After "The Year Eighty": The Demise of Franciscan Power in Spanish New Mexico

By O'Mara, Philip F. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2003 | Go to article overview

After "The Year Eighty": The Demise of Franciscan Power in Spanish New Mexico


O'Mara, Philip F., The Catholic Historical Review


After "The Year Eighty": The Demise of Franciscan Power in Spanish New Mexico. By Jim Norris. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. Published in cooperation with the Academy of American Franciscan History. 2000. Pp. xi, 212. $39.95.)

In 1680 New Mexico's Spanish rulers, after more than a century of seeming success, suffered a devastating Native American revolt; all soldiers, missionaries, and settlers were killed or expelled. In 1692 the authorities of Church and State began a campaign of reconquest, and the Franciscan friars who joined the struggle prospered somewhat, chiefly in the Pecos Valley between Albuquerque and El Paso. The troops protected them, although not every village required a garrison; several Puebloan villages accepted and supported them; they rebuilt churches and taught children, at least, religious doctrine. Many inhabitants realistically accepted baptism for the sake of Spanish protection from Comanches and Apaches. The settlement at Abiquiu, founded for genizaros, native people rescued from slavery to these warlike tribes, showed them that without their alien overlords they risked another, more terrible subjugation. The Crown helped the missions financially, and love of the Gospel animated many friars who accompanied or soon followed the army. Thus the Franciscans, Custody of the Conversion of Saint Paul, began the eighteenth century zealously, with effective secular support and with an externally submissive flock. Jim Norris's book narrates and explains the slow decline, almost to disappearance, of the friars' prestige and influence.

The men who refounded the New Mexico missions were generally inept; their energies soon flagged, and their successors were sometimes idle or corrupt. Unprepared for hard village conditions, often solitary, often transferred around New Mexico, the friars usually achieved little. The Puebloans were almost the only natives to whom they directed even token evangelistic efforts; they tried to reach the Hopi and Zuni, but avoided the Comanches, Utes, and other groups. Mission villagers acquired little Spanish, and only three eighteenth-century friars learned even one of the several native languages. One active, capable priest wrote a catechism in a native language, but scarcely anyone used it. Only one congregation learned many hymns; several villages returned to kiva rituals and to sorcery, the priests either indifferent to such paganism or fearing for their safety if they objected. Often the people learned at most a few rote prayers and doctrinal statements, ignored Catholic rules on marriage, and went to confession only when death was imminent. Priests frequently left their assigned missions for long visits to Albuquerque.

Norris concentrates on the friars' loss of control throughout the eighteenth century, but even in the 1690's the real power was military. …

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