San Ildefonso Pueblo -- Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Postcard of Maria and Julian Martinez at San Ildefonso Pueblo, ca. 1930 - 1945. The pottery revival grew with increased tourism at the pueblo. The Tichnor Brothers Collection. Courtesy of Boston Public Library.

San Ildefonso Pueblo
San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico

Coordinates: 35.897778, -106.121944
Discover Our Shared Heritage
Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

San Ildefonso Mission
San Ildefonso Pueblo

By M.Bucka (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Occupied since the 14th century, San Ildefonso Pueblo is one of the best known of the New Mexico living pueblos. San Ildefonso and the Spanish mission there have been sites of both conflict and rebuilding during a turbulent period in the histories of the peoples of New Mexico. Today, the pueblo is a historic district listed in the National Register of Historic Places, recognized for its historical and cultural significance and its important role in the revival of Pueblo ceramics. Located at the foot of Black Mesa, about 24 miles north of Santa Fe, the pueblo is characterized by its adobe buildings, ceremonial kivas, a central plaza, and a replica of the mission period church.

The Pueblo

Archeological evidence shows that the Española Basin has had a long history of human occupation. Tewa-speaking people, the ancestors of those living at San Ildefonso, likely moved into the area in the 14th century and established several communities. The traditional name for San Ildefonso Pueblo is Po-woh-ge-oweenge, meaning "where the water cuts through." Tewa speakers established the Pueblo of San Ildefonso sometime around A.D. 1300. There, they hunted, grew a variety of crops using dry land farming techniques, and maintained connections with other communities in the region.

Contact with the Spanish began long before the missionaries arrived. Caspar Castaño de Sosa first visited the Pueblo of San lldefonso in 1591. Two other Spaniards, Antonio Gutierrez de Umana and Francisco Leyba de Bonilla, led an unauthorized expedition into New Mexico in 1595 and spent a year among the northern pueblos making San lldefonso their principal headquarters. In 1598, Juan de Oñate visited and named the pueblo San Ildefonso. Shortly after the coming of Oñate, the village was relocated to its present site and a convento and church were reportedly in use. Later around 1610, Fray Andrés Bautista established the first permanent mission, situated on the northwest side of the pueblo. By 1641, San lldefonso had a church and convento and two visitas: the Tewa-speaking pueblos of San Juan and Santa Clara.
“Dance, San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico, 1942.”
“Dance, San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico, 1942.”

Photo by Ansel Adams. Courtesy of the National Archives.

The Pueblo Rebellion of 1680

Colonialism placed several burdens on the Tewa speaking people of Northern New Mexico. Part of the Spanish colonial policy was to require tribute from Pueblo communities, and the Franciscan missionaries wanted conversion to Catholicism. After several decades these demands became too burdensome, and Native people resisted. The San lldefonso Indians played a major role in the great Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Their chief, Francisco, was one of the major leaders of the rebellion that successfully drove the Spanish out of the region for a number of years. The two resident missionaries at San Ildefonso were killed along with Spanish settlers in the area. The church was destroyed during the revolt. In October 1692, Spanish forces led by General Diego de Vargas reentered the area as part of the Reconquista and obtained a promise from the people of San lldefonso to keep the peace and once again to submit to the authority of the Spanish.

San Ildefonso's resistance continued, however. The following year, the San Ildefonso Indians entrenched themselves on Black Mesa near San lldefonso along with most of the other Tewa groups as well as Tanos. In January 1694, Vargas returned to find the Tewa and Tano groups secure on the nearby mesa. He set out from Santa Fe to storm the mesa on February 25, with 60 fully armed soldiers, 30 militia and some Indian allies from the Pueblo of Pecos. After a series of unsuccessful attacks, he returned to Santa Fe on March 19. San Ildefonso had been a key supplier of grains, and the Spanish sorely needed that steady food supply as they reestablished their settlements. Vargas marched again on September 4th with all his available forces to remove the Tewas and Tanos from the mesa of San Ildefonso. By holding the fields planted in the river valley, Vargas starved the defenders of the mesa into compliance, but the campaign took nine months and much of his military resources. The Franciscan Fray Francisco Cornera assumed his duties following the campaign at San Ildefonso on October 5, 1694.
Blackware wedding vase jar by Maria and Julian Martinez from San Ildefonso Pueblo, ca. 1929.
Blackware wedding vase jar by Maria and Julian Martinez from San Ildefonso Pueblo, ca. 1929. After much hard work, the couple revived the art of making and decorating pottery with traditional techniques at San Ildefonso.

Photo by Uyvsdi. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A drought and bad winter in 1695 brought starvation and weakened the Spanish colonists. Seizing the opportunity, some pueblos rebelled again in 1696, and Cornera and Fray Antonio Moreno were killed when the people of San Ildefonso destroyed the church and convento a second time. Vargas quickly put down this revolt and reestablished the mission. In 1706, Fray Juan Alvarez recorded that the church was being rebuilt, and this building lasted into the 19th century.

The Pueblo of San Ildefonso was significantly affected by intrusion of Spanish colonists. By the 1760's the encroachments were so serious some San Ildefonso families reported that they had no agricultural lands to support themselves. Part of the disputed lands was restored to San Ildefonso by a 1786 decision of Governor Juan Bautista de Anza. Mexico took control of the area in 1821, and later the United States gained control in 1848 following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Congress created the modern reservation in 1858 confirming a grant of 17,292 acres of land to the pueblo, and the grant was patented in 1864. Today the San Ildefonso Pueblo is a self-governing federally recognized tribe.
San Ildefonso Pueblo
Photo of the modern San Ildefonso church, which was restored by a collaboration between the Pueblo of San Ildefonso, the Catholic Archdiocese and other Catholic organizations, and outside donations. The church was rededicated Dec. 15, 1968.

Photo by Larry Lamsa. Courtesy of Flickr Commons.

What you can see today

The third mission church lasted for many years. Built from adobe, it had large buttresses, 20 x 20 ft. at the base, and a campanario, a wall with an opening to hold a large bronze bell. The church had a unique convent with a large "porter's lodge" 41 feet square with an adobe bench that went all the way around the inside. This building, however, became unusable in the late 19th century with a badly leaking roof. The community debated whether to repair the church or construct a new one. When the conservative faction in the community took a trip to the St. Louis World Fair in 1904, the people opposed to repairing the church began demolishing it. In 1905, a new peaked tin-roof church was built, and only lasted until the late 1950s. San Ildefonso revived many of its pottery traditions and became famous for its matte and polished black-on-black pottery popularized in the early 20th century by Maria and Julian Martinez. An interest in building a replica of the 1711 church led to a community effort from 1958-1968 to build the new adobe church. The church was rededicated on December 15, 1968.

Today the pueblo is an artist community and welcomes visitors. Artisans at San Ildefonso have built upon and expanded from the traditions revived by Maria Martinez in the early 20th century. The pueblo's feast day is January 23, where the traditional dances are performed during the day. In addition to visiting Mission San Ildefonso, visitors can stop by the visitor center, shops, and the museum that displays Martinez's work.

Plan Your Visit

San Ildefonso Pueblo is south of Española, New Mexico, on NM 502. The pueblo can be visited daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm. Please call 505-455-3549 for further information.
San Ildefonso Pueblo is featured in the National Park Service American Southwest Travel Itinerary is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and has been documented in the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

Last updated: April 15, 2016


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