Mission San Juan Bautista -- Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Group of Indians at the Pueblo of San Juan, NM, ca. 1870-1908. Photo by H.T. Heister. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Mission San Juan Bautista
Ohkay Owingeh, formerly San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico

Coordinates: 31.567472,-111.051842
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Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Statue of Popé, Ohkay Owingeh, May 2005.
Statue of Popé, Ohkay Owingeh, May 2005.

Photo by Einar E. Kvaran. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

About 90 miles north of Santa Fe, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, formerly known as San Juan Pueblo, is situated on the east side of the Rio Grande River. People have been living at the site since A.D. 1200. Curiously, the neo-Gothic stone and brick church of San Juan Bautista seems out of place in comparison to the one-story adobe buildings surrounding it. The brick church, in fact, belies a long history of interaction between the Spanish and Pueblo Indians in New Mexico. Originally, Mission San Juan Bautista was founded as part of Don Juan de Oñate's first settlement in New Mexico that dates from 1598.

San Juan de los Caballeros was the first Spanish capital and settlement in New Mexico, but was occupied only for a brief period of time. In late 1599, the colonists moved to San Gabriel del Yunque-Ouingue --less than a half mile away -- which served as New Mexico's second capital. Eleven years later, the capital was again relocated to the present-day location of Santa Fe. Although the Spanish settlement moved, the Franciscan priests maintained Mission San Juan Bautista until the mission's secularization in 1826, turning it into the local Catholic parish. Today the pueblo is one of the Eight Northern Pueblo Tribes. Both San Juan Pueblo --renamed Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo in 2005-- and the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto-- part of the historic brick church that replaced the adobe mission-- are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Ohkay Owingeh

The people at Ohkay Owingeh are a Tewa-speaking group that move south around A.D. 1200 as part of the great Pueblo migration. They established a large community based on irrigation farming along the Rio Grande in a valley between the Sangre de Cristo and Jèmez Mountains. The pueblo’s traditional name Ohkay Owingeh means “Village of the strong people,” and historically the village was the location of meetings between pueblos. Today the pueblo is the headquarters of The Eight Northern Pueblo Tribal Council.
Ohkay Owingeh, ca. 1871 - ca. 1907
Ohkay Owingeh, ca. 1871 - ca. 1907

Photo by John K. Hillers. Courtesy of the National Archives, ARC ID 523750.

Arrival of the Oñate expedition

Oñate's expedition consisted of soldiers, families, and Franciscans as well as herds of cows, sheep, mules, and horses. These were all brought north in a slow procession from Mexico. Oñate was the son of a wealthy and powerful mining family from Zacatecas and had fought the Chichimecas and developed mines during the 1540s. In the 1590s, he entered into a contract with the Viceroy in Mexico City to pacify New Mexico and become its governor in exchange for loans, supplies, and soldiers. The Spanish were interested in the mining potential of the region and the Franciscans wanted to expand their ministry further north.

The colonists and the people of Ohkay Owingeh appeared to have a peaceful relationship. The people of the pueblo provided some food and shelter for the new settlement of San Juan de los Caballeros until the colonists could sow and harvest their own crops in the fall of 1598. Later, at San Gabriel the settlers built the church of San Miguel (also featured in this itinerary series) to serve their community, but once the capital was moved to Santa Fe in 1610 that church served as the mission church for the pueblo until the construction of San Juan Bautista about a mile away in the 1643.
The Pueblo Revolt and Rebuilding

Tension and resentment grew in the 1600s as the labor and tribute demands of the encomienda system and the suppression of traditional religious practices wore on the Pueblo people. Po'pay (Popé), a religious leader from Ohkay Owingeh, was one of the major organizers of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 that resulted in expulsion of the Spanish from New Mexico for 12 years after the revolt. During that period the church of San Juan Bautista was likely destroyed. When Franciscans returned they began constructing a new mission closer to the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo and that building lasted for about 50 years before a new one had to be constructed. Beginning around 1760, the people of the pueblo and Fray Juan José Pérez de Mirabal began building a narrow church that was 22 feet wide inside and 110 feet long. The church had a single bell arch on its façade and inside was a colorful yellow, blue, and red painted altar screen. The church was also decorated with paintings of saints on buffalo hides.

Front of the new church at Ohkay Owingeh.
Front of the new church at Ohkay Owingeh.

Photo by Davidhc9. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The mission program endured until 1826 when it became secularized, and its lands held in common passed into private ownership after Mexican Independence. San Juan Bautista was a local parish church by the time New Mexico came under United States control following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. The adobe church was reroofed and maintained through the mid-19th century, but the arrival of French clergyman to the diocese of Santa Fe heralded change for old San Juan Bautista. Padre Camilo, or Camille Seux, came from France to the U.S. in 1865 and six weeks later was ordained in Santa Fe. After serving as an apprentice he was assigned to San Juan Bautista as a pastor. He remained at the parish for 53 years. During his time he knocked down the old adobe church and by 1912 had rebuilt a two-story rectory, a school, and a new neo-Gothic style church using brick rather than adobe. The church was renamed after Our Lady of Lourdes, but is has since returned to its original name of San Juan Bautista.

What You Can See Today

In addition to the church that sits on the former mission site, the historic pueblo consists of parallel blocks of one- and two-story adobe houses and rectangular ceremonial kivas. Today, San Juan Bautista Parish is an active Catholic parish that continues its ministry in the pueblo and the surrounding community and has choirs that sing in Tewa and Spanish. Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo welcomes visitors, offering lodging at the Ohkay Casino Resort and a chance to see Pueblo arts and crafts. Nearby is the National Historic Landmark of San Gabriel de Yunque-Ouingue. Also of note is the Oke Owinge Arts and Crafts Cooperative, a well-known arts center that showcases local artisans. A replica of Mission San Miguel located in Española, New Mexico, south of Ohkay Owingeh, that serves as the Misión Museum in the Plaza de Española can also help orient visitors to the Spanish history of the area.

Plan Your Visit

Ohkay Owingeh, formally known as San Juan Pueblo, is four miles northeast of Española, NM, off NM 68. The Pueblo can be visited daily from dawn to dusk. No cameras, recording or sketches allowed. Please call the tribal office 505-852-4400 for further information about the pueblo. For more information about the parish call 505-852-4179 or visit the San Juan Bautista Catholic Church website.

Last updated: April 15, 2016

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