Mission San Miguel de Socorro -- Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Linen postcard of San Miguel c. 1930-1945. By Alfred Mc Garr Adv. Ser. From the Tichnor Brothers Collection. Courtesy of Boston Public Library.

Mission San Miguel de Socorro
Socorro, New Mexico

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

Reenactors from La Sociedad de la Entrada at the Jornada del Muerto
Reenactors from La Sociedad de la Entrada at the Jornada del Muerto, a waterless stretch of desert away from the river on El Camino Real that travelers had to cross before Mission Socorro.

NPS photo.

When people think about Spanish missions, frequently the image of a padre with his church comes to mind, but missions were important parts of the trade routes traveled by Spanish and Indian alike. Many Spanish trails evolved from indigenous footpaths. During the Spanish colonial period in New Mexico, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (Royal Road of the Interior), was the major trade route between Mexico City and Santa Fe in New Mexico. El Camino Real passed the village of Teypana and Pilabó, home to the Piro Indians near today's Socorro. The Piro met Spanish settlers when Oñate's expedition stopped at a Piro settlement, and later a Franciscan mission was started in the early 1600s.

The mission and Piro settlement both came to an end when the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 drove the Spanish and their Piro allies south to El Paso del Norte, today's Juarez, where the Piro and other Spanish and Pueblo immigrants created new villages and mission communities. The old villages were empty until Hispanic settlers reoccupied the areas in the early 19th century, building the church visitors can see in the City of Socorro today. San Miguel Catholic Church is administered by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. The church is part of the Socorro Historical District Scenic Byway and is located along the El Camino Real de la Tierra Adentro.
The Piro Indians

The Piro lived in and around what is today Socorro, New Mexico, sustaining themselves by farming and hunting in the Rio Grande Valley. They resided in a dozen settlements composed of multi-room pueblos near the Rio Grande. In 1598, Oñate and the large group of soldiers and settlers emerged from the Jornada de Muerte, or Dead Man's Journey —the long, waterless stretch of what would become part of the El Camino Real del Tierra Adentro. According to historical records, the Piro met the group and gave corn to the travelers, and Oñate named the place Socorro because of the help he received.
The Franciscans come to the Piro

Franciscan priests founded the Mission Nuestra Señora de Perpetuo Socorro, “Our Lady of Perpetual Aid,” in the late 1620s to convert the Piro and integrate them into Spanish life ways. During this time, mining activities began in the region and Spanish settlers came to the area. Mission Socorro was one of four missions that were founded in Piro settlements. The 17th century, however, was a time of change and upheaval. Aside from the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Piro vacated many of their settlements, likely as a result of a combination of factors including disease, droughts, disruption of traditional trade, and increased Apache raiding. These problems were exacerbated by Spanish tribute demands under the encomienda system and mission reducción program that attempted to move indigenous populations into larger, concentrated settlements. The Piro were seriously impacted by these developments as were many other Pueblo Indian settlements in New Mexico.
General view of San Miguel Mission, Socorro, NM.
General view of San Miguel Mission, Socorro,NM.

Photo by the Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

What you can see today

After the revolt, the Spanish returned to New Mexico in 1692, but did not resettle in Socorro. The Piro were scattered after the revolt and retreated to El Paso. Many eventually became part of the mission community called Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Los Piros, also known as Mission Socorro in the El Paso area, a featured site in this itinerary. In the early1800s, New Mexico governor Fernando Chacon ordered the resettlement of the area and in 1815, several families moved into the area.

The new community of Socorro was quite different than the one that had been there before, but the mission remained an important center. Between 1819 and 1821, a parish church was built, reportedly using the foundation and frame of the old mission church. People continued to bury their dead in the campo santo, or the cemetery in front of the church, including Manuel Armijo, the last governor of New Mexico under Mexican rule.

In 1821, San Miguel had a flat roof and single nave, but as the 19th century progressed and Socorro grew, the church was renovated with bell towers, a pitched roof, and an extra wing to accommodate more people. In the 1930s, the building was renovated in the California Mission style, reflecting a resurgent interest in the Spanish colonial period. In the 1960s, a resurgence of interest in the Spanish colonial period in New Mexico led to extensive restoration, creating the church that serves Socorro today.

Plan Your Visit

Mission San Miguel de Socorro, now called the San Miguel Catholic Church, is located at 403 El Camino Real in Socorro, NM. For more information visit the parish San Miguel Catholic Church website or call 575-835-2891. The church is an active Catholic parish and open daily.
Mission San Miguel de Socorro is part of the Socorro Historical District Scenic Byway and is located along the El Camino Real de la Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail, a unit of the National Park Service. The church has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

Last updated: April 15, 2016


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