Religion played a significant role in New Mexico’s early history and contributed to the discovery, exploration, naming, continued settlement, and reconquest of New Mexico.
When Father Marcos de Niza returned to New Spain from New Mexico, he claimed to have seen one of the fabled cities. His reports led to Coronadoís exploration of New Mexico. Franciscan Father Jacinto de San Francisco wrote a document in 1561 referring to the area as New Andalusia which gave New Mexico its first name.
In 1581, Franciscan lay brother Agustin Rodriguez, along with with two other Franciscans and Francisco Sanchez Chamuscado, traveled northward on the Rio Grande and named the area The Kingdom of San Felipe. They explored the Manzano Mountains to the Pecos and into the Buffalo Plains and were killed.
Father Bernardino Beltran organized a rescue party for Rodriguezís group. While traveling their route, he renamed the area ìNueva Andalusia.î Both expeditions rekindled interest in New Mexico.
In 1607, when Governor Onate was removed from office, the crown considered removing the settlements too. Friars sent favorable reports to the king which included the fact that New Mexico already had 8,000 Pueblo converts. The king was committed to converting the Indians to Christianity and didnít withdraw the settlers from New Mexico.
The clergy and the crown had one main purpose for settling New Mexico. They wanted to convert all the Puebloís to Christianity. Converted Indians were told to obey the mission priests regarding religious matters and worldly matters.
The Indians had to built large adobe churches for the missionaries. Other Indians were given tasks that were against the beliefs of their culture. The priest had the Indians punished if they didnít obey their demands. Priests and soldiers carried out the punishment. Indians were whipped or put in stocks. Some Indians had their heads shaved and left the pueblos in disgrace.
The friars would not allow them to practice their cultural religious ceremonies and flogged them when it occurred. Religious practices were held in secret for fear of punishment which included medicine men being flogged.
The religious government and the civil government were constantly maneuvering to get officials elected in the republicas. This struggle for control led to the decline in respect by the Puebloís for the religious government and the civil government.
Natural disasters struck and New Mexico was in the middle of a drought by 1650. From 1665 to 1668 no crops were harvested by the Indians. Starvation caused hundreds of Indians to die. The missionaries were blamed because the Pueblo’s couldn’t perform their rain-making ceremonies.
In 1676, Father Francisco de Ayeta petitioned the viceroy to send more soldiers to the area. As a result, fifty armed convicts were sent as soldiers to New Mexico. He also petitioned for a fort to be build, but the viceroy referred the matter to the king. The friar was also in charge of supplying the missions with provisions from New Spain. In 1680, on a return trip to New Mexico with supplies needed by the missions and Santa Fe, he heard the reports of the Puebloís Revolt. He was able to supply the settlers, soldiers, and missionaries with supplies when they escaped to El Paso.
The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was due to the failure of the Spanish government and the Franciscan friars to get along. While they were struggling for right to rule the Indians, their wards were neglected, abused, and starved. The Indians blamed the missionaries because the friars didn’t allow them to perform their ceremonial rituals.
Pueblo Indians respected the views and decisions of their religious leaders. This respect extended to the
Catholic friars who were trying to convert them to Christianity. The Spanish government verbally fought openly with the friars and deteriorated the Indiansí respect for the missionaries. The Indians began to wonder if they could belief the friars, especially if the Spanish government didnít believe them.
Another cause of the revolt involved the troubles that the Indians endured prior to the revolt. The Pueblo Indians placed the blame on the Spanish missionaries due to their zealous demands regarding the Puebloís religious culture. Religious artifact and kivas were destroyed by soldiers following orders from the missionaries.
New Mexico was in the middle of a drought by 1650. From 1665 to 1668 no crops were harvested by the Indians. Starvation caused hundreds of Indians to die. The Indians blamed the missionaries because the Puebloís couldnít perform their rain-making ceremonies.
After the Great Pueblo Revolt of 1680, officials considered abandoning the province of New Mexico. Father Francisco de Ayeta rode 1200 miles to convince the Viceroy that the reconquest of New Mexico was important and insured the future of New Mexico.
Santos were primitive art forms made by Santeros. They represent Mary, Jesus, and the Saints. They are primitive because they were cut with rough tools. Santos which can be carved (bultos) or paintings on wood (retables) often depict saints associated with agriculture.
The penitentes emerged as a result of a shortage of priests. Penitente rites were practiced mostly during the Lenten season. Vestiges of the penitente rites are occasionally practiced in the mountain areas of the Sangre de Cristos. The ceremonial building for the penitent brotherhood is called the morada. Originally started during Onateís time of office, some rural people who didnít have a minister, had organized religious brotherhoods of laymen. They called themselves penitentes and flogged themselves and also conducted mock crucifixions. Archbishop Lamy attempted to stop the penitentes in the mid-19th century. Currently, the penitente worship is accepted by the church provide the zealous actions of the original brotherhood does not occur.
Jean B. Lamy was New Mexico’s first resident bishop who later became an archbishop. The French born puritanical bishop was actively involved in charitable works and the Catholic Church. He came to New Mexico to impose religious discipline on the native clergy whose style of living had caused scandal to the church and other Americans. He came to New Mexico because the ways of the Catholic clergy needed to be reformed.