Mission San José de Laguna--Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Mission San José de Laguna

Mission San José de Laguna
Pueblo of Laguna, New Mexico

Coordinates: 35.039105, -107.254307
Discover Our Shared Heritage
Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Mission San José de Laguna
Mission San José de Laguna

Photograph by Dan Boff on Flickr via Creative Commons license

Speeding along on I-40, drivers often only glimpse the white-washed church of San José (St. Joseph's church) rising above the earth-colored buildings of the pueblo on the hillside. The Pueblo of Laguna is the largest of the Keresan-speaking pueblos and is located 40 miles west of Albuquerque, along what was once historic Route 66. The entire pueblo stretches across four counties and includes the six villages of Laguna, Encinal, Mesita, Paguate, Paraje, and Seama. In acknowledgement of its long history and rich cultural heritage, part of Laguna was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. The Pueblo of Laguna Historic District consists of approximately 108 acres including a southeastern section of the pueblo that dates from the 1400s. Laguna's most prominent landmark, the old San José de Laguna mission church, has been a signpost for travelers in the past and is today. Constructed between 1699 and 1701, and dedicated to St. Joseph, this one story adobe church is a well-preserved example of a Spanish colonial mission and is still an active Catholic parish church.
Man and woman of Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico.
Man and woman of Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico.

Photographed by Ben Wittick.
Courtesy of the National Archives, American Indian Select List no. 71.

The Kawaik

The local language is called Keresan, and the name of the people in that language is Kawaik. Their Spanish name, Laguna, translates to lagoon and derives from a lake, now dry, once located in the pueblo. Although the pueblo did not exist then, members of the Coronado Expedition noted the laguna as a topographical feature in 1540. According to Keresan tribal traditions, their ancestors originated in Siapapu, and migrated south to what is today New Mexico. Kawaik residents lived in a border region between Anasazi people to the north and Mogollon people to the south.

When Spanish settlers arrived in New Mexico in 1598, they began establishing settlements and missions, shifting the power dynamics in the region away from the autonomous pueblos. Tensions grew as church and civil officials struggled over the labor and loyalty of the native peoples who were expected to provide tribute. After decades of Spanish presence, religious suppression and labor demands, numerous groups of Pueblo Indians united in a coordinated effort to drive the Spaniards from their lands in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The Spanish were forced out and kept away for a number of years.

Mission San José de Laguna
Front of San Jose de Laguna, c. 1934.

Photo by James M. Slack from the Historic American Building Survey. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

Creation of community

What became the modern Laguna village was established in 1699, following the social upheavals caused by the Pueblo Revolt in 1680 and the Spanish campaign to retake the region that began in 1692. A group of Kawaik people and other refugees from Cienguilla, Santo Domingo, Cochiti, and Zia Pueblos created the settlement. This diverse group built the pueblo's main village into the light-yellow sandstone slope on the west side of the San José River. As part of the re-establishing authority, the Franciscans returned to the ruins of the previous churches or founded new missions throughout the region. At Laguna, Franciscans oversaw the construction of Mission San José.
Mission San José de Laguna
Laguna Pueblo with mission at the top of the hill.

Photo by Ken Lund. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

In the late 1870s, the mission became a center of conflict between tribal factions, the traditional and Catholic community on one hand and the growing Protestant community on the other. Threats to tear down the church occurred during this time. The church had fallen into disrepair and was being used as a corral. The sacristan of the church opposed the efforts to destroy the mission and began repairing the church. The mission church underwent various repairs in the following years and an extensively rehabilitation in 1932. Today, the interior is white-washed and repainted.

The Mission San José de Laguna (St. Joseph's Church) is a popular tourist destination in Old Laguna, where local crafts are available from pueblo venders in the village. Feast days are exciting times to visit, and occur in different villages throughout the year. All the villages celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph on September 19th, which features dances after a Mass at the San José Mission Church and hundreds of booths offering various native arts and crafts.

Plan Your Visit

San José de la Laguna Mission is 40 miles west of Albuquerque, off I-40 at exit 114 in Laguna (Pueblo of Laguna), NM. The St. Joseph Church is at 1 Friar Rd. The church is wheelchair accessible and generally is open to visitors from 9:00 to 4:00. Photography is generally not allowed. Church tours can be arranged by calling ahead. For more information, call San José Mission at 505-552-9330. For further information about visiting the Pueblo of Laguna, visit the Pueblo of Laguna website or call 505-552-6654.
San José de la Laguna Mission is part of the Laguna Pueblo Historic District and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Pueblo of Laguna has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey and is featured in the National Park Service American Southwest Travel Itinerary and the Route 66 Travel Itinerary.

Last updated: April 15, 2016


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