Santa Clara Mission Church -- Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Santa Clara Mission Church

Santa Clara Mission Church
Santa Clara Pueblo

Coordinates: 35.971111, -106.089167
Discover Our Shared Heritage
Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Santa Clara Mission Church
Santa Clara Pueblo c. 1871-1907.

Courtesy of the National Archives. ARC ID: 523835.

Santa Clara Pueblo is a Tewa settlement in New Mexico along the Rio Grande that has been home to Tewa-speaking peoples for hundreds of years. Franciscan priests came back to that part of the Rio Grande Valley 30 years after the Spanish began colonizing New Mexico. A mission was established in 1628 as a visita –a chapel for the use of a visiting priest –for San Juan Pueblo. Cabaceras, or head missions, were where the priest would live year-round and stop over at the nearby visitas, which often had a building to say mass inside but no resident priest. This system led to very different experiences of Spanish colonization and an independence at Santa Clara Pueblo that the residents fought to keep. Today, Because of the significance of Santa Clara Pueblo's history and culture, the pueblo is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Santa Clara Mission Church
Two women, c. 1905 tending a fire pit, Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico.

Photo by Edward S. Curtis, 1868-1952. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Allies and Enemies

The Tewa-speaking peoples populated the northern Rio Grande Valley from as early as the beginning of the 13th century, building large communities of multi-room pueblos, of which Santa Clara was the second largest. The Tewa lived in communities that relied both on irrigation farming and hunting for sustenance. Four of the existing Tewa pueblos, Ohkay Owingeh, Pojoaque, Santa Clara and San Ildefonso are within a few miles of Española, New Mexico.

The Spanish part of the pueblo's long history began when part of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado's expeditionary force first visited it in 1541. The Spanish established a more permanent settlement in the region in 1598, bringing colonists as well as Franciscan priests who began establishing missions. At the time of the Spanish arrival, the Tewa had been subject for many years to raids by Apache and Navajo warriors and the people at Santa Clara Pueblo saw an opportunity to use the Spanish as allies. Pressures from the Franciscan priests to convert the Tewa people to Catholicism and Spanish demands on native labor, however, fostered resentment in the pueblos. In 1680, the inhabitants of Santa Clara and nearby pueblos took an active part in the Pueblo Revolt, driving the Spanish out of the region. When the Spanish, led by Don Diego de Vargas, returned to reestablish their control in the region in 1692, the people of Santa Clara Pueblo joined with those of San Ildefonso. Together at the fortified settlement on Black Mesa, they resisted the Spanish until 1696. They escaped and lived with the Hopi and Zuni. Many later returned to Santa Clara Pueblo in 1702, rebuilding the community and farming again on the Rio Grande Valley floor.
Santa Clara Mission Church
Plan view of the cruciform church, 1972.

By James Lamsam, from HABS. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Santa Clara Pueblo Church

The Spanish missions had been around for such a long time in New Mexico that they often had to be rebuilt during the colonial period. While the earlier, post-revolt church adobe building had a choir loft and an organ, by the 1750s, time had taken its toll and the church had fallen into disrepair and collapsed. Fray Mariano Rodríguez organized the construction of a new church in 1758. He and people of Santa Clara constructed a long and narrow church. The church reportedly was built at the friar's expense, and the progress was slow;the people only worked on the church when they had time during two months in the winter. The priest was obliged to provide everyone with food and supply the oxen needed to move the heavy wooden vigas, or support beams. Eventually, the new church was completed. It lasted for more than a century during a period of drastic changes like the epidemic of small pox in 1782, which carried off a large portion of the pueblo's population, and Mexican Independence in 1821.

The community persisted through the American acquisition of the territory, growing wheat and corn and raising cattle. In 1858, they became one of the first Pueblo groups to have land claims recognized by the U.S. Congress. Although the people of Santa Clara were resilient, the colonial period adobe church was not standing the test of time well. The 1758 building lasted until around 1909, when somebody thought it was good idea to give the old church a more "modern" peaked roof, and removed the old vigas that provided structure and support for the walls. The building collapsed as a result. It was several years later, in 1918, before the historic building you can see today was constructed. The people of Santa Clara Pueblo survived the Spanish Colonial, Mexican, and American political control of the larger region and today are members of the Eight Northern Pueblos. Santa Clara Pueblo is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district.
Santa Clara Mission Church
Modern Santa Clara Pueblo Catholic Church.

Photo by Jeff Hart. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

What you can see today

The historic section of the pueblo complex consists of one- and two-story adobe houses surrounding two main plazas with two rectangular ceremonial kivas and the church built in 1918. Santa Clara is a living pueblo, a community of highly skilled artisans famous for their black polished and red polychrome pottery. Santa Clara Pueblo is home to many artistic families who continue to produce exceptional pottery, in addition to other crafts. The pueblo welcomes visitors and is open daily. Nearby attractions include Puye Cliff Dwellings, a National Historic Landmark that is where the ancestors of today's Santa Clara Pueblo people lived.

Plan Your Visit

Santa Clara Pueblo is located on NM 30, two miles south of Española, NM. From US 84 / US 285 turn west onto Santa Clara Bridge Rd. and then turn left heading south on NM 30 the Los Alamos Highway. From NM 30, turn left onto Rose Rd, make a right onto Kee St. and follow it to the mission church, which will be on the left. Cameras are allowed only with a permit. The pueblo can be visited daily from dawn to dusk. Please call 505-753-7326 for further information.
Santa Clara Pueblo is featured in the National Park Service American Southwest Travel Itinerary. Santa Clara Pueblo 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


  • Site Index