San Lorenzo de Picuris -- Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Picuris Pueblo, c. 1935-36. By Helmut Naumer, Sr. Pastel.

San Lorenzo de Picuris
Picuris Pueblo, New Mexico

Coordinates: 36.202306, -105.711460
Discover Our Shared Heritage
Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Remains of Cuartelejo in Kansas, where Pueblo peoples sometimes lived during the colonial period.
Remains of Cuartelejo in Kansas, where Pueblo peoples sometimes lived during the colonial period.

Photo by Plazak, 1996. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On the western slope of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains 18 miles south of Taos is the secluded Picuris Pueblo. With an elevation over 7,000 feet above sea level, the smallest of New Mexico's 19 Pueblo tribes is home to the recently restored Mission San Lorenzo Church. Franciscan priests built a mission there in 1629, in order to bring the Picuris into Catholicism and the Spanish ways of life. While active, the mission was rebuilt several times following Pueblo uprisings and Comanche raids. The church building of San Lorenzo de Picuris has been restored by the Picuris community and is maintained as an important element of the Picuris Pueblo's fascinating history that spans centuries. Today, Picuris Pueblo is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
San Lorenzo de Picuris
San Lorenzo de Picurís, c. 1915.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Between the mountains and the plains

The people from Picuris Pueblo have many cultural practices similar to other Puebloan groups in the region, but the pueblo's geographical isolation and proximity to the Plains made Picuris distinct. The ancestors of Picuris had been in the region a long time, living in a settlement near Pot Creek. Around A.D. 1250, a group moved to the site of Picuris Pueblo and built multi-story buildings of stone and adobe. There they continued practicing dry-land agriculture growing maize. The high elevation meant a shorter, more precarious growing season, and one result was that Picuris never over-relied on one kind of food. Their subsistence pattern included gathering wild plants, fishing, trading, and hunting a variety of animals including deer and rabbit. In the 19th century people from Picuris began hunting buffalo, working for wages, and raising livestock in addition to traditional farming and hunting. Picuris Pueblo maintained close relationships with Plains groups that included trade and social ties, but the other consequence of those relationships was involvement in Plains wars and conflict, which made them a target for raiding.
San Lorenzo de Picuris
Picuris Pueblo, c. 1935-36.
By Helmut Naumer, Sr. Pastel.

Courtesy of Bandelier National Monument Museum, BAND 1410.

Missionaries at Picuris

The Franciscan missionary Francisco de Zamora arrived with Oñate's 1598 expedition to settle what would become northern New Mexico. He was assigned generally to Taos and Picuris pueblos. Although he likely went and ministered at Picuris, the pueblo was not given a designated mission until 1621. In that year Fray Martín de Arvide arrived at the pueblo which already had a reputation of being resistant to conversion. By 1629, a church and convento were reported to have been built and in use.

During the 1600s, tensions remained high between the Spanish and native peoples throughout the Southwest. The conflicts grew out of the Pueblo people's experiences of religious suppression and economic hardships as well as Spanish internal conflicts between Church and secular authorities. In 1680, many villages, including Picuris, took part in the large Pueblo Revolt of 1680, a coordinated uprising of many pueblos throughout the region. At the time, an estimated 3,000 people were reportedly living at Picuris, and in support of the revolt, Picuris sent several hundred men to reinforce their Taos and Apache allies in the siege of Santa Fe.

The rebellion resulted in the death of several hundred Franciscans, the destruction of many churches, and the death or banishment from pueblo towns of many Spanish residents. The Spanish did not successfully return until 1692, when the Spanish and allies from other pueblos regained a precarious control of Taos and Picuris. The people of Picuris rose up again in 1696 with other northern pueblos. The bid was unsuccessful, and fearing retribution from the Spanish and their allies, the people of Picuris fled their pueblo. Some went to other pueblos nearby. Many sought refuge among their connections on the High Plains, reportedly going to El Cuartelejo, located in what is today east-central Kansas. Over the next few years the Picuris slowly returned, and some were ransomed by Juan de Ulibarrí, the Spanish chief official of the Pecos district who traveled to Cuartelejo to bring back Picuris Indians. Many never came back, and the pueblo that had once been home to several thousand was now home to around 400.
San Lorenzo de Picuris
Recent photo of the mission with the campo santo in the foreground.

Photo by Jim Mckenzie. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons Commons.

What you can see today

In the 1700s, a new challenge for the Spanish, Picuris, and Apache appeared as Comanche groups moved into northern New Mexico, shifting the power dynamics in the region. In 1769, a large Comanche party attacked Mission San Lorenzo and sacked the mission, which was located outside the pueblo and was relatively unprotected. Afterward, the mission was moved much closer to the pueblo, and when Father Visitor Domínguez visited in 1776 the building was still under construction. The Pueblo Indians built the missions throughout New Mexico, but construction often took years because it generally took place during the periods between harvesting and planting. The result was a small, three room convento and a church with a choir loft and transept.

In the 19th century New Mexico came under the control of Mexico, and later the United States. Throughout these changes, the people of Picuris kept the church in working order. In the 20th century the church was briefly "modernized" when someone put a pitched tin roof on the old adobe building. In the 1960s, there was a resurgence of interest in the colonial history of the pueblo and major efforts began to understand and reconstruct the mission with respect to its history. The mission was excavated in the 1960s, and using archeological and historical information, the church was reconstructed and its original profile restored to appear much as it did in 1778. The mission was rebuilt with deference to traditional methods, thanks to volunteers who molded thousands of adobe bricks by hand.

Today, Picuris Pueblo welcomes visitors and is home to a variety of artisans. In particular, the pueblo is known for its sparkling unornamented pottery, whose unique, subtle glitter is a product of the local clays mixed with flakes of mica. The major feast day of the pueblo is the Feast of St. Lawrence on August 10th when the community holds its Sunset Dances. In addition to exploring the old mission church visitors can enjoy the Picuris Pueblo Museum, a self-guided tour of the archeological sites, and trout fishing at Pu-na Lake.

Plan Your Visit

San Lorenzo de Picuris is part of Picuris Pueblo, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and is located 60 miles north of Santa Fe, NM on NM 68, 13 miles east of the junction at Embudo, on NM 75. The pueblo is open to visitors for a small fee from Monday to Friday, 8:00am to5:00pm. For more information call 575-587-2519.
The Pueblo of Picuris has been documented by the National Park Service’s
Historic American Buildings Survey.

Last updated: April 15, 2016


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