Mission San Agustin de Isleta -- Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Funeral procession ca. 1900 at Isleta led by the Father Anton Docher.

Mission San Agustin de Isleta
Isleta Pueblo, New Mexico
Coordinates: 31.567472,-111.051842
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Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

San Agustín de la Isleta Mission
San Agustín de la Isleta Mission

By M.Bucka (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The adobe church of San Agustín is one of the two oldest surviving mission churches in New Mexico. It is a popular place to visit because the Pueblo of Isleta and Mission San Agustín de Isleta are located about 15 miles south of Albuquerque in the Rio Grande Valley. Isleta Pueblo was established prior to the 1598 Spanish occupation of New Mexico. Franciscan missionaries oversaw the first Spanish mission church's construction beginning in 1613. The pueblo was burned during the Spanish attempt to reconquer the area following the 1680 Great Pueblo Revolt. During the 18th and 19th centuries Isleta became one of the largest and most prosperous pueblos in New Mexico and was noted for its crops and orchards. Today the pueblo is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The oldest section consists of the mission and adobe buildings around a central plaza surrounded by cultivated lands.

Oral histories and archeological evidence indicate that the fertile Rio Grande Valley has had a long history of human occupation, stretching back many thousands of years. More recently, in the 14th century A.D., a group of Tewa-speaking people moved into the area and established several communities. There they hunted, grew a variety of crops, and maintained connections with other communities in the area. The name "Isleta" comes the Spanish name for the pueblo's location on a piece of land that projected into the Rio Grande stream, but the place's traditional name is "Tue-I."
San Agustín de la Isleta Mission
San Agustín de la Isleta Mission

By M.Bucka (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Mission San Agustin de Isleta
Interior of church c. 1885, with a variety of crucifixes and santos at the altar, a confessional, iron stove, and wooden floor.

Photographer unknown. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Mission San Agustín de Isleta

Coronado first noted the pueblo around 1540, during his expedition. Later, Franciscan missionaries, who arrived with Spanish colonists in New Mexico beginning in 1598, spread their ministry to Isleta Pueblo. The church was built by the people of Isleta Pueblo built the church. The missionaries oversaw the construction of the church and convento at Isleta between 1613 and 1617. At that time, the mission was dedicated to San Antonio de Padua. Fr. Benavides in his 1630 report described the Tewa province as having "… fifteen or sixteen pueblos in a district of twelve or thirteen leagues, in which there are seven thousand souls breathing, all baptized, there are two friaries." The Isleta mission was large and prosperous, located on the other side of the river from the Camino Real, the major trade route connecting Spanish and Pueblo settlements. The pueblo also received many of the refugees whose settlements suffered from Apache raids and famine in the mid-1700s.
The King of Belgium visits Mission San Agustin de Isleta, October 20th, 1919.
The King of Belgium visits Mission Isleta, October 20th, 1919.

Photographer unknown. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The missions in New Mexico, however, were undermined by conflicts between Church and civil officials over the labor and loyalty of the native peoples and attempts to eradicate native religious practices. The religious suppression and labor demands fostered resentment that eventually led to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, when, after decades of Spanish presence, numerous Pueblo Indians united to drive the Spaniards from their lands. Allies of the Spaniards, the people of Isleta fled with them to the El Paso area and established Isleta del Sur as their new pueblo. In 1681, the Spanish retook Isleta. Most of the refugee Isletans remained in El Paso, while others returned and reestablished the old Isleta in New Mexico. Meanwhile, at Isleta del Sur, they kept San Antonio as their patron saint. The Texas Ysleta church is also featured in this itinerary. Partially burned in the events of the 1680s, the walls of the nave of the church at old Isleta were found standing by Diego de Vargas during his 1692 reentry of New Mexico. The church and a large convento adjoining on the east were rebuilt in 1709 to 1710 and renamed San Agustín.
Mission San Agustin de Isleta
Mission San Agustin de Isleta

By M.Bucka (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What you can see today

In spite of numerous changes to the roof and facade throughout the years, the basic structure remains the same, making San Agustín one of the two oldest churches in New Mexico. It shares this title with San Estevan de Acoma. Although the mission was secularized by the Mexican government, it continued to be part of the pueblo community. The French priest, Rev. Antonine Docher came to Isleta in 1891, and began many alterations, adding belfries with five spires on each side of the façade, a tin pitched roof, and additional buttressing and eliminating the convento's second story,. The archdiocese removed these change during a remodeling period from 1959 to 1960. Most recently, archeologists working for the tribe have encountered evidence of the earliest church of San Antonio from the pre-revolt colonial period while excavating ahead of construction of a community center east of the church.

The massive adobe church of San Agustín still dominates the north side of the plaza of the Pueblo of Isleta. The church is still an active parish community, and holds regular services and events. Today, both Tiwa and English are spoken at the pueblo. Agriculture remains important, but much of the population works outside the reservation. The Isleta Pueblo performs several dances open to the public during June, July and August as well as September Fair and Christmas festivals. Camping and fishing at Sunrise Lake on the Isleta Reservation are popular vacation attractions, and the reservation is home to Isleta Resort and Casino.

Plan Your Visit

San Agustin Mission Church is located in Isleta Pueblo, south of Albuquerque, New Mexico, off I-25. The mission church is located at 71 Tribal Rd. 35, Isleta Pueblo, NM, and is open daily from 10-3 pm. Call 505-869-3398 for further information on visiting the mission church.
Isleta Pueblo is listed in the National Register of Historical Places and is featured in the National Park Service American Southwest Travel Itinerary.

Last updated: April 15, 2016

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