The work of Onate and the epoch it represents is graphically, sympathetically and understandingly treated, from the Indian’s standpoint, by Marah Ellis Ryan, in her fascinating and illuminating novel, The Flute of the Gods, which every student of the Missions of New Mexico and Arizona (as also of California) will do well to read.
New Mexico has seen some of the most devoted missionaries of the world, one of these, Fray Geronimo de Zarate Salmeron, having left a most interesting, instructive account of “the things that have been seen and known in New Mexico, as well by sea as by land, from the year 1538 till that of 1626.”
This account was written in 1626 to induce other missionaries to enter the field in which he was so earnest a laborer. For eight years he worked in New Mexico, more than 280 years ago. In 1618 he was parish priest at Jemez, mastered the Indian language and baptized 6566 Indians, not counting those of Cia and Santa Ana. “He also, single-handed and alone, pacified and converted the lofty pueblo of Acoma, then hostile to the Spanish. He built churches and monasteries, bore the fearful hardships and dangers of a missionary’s life then in that wilderness, and has left us a most valuable chronicle.” This was translated by Mr. Lummis and appeared in The Land of Sunshine.
The missionaries who accompanied Juan de Onate in 1597 built a chapel at San Gabriel, but no fragment of it remains, though in 1680 its ruins were referred to. The second church in New Mexico was built about 1606 in Santa Fe, the new city founded the year before by Onate. This church, however, did not last long, for it was soon outgrown, and in 1622, Fray Alonzo de Benavides, the Franciscan historian of New Mexico, laid the foundation of the parish church, which was completed in 1627. When, in 1870, it was decided to build the stone cathedral in Santa Fe, this old church was demolished, except two large chapels and the old sanctuary. It had been described in the official records shortly prior to its demolition as follows: “An adobe building 54 yards long by 9-1/2 in width, with two small towers not provided with crosses, one containing two bells and the other empty; the church being covered with the Crucero (the place where a church takes the form of a cross by the side chapels), there are two large separate chapels, the one on the north side dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, called also ’La Conquistadorea;’ and on the south side the other dedicated to St. Joseph.”
Sometime shortly after 1636 the old church of San Miguel was built in Santa Fe, and its original walls still form a part of the church that stands to-day. It was partially demolished in the rebellion of 1680, but was restored in 1710.
In 1617, nearly three hundred years ago, there were eleven churches in New Mexico, the ruins of one of which, that of Pecos, can still be seen a few miles above Glorieta on the Santa Fe main line. This pueblo was once the largest in New Mexico, but it was deserted in 1840, and now its great house, supposed to have been much larger than the many-storied house of Zuni, is entirely in ruins.