Mission Nuestra Señora de la Asunción-- Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Asunción

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Asunción
Zia Pueblo, New Mexico

Coordinates: 35.506975, -106.719722
Discover Our Shared Heritage
Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Drum and Stick from Zia Pueblo c. 1940
Drum and Stick from Zia Pueblo c. 1940 by Cresencio Toribio. Drums continue to be important for use in traditional Pueblo dances.

From the Museum Collections of Bandolier National Monument. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

Atop a basalt mesa sixteen miles northwest of Bernalillo, New Mexico, the Pueblo of Zia is a community of Keresan-speaking Indians that has been continuously occupied since the 13th century. Over 600 years old, Zía Pueblo has two plazas, each with a kiva, surrounded by one- and two-story traditional dwellings of native rock surfaced with mud. Zia Pueblo is home to the Spanish mission of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, whose construction began around 1694. Zía is known for its unique pottery, redware with white slip, and its symbols, particularly the Sun Symbol which appears on the state flag of New Mexico. In recognition of Zia's long history and unique culture, the Zia Pueblo is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Zia Pueblo

In between the slopes of the Sierra Nacimiento Mountains and the San Pedro River Valley, Keresan-speaking people have lived at the Pueblo of Zia for over 600 years. The Espejo expedition reached Zia Pueblo in 1583, and reported that the pueblo was the principal settlement in the area and home to several thousand people. The Spanish explorers were impressed by the canals and complex irrigation system the pueblo used to grow crops. Crops like maize, beans, and squash were supplemented by rabbits and other small game, as well as deer, antelope, and additional large game. Homes at the pueblo were built with the local basalt and mud mortar, covered in mud plaster. Zia potters decorated their pots with geometric plant and animal motifs on a white background.
Mission Nuestra Señora de la Asunción
Pueblo of Zia, looking north west, The mission church is on the far right. 1960.

Photo by A.H. Schroeder. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

Building a mission

A mission at Zia was founded sometime after Oñate brought Franciscan missionaries, soldiers, and settlers to New Mexico in 1598. Following meetings with the pueblo leaders, Oñate sent out missionaries across the region. Franciscan Fray Alonso de Lugo was assigned to Zia and founded the mission of San Pedro y San Pablo. By 1613, a church and convento were reported to have been built. There is little historical evidence about the mission at this time, but the mission likely fell into disuse after the 1680 Pueblo Revolt drove out the Franciscans and Spanish.
Mission Nuestra Señora de la Asunción
Pueblo of Zia, 1879-1907.

Photo by John K. Hillers, 1843-1925. Courtesy of the National Archives.

Zia Pueblo was the site of bloody battle between the Spanish and the people of Zia. After the revolt drove out the Spanish, Governor Domingo de Cruzate attacked the pueblo in 1689, in a failed attempt to retake New Mexico that resulted in a considerable loss of life. Diego de Vargas led the successful campaign to retake New Mexico in 1692. The people of Zia had moved and were living several miles to the north. They offered him no resistance when he asked them to move back. The church was not completely destroyed during the revolt, and was assigned a new priest in 1694 named Fray Juan Alpuente. The church building was under construction by 1704, under the direction of Custos Juan Álvarez. The Indian community at Zia built the church, cutting and hauling the pine vigas from the mountains for the roof and mixing thousands of adobe bricks. The church was renamed Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. It is unclear whether the new church was rebuilt on the foundations of the earlier building.
Mission Nuestra Señora de la Asunción
Mission church, Zia Pueblo, New Mexico, c. 1917.

Photographer unknown, Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo. Archives (NMHM/DCA), 004287

What you can see today

Today, the original convento where the priest once lived is gone, but the church remains, facing east with the cemetery out front. Water is a major problem for adobe buildings, even in arid regions —a leaking ceiling at the turn the 20th century led to the reinstallation of the ceiling. Unlike many other New Mexican colonial period churches, Nuestra Señora de la Asunción escaped "modernization" with a pitched tin roof, which frequently resulted in structural collapse for the adobe churches. In 1923, the Committee for the Preservation and Restoration of the New Mexican Mission Churches made the Nuestra Señora de la Asunción a priority project. Zia workers began replacing the rotting vigas, and installed roofing paper and copper-lined canales to channel water away from the ceiling and building. These efforts, and the addition of electric lighting and fresh stucco and paint have kept Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Zia part of the pueblo community today.

Plan Your Visit

Zía Pueblo is on NM 44, 16 miles northwest of Bernalillo, NM. No cameras, recording or sketching are allowed. The pueblo can be visited daily from dawn to dusk but is closed during some religious ceremonies. For more information call the Zia Pueblo Office of the Governor at 505-867-3304.
Zia Pueblo is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

Last updated: April 15, 2016


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