San Buenaventura de Cochiti - English

"Indian village" Cochiti. 1937, Todros Geller. Linocut depicts the mission when briefly had a steeple in the early 20th-century. From Land to Land. From the Yiddish Book Center's Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

San Buenaventura de Cochiti
Pueblo de Cochiti, New Mexico

Coordinates: 35.646683, -106.332050
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Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Clay figure, caricature of a white man; Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, c. 1883
Clay figure, caricature of a white man; Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, c. 1883

Artist unknown. From the Bandelier Collection, Ethnological Museum, Berlin, Germany. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Located 35 miles southwest of Santa Fe, Pueblo de Cochiti is the northernmost Keresan-speaking pueblo in New Mexico. Pueblo de Cochiti is home to the most recently constructed church of San Buenaventura. The Franciscan order established the mission and administered it for over 250 years. The people of Cochiti built, destroyed, rebuilt, and maintained the mission through all these years. Today, San Buenaventura, or St. Bonaventure, is still in use as a Catholic parish and is on the National Register of Historic Places as part of Cochiti Pueblo Historic District.

People of Cochiti

Around A.D. 1350, the Ancestral Pueblo people had moved south from the Four Corners region and established agricultural settlement along the Rio Grande. Archeologists call this period the Great Pueblo Migration. Oral traditions contain information about where people came from and who their descendants are today. According to these traditions, the land they came from could no longer support the people and a severe drought added to what were already difficult times. The Keresan-speaking people of Pueblo de Cochiti, located just south and east along the Rio Grande, are the descendants of the Ancestral Pueblo people who built homes in Frijoles Canyon in Northern New Mexico.

The Spanish come to Cochiti

Though Spanish expeditions passed by Cochiti pueblo in the mid-1500s, long-term Spanish presence in the region began with the colonizing and missionary efforts after 1598. The historical references to the early mission are scarce, but sometime in the early 1600s, a mission was started in the Pueblo de Cochiti that became a visita of Santo Domingo. In 1642, the mission was reported to have a church, and in 1667 was called San Buenaventura. Following the Pueblo Revolt in 1680, which called Pueblo peoples to return to traditional practices and expel the Spanish, the people of Cochiti who took part withdrew to a fortified community at Horn Mesa. There they created a multi-pueblo community with the people of San Marcos and San Felipe where they lived until the Spanish returned to the pueblo in 1693 to reestablish Spanish control of New Mexico. Another uprising in 1694 prompted the Cochiti to return to the fortified Horn Mesa. The Spanish and their allies from San Felipe, Santa Ana, and Zia pueblos captured the settlement and forced the Cochiti to go back to their village.
Aiyowitsa, a woman from Cochiti. c. 1925
Aiyowitsa, a woman from Cochiti. c. 1925

Photo by Edward S. Curtis. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Not much is recorded of the pre-rebellion church that was destroyed in the uprising, though the sentiments that sparked rebellion may not have been quickly forgotten if the progress and state of the mission building were any indication. Nearly ten years later in 1706, the mission was reportedly in poor shape with the church still being rebuilt, and its iron bell clapper stolen and re-fashioned into tools. Bishop Tamarón visited in 1760, and noted the lack of enthusiasm the Cochiti people had for the Catholic catechism. Visiting Father Domínguez fifteen years later called the church "very gloomy". In the mid-1700s, the church had thick adobe walls, a small belfry over the main door, a porter's lodge on the south side, a priest's garden, a cemetery in front of the church, and a corral where the priest kept his livestock. During the colonial period, like other pueblos on the Rio Grande, Cochiti had irrigated fields on either side of the river, and like their ancestors, grew corn, beans, and squash in the valley alongside crops introduced by the Spanish.

The relationship the pueblo had with the local priest went up and down through the 19th century. In 1819, Fray Juan Caballero Toril, who was the resident priest at Santo Domingo and Cochiti, found people at Cochiti with traditional religious figurines and promptly took them and burned them in the central plaza. Years later, another priest, Noël Dumarest, would ask to sketch the figurines and noted many of the customs of the pueblo. Pictures from this time period show the church had a wooden balcony.

In 1848 Americans took control of the region following the Mexican-American War that ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ceded New Mexico to the U.S. In the 1880s, Lieutenant Bourke visited and noted that the church had rotten ceiling beams, was white washed on the inside, and had pine planks decorated by locals with red, yellow, blue, and black figures of deer, buffalo, horses, and people. It is significant that almost 300 years of missionaries at Cochiti had not erased traditional practices, symbols, and beliefs, but instead produced syncretic practices.
San Buenaventura de Cochiti
Mission San Buenaventura de Cochiti, New Mexico, c.1906

U.S. GEOG file. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

What you can see today

San Buenaventura de Cochiti has undergone various changes in the 20th century as the church and the pueblo have tried to decide how best to keep the historic adobe building part of the community. Around 1915, the church gained a pitched tin roof and a tall steeple, and the wooden balcony was removed. The 20-foot tall steeple later proved to be structurally unsound and was shortened. In the 1960s New Mexican Franciscan Fray Angélico Chávez, the leaders of Pueblo de Cochiti, and architect Robert Plettenberg collaborated to restore the mission to its appearance in early photographs. The church in the pueblo today is a result of those efforts and continues to be the active Catholic parish of St. Bonaventure. Pueblo de Cochiti was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1974, and is today home to many artists and storytellers. Nearby attractions include Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument and Cochiti Lake. The pueblo welcomes visitors throughout the year and celebrates feast days seasonally with dances. There are certain restrictions visitors are asked to observe, and it is advised to call ahead.

Plan Your Visit

San Buenaventura de Cochiti is part of Pueblo de Cochiti, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Pueblo de Cochiti is on NM 22 at exit 259, 33 miles north of Albuquerque, NM. Photography, recording, and cell phone use are prohibited, and visitors are asked to be respectful of tribal rules. The pueblo is open to visitors daily. For more information, visit Pueblo de Cochiti website or call 505-465-2244.

Last updated: April 15, 2016


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