pecos were not agreed on resistance. A majority of them passively suffered themselves to watch their idols destroyed. Only a few ceremonial leaders objected. As a community, the Pecos were unable to act decisively, either to reject or to embrace the new order. Deep-seated internal dissension, unrelated to the Spaniards' presence, may have underlain this paralysis. Perhaps, too, the Pecos remembered their humiliation thirty years before at the hands of Castaño de Sosa, or Oñate's harsh punishment of the Ácoma survivors. Whatever the reason, once they had admitted the utility of the invaders' material culture, of horses and steel blades, the token acceptance of their supernatural baggage was not so hard. Yet in their hearts—as missionary after missionary lamented—the pagan Pecos changed little.

stone idols
Pecos "idols," 11-1/4 to 8" tall. After Kidder, Artifacts.

Three hundred years later, archaeologists digging in the ruined pueblo unearthed ceremonial caches containing numerous artifacts that had been smashed or otherwise "subjected to violent misuse." One greenish stone image about a foot tall, representing a squatting human figure with elbows resting on knees, like many of the other broken objects, had been reverently reassembled and laid in a specially prepared hiding place. At Pecos, as in central Mexico, idols hid behind altars, or beneath the earth of the plaza, and the people knew. [13]

Resistance to Ortega's Ministry

Not all the Pecos bowed meekly before Fray Pedro. The case everyone remembered involved an Indian "called by the evil name Mosoyo." He and a brother had gone about the pueblo propagating, in the friar's words, "a perverse doctrine, persuading the Indians that they should not go to church and that they should set up idols, many of which . . . I ordered smashed." Mosoyo was telling the Pecos that Gov. Juan de Eulate did not want them to go to Mass or catechism, to attend prayers, to obey their minister. The governor was their friend, not the friar!

Ortega grew anxious. He could see Mosoyo's seductive message pervading the pueblo, undermining the gospel of Christ. He prayed and wept. When don Francisco Pérez Granillo, "a faithful and Catholic Christian," reined up at the pueblo to collect tribute, the Pecos encomendero—probably Capt. Francisco Gómez [14]—owed Eulate, Fray Pedro unburdened himself. Pérez was moved. He would do what he could in the Franciscan's behalf.

Summoning together the entire pueblo in the presence of their missionary, the Spaniard ordered the agitator Mosoyo brought forward. There, in front of everyone, he rebuked the Indian. Even then, Mosoyo refused to admit that he had proclaimed his seditious lies in Governor Eulate's name. The interpreters, native captains, and the rest of the pueblo clamored that he had. At that, Pérez delivered an oration—which presumably lost something in translation—assuring the Pecos that the governor of New Mexico could not have meant any such thing. He exhorted them to obey the holy precepts of the church and its minister, "telling them that the doctrine the Fathers were teaching them they were also teaching the Spaniards and the latter obeyed it as they did their parents and teachers. Regarding this he gave them many sound reasons and examples, whereupon they all were satisfied." Having done this good Christian deed, Francisco Pérez Granillo stepped down rather pleased with himself.

Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles by Juan Correa, noted 18th-century Mexican painter. This canvas, restored in the 1920s and again in the early 1970s, hung originally in the Pecos mission church. Since the pueblo's abandonment, it has resided in the nearby parish church of St. Anthony of Padua at the village of Pecos, where the feast day of Our Lady of the Angels, August 2, is still observed. National Park Service photo by Fred E. Mang, Jr.

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