Mission San Gregorio de Abó -- Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

circular kiva

Mission San Gregorio de Abó
Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument
Mountain Air, New Mexico

Coordinates: 34.520412, -106.241881
Discover Our Shared Heritage
Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Mission San Gregorio de Abó
The circular kiva in the middle of the convento, next to the church.

NPS photo.

The Salinas Valley is home to a rich and complex heritage, one interwoven with ancient Pueblo culture and early Spanish colonization of New Mexico. Spanish missionaries came to occupy Abó Pueblo, the home of the Tompiros in the early 17th century. There, they worked to bring Catholicism to the people at Abó Pueblo. Fray Francisco Fonte established Mission San Gregorio de Abó around 1621, and by 1629, the large San Gregorio de Abó Church was completed, forming the center of mission activity for about 50 years. Mission San Gregorio was empty by the early 1670s, as a series of droughts and Apache raids made life in the Salinas Valley precarious. Today, the ruins of the pueblo and mission are a National Historic Landmark as part of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. A visit to the Abó site reveals the intersections between the American Indian and Spanish cultures in 17th century that has shaped modern New Mexico.
Mission San Gregorio de Abó
Aerial photo the extensive Abo complex.

NPS photo.

The Tompiro and the Spanish

The Salinas Valley is believed to have been occupied as early as the 10th century by the Ancestral Pueblo people. The area was an important location for trade between tribes of the Rio Grande and those on the Western Plains. Pueblo ruins at Abó date to around 1300, a time of great prosperity and cultural growth for the valley people. Mogollon and Ancestral Pueblo traditions blended to form the Tompiro culture. The Tompiro were skilled as craftspeople, hunters, and builders, and in their agricultural practices. At its height, Abó Pueblo must have been an impressive, bustling community. The adaptability of the Pueblo Indians proved useful centuries later when the Spanish entered their world. The Spanish found the Pueblo pottery, farming, and building techniques impressive, and recognizing the value of the American Indians’ skilled labor, they introduced the encomienda, through which the Spanish collected tribute in the form of labor, food, and material goods. Eventually the Spanish began abusing the system, and tensions grew between the Pueblo and the Spanish authorities, and between the Church and the Spanish governors. Missionaries resented the governor and military’s high demands for native labor because it undermined Church authority.

Conflict also came from the religious pressure Franciscan friars placed on the Pueblo peoples to convert. At first early missionaries tolerated Pueblo traditions but later attacked them. Interestingly, the early, smaller Abó Church and convento built starting in 1623, contains a circular kiva, a society structure for Pueblo men. There is a similar one at Quarai, and those who study the mission have often wondered whether the kiva or mission came first. San Gregorio de Abó Mission failed due to the clash of economic and religious interests and because drought, famine, and Apache raids led to the abandonment of the mission and pueblo. Many Tompiro people refused to give up their sacred customs for new Catholic beliefs, especially when a series of droughts, epidemics, and Apache attacks hit the pueblo starting in the mid-1600s, providing proof to many that Catholicism insulted their Tompiro gods.

Mission San Gregorio de Abó
A half-buried Abo prior to excavations and stabilization in 1935.

Photo by Francis Gott. Courtesy of the National Park Service

Daily life at Abó

Franciscan missionaries not only brought new religious ideas to the area, they introduced the people of Abó to new species of domestic animals and plants, different agricultural practices, and Spanish goods. The number and size of unexcavated pueblo mounds at the site suggest that when the Spanish arrived in 1581, they would have found a large community. For the period following 1621, archeological and historical research at the site uncovered evidence of corrals and stables for livestock, like sheep and goats the mission kept. People used salt, ate a combination of native foods like corn, pumpkin, prickly pear, cholla, juniper, piñon nuts, yucca, amaranth, and turkey eggs as well as European introduced foods like grapes, plums, and peaches. Also found at the site, Chinese porcelains imported from the Philippines and Mexican Majolica and olive jar style ceramics brought north from Mexico materially connect Abó to the rest of the Spanish empire. Excavated ceramics from around the Pueblo world indicate that the Tompiro had social connections throughout the region.
After the Mission

In 1672, the Abó Pueblo and its associated mission had an estimated several hundred residents remaining of what had been a larger thriving community. A combination of disease, drought, famine, and Apache raiding led to the abandonment of Abó in 1673. Native inhabitants who left Abó are believed to have joined their Piro-speaking relatives along the Rio Grande. By 1678, the pueblo was entirely without occupants.
Mission San Gregorio de Abó
Approaching the ruins of San Gregorio de Abo.

Photo by HJPD. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For over 100 years, Abó was quiet. In 1815, Spanish sheep herders attempted to return to the area but the Apaches pushed them out in 1830. Settlers would permanently return in 1865. The site attracted interest for its cultural significance. In 1938, Abó became a New Mexico State Historic Monument and was later excavated by the University of New Mexico and School of American Research. In 1962, Abó was designated a National Historic Landmark and by 1980, the ruins became part of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, which the National Park Service administers. Today, roughly 40 percent of the original Pueblo buildings remain as ruins – many still unexcavated. Skeletal red sandstone walls of the San Gregorio de Abó Church stand as reminders of the Spanish and Catholic influence in the American Southwest.

The Abó Unit of Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument sits west of the town of Mountainair, New Mexico, and contains approximately 370 acres. Access to the site of the ruins and the pueblo is through the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, which offers interpreted tours and self-guided walks through the ruins of Abó, Quarai, and Gran Quivira. Recent stabilization efforts have made it possible for visitors to walk directly around and within the old walls of the Abó mission church and through the largely unexcavated pueblo structures.

Plan Your Visit

Abó is a National Historic Landmark and part of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, a unit of the National Park System, located 10 miles west of Mountainair off Route 60 in Torrance County, NM. The main visitor center for Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument is located on the corner of Ripley and Broadway Sts. in Mountainair, and the Abó ruins are 9 miles west of the visitor center on US 60 and one-half mile north on NM 513. Click here for the Abó Pueblo and Mission National Historic Landmark file: text and photos. All four sites are partially wheelchair accessible. The sites are open daily with summer hours (Memorial Day - Labor Day) 9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m., and winter hours (rest of the year) 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. but is closed for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's days. Admission is free at all times. For more information, visit the National Park Service Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument website and its Abó website or call 505-847-2585.
Many components of Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey, including
Church of San Isidro and Church of San Buenaventura, and Mission San Gregorio de Abó. Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument is also featured in the National Park Service American Southwest Travel Itinerary, Places Reflecting America's Diverse Cultures: Explore their Stories in the National Park System Travel Itinerary and in the American Latino Heritage Travel Itinerary.

Last updated: April 15, 2016


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