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

View of the mission church. Photo by Roger Clark.

Mission Nuestra Señora de Porciúncula
Pecos Pueblo, Pecos National Historical Park, New Mexico

Coordinates: 31.567472,-111.051842
Discover Our Shared Heritage
Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Mission Nuestra Señora de Porciúncula
South pueblo, looking at the mission.

Photo by Patricia Lenihan.

Between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Glorieta Mesa lies Glorieta Pass, a location traversed and lived in by many peoples for thousands of years. Between the mountains and the plains, Glorieta Pass is a place where stories of conflict and trade, the rise and decline of the powerful Pecos Indians, the coming of the Spanish, the creation of the Santa Fe Trail, and the Civil War have played out. Today, Pecos National Historical Park is a National Park and a National Historic Landmark that preserves over 12,000 years of history including the ancient Pecos Pueblo, a Spanish colonial mission, Santa Fe Trail sites, the Forked Lightning Ranch, and the site of the Civil War Battle of Glorieta Pass.
Thriving Agricultural and Trade Center

For many years the Pecos people enjoyed the strategic location of Glorieta Pass as a gateway to the plains, and the pueblo was a center of trade where maize, cotton, pottery, and other Pueblo wares were traded for buffalo products, alibates flint for cutting tools, and slaves. It was also a dangerous place, where the benefits of trading were always counterbalanced by the risk of raids. To protect the population of 2,000 people from raiders, the Pecos created a fortified community with a large wall, which, according to one Spanish visitor, was visible from a far distance. Pecos at one time had over 500 warriors that the Spanish came to value as allies.

The Pecos Indians spoke Towa, the language still used at Jeméz Pueblo today, and were part of the well-connected Puebloan groups of what became the American Southwest. Like their ancestors, the Pecos were farmers, relying on a diet of corn, beans, and squash from varieties that people had selected through time for their suitability to a cooler, dry climate. Farming also influenced the architectural design of the Pecos village. Like many Pueblo tribes of the American Southwest, the Pecos constructed storerooms to set aside food for the winter and dams to regulate the water that flowed to their crops. Their impressive architecture also included subterranean ceremonial rooms known as kivas and large multi-story homes that housed large extended families. These buildings were constructed above the storerooms using the local stone and adobe--a mud and straw-based material they mixed and molded together.
Mission Nuestra Señora de Porciúncula
August 7, 2011: people from the village of Pecos carried a replica of the "Our Lady of the Angels" 18th-century painting to display during the annual mass at the ruins. The original artwork was entrusted to the village when the pueblo and church were abandoned.

NPS photo by Heather Young.

Arrival of the Spanish

The Pecos people first encountered Spanish explorers when Francisco Vasquez de Coronado traveled to northern Mexico in search of the seven golden cities of Cibola. Coronado's expedition did not find golden cities, but instead found the populous farming Pueblo communities. The pueblos were attractive sources of supplies and labor to the Spanish and became the target for later colonizing efforts. Long term Spanish presence began in 1598, when the colonizing project of Don Juan de Oñate brought the Franciscan friars to the area. Priests came to the pueblo to convert the people of Pecos and guided the construction of Mission Nuestra Señora de Porciúncula. The Spanish missionaries had little success initially, and the pueblo kept them at arm's length at the edge of the community. When veteran missionary Fray Andrés Juarez arrived at Pecos in 1621, the relationship between the natives and the missionaries improved. Under the direction of Juarez, the Pecos and the Franciscan friars built a church 800 ft. away from the main pueblo. At the time, it was the most prominent of all of the New Mexico mission churches with 8-10 ft. thick walls and six fortress-like towers, built from 300,000 adobe bricks.
Fray Juarez's ministry grew the Pecos mission, which was part of the larger Franciscan expansion from 1621 to 1634 throughout New Mexico. Conflicts between Church and civil officials over the labor and loyalty of the native peoples undermined the missions. The Spanish attempted to suppress native religious practices, which were seen to be in conflict with Catholicism, and this policy, among other factors, fostered resentment that eventually led to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.
Mission Nuestra Señora de Porciúncula
View of the mission church

Photo by Roger Clark.

After decades of Spanish presence, numerous groups of Pueblo Indians united to drive the Spaniards from their lands in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. While some Pecos Indians were still loyal to the Franciscans, many followed their tribal elders in the revolt against Spanish colonizing efforts and killed the priests. The massive mission that symbolized Spanish control was set ablaze and the walls were torn down. The Spanish and their native allies retreated to Mexico.

Twelve years later, in 1692, Diego de Vargas revisited Pecos, and its inhabitants welcomed him. They supplied Vargas with 140 warriors to aid his effort to reinstate the Spanish in New Mexico. The Pecos warriors and Spanish soldiers recaptured Santa Fe, and the Spanish reestablished themselves in the region. The Pecos and the Spanish erected a smaller, yet prominent, church on the ruins of the old mission church, and together established a peaceful Spanish-Pueblo community in Santa Fe that lasted until the 1780s. Over the next decades, emigration, disease, raids on the pueblo, and internal divisions between those loyal to the Spanish and those who maintained traditional practices reduced the population to less than 300. The function of Pecos as a trade center faded as Spanish colonists, now protected from the Comanche by treaties, established new towns to the east. These became new centers of trade. Pecos and the mission seemed almost ghostly when Santa Fe Trail trade began flowing past in 1821. The remaining Pecos joined their Towa kinfolk 80 miles west at Jeméz Pueblo in 1838 where their descendants still live today, preserving distinctive Pecos traditions.
Alfred V. Kidder
A foundational figure in American archeology, Alfred V. Kidder made his name at Pecos Pueblo ruins and mission.

NPS photo from Pecos NHP Visitor Center Museum.

What you can see today

Pecos Pueblo's strategic location near Glorieta Pass meant that even after people stopped living there it remained an important part of the landscape. The ruins of the enormous complex became a major landmark on the Santa Fe Trail and later the railroad. The complex was a welcome site to travelers and a target for vandals in the 19th century. In the 20th century, the archeologist Alfred V. Kidder, beginning in 1915, excavated the site for over a decade. His studies there became a foundational work in Southwest archeology. Later, during the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps and National Youth Administration cleaned debris and attempted to stabilize the church walls, which were still over 30 ft. tall. The pueblo became a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and a National Monument in 1965.

The National Park Service administered Pecos National Historic Park helps preserve the rich Pecos culture and history. Visitors to the park can climb down into two kivas, the ceremonial and social spaces that the Pecos believed allowed them closer communion with the spirits of the underworld. Kivas continued to be a significant part of Pecos life even after the Spanish Franciscan friars established their first church in the early 17th century. Guided tours of the original structure of the Lost Church, the church destroyed in the revolt, are one of the key attractions in the park. Tourists can also see the ruins of the Pecos Pueblo, other mission church, and the two reconstructed kivas by following the self-guided trail.

Plan Your Visit

Pecos National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park System and a National Historic Landmark, (NHL text and photos) is located off Interstate 25, 25 miles east of Santa Fe, NM. Click for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. Pecos National Historical Park Visitor Center and Trail are open daily from 8:00am to 6:00pm during the summer. The trail’s winter hours are from 8:00am to 5:00pm, and the visitor center closes at 4:30pm. The park is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. There is an admission fee. For more information, visit the National Park Service Pecos National Historical Park website or call 505-757-7200.
Pecos National Historical Park has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey. Pecos National Historic Park is also featured in the National Park Service American Southwest Travel Itinerary, the Places Reflecting America’s Diverse Cultures: Explore their Stories in the National Park System Travel Itinerary, and the American Latino Heritage Travel Itinerary.

Last updated: April 15, 2016


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