The Padre’s House


The Pueblo Indians, too, had been building large earthen cities for more than five hundred years before the Spanish conquerors arrived. Remarkably, many of these ancient dwellings survive, and some, like the one at Taos, are inhabited. The thick mud walls of both Pueblo and Spanish design support large beams ( vigas ) that generally protrude from the face of the structure, and smaller poles ( latias ) are laid on these to form a roof that is covered by as much as two feet of mud. Canales project from the roof to drain rainwater off the building. There are, however, some differences. Native Americans built their pueblos with bricks by “puddling” the mud in layers. They created huge, multiple-story pyramidal communities, piling room upon room, whereas the Spanish kept to a single-story linear pattern. The Indian pueblos usually had few windows or doors; instead exterior and interior ladders that led to apertures in the roof provided access and light. Their rooms were smaller than those of the Spanish adobe, and they lacked interior fireplaces.


While most of the social activities at the pueblo occurred in the open plaza, the center of the hacienda was the multipurpose room, the sala , where spaces were marked off by merely the placement of a brown-and-white-checked carpet, a jerga , on the hard-packed, polished earthen floor. A nineteenth-century visitor called this the “reception room, parlour, dining room and in short room of all work.” Here Don Severino would have concluded his business deals and political machinations by offering visitors swigs of the aguardiente distilled from local cane syrup. Martínez built his fortune from what he produced on his lands and what he could trade locally with the Indians and later on with the American and French mountain men. His long and detailed last testament lists few items that we could consider luxuries, but he does single out a gilded mirror, a saber with a hilt, guard, and scabbard of silver, four plates, four forks and spoons, and one silver cup.

Because of the scarcity of iron in the region, woodworkers constructed doors with extended tenons that pivoted in mortises in the sills and lintels, eliminating the need for metal hinges. Oxcarts, caritas , fashioned entirely of wood are another testament to the carver’s ingenuity.

The philosophical differences between Padre Martínez and the bishop of New Mexico are revealed in the design of the cathedral Bishop Lamy built in Santa Fe between 1869 and 1886, by which time he had been elevated to archbishop. His French Romanesque Cathedral of St. Francis, opposed in every way to the Spanish adobe style, is the summation of a new attitude—architecturally, theologically, and socially. Replacing an old adobe church on the site, the cathedral rose high above the scattered buildings of nineteenth-century Santa Fe, its towers, classical arches, columns, and pediments, seeming to announce the arrival of the church universal. In its harmonious proportions and geometrical symmetry the cathedral expressed a rationalism that would claim victory over what Bishop Lamy saw as the primitive superstitions of the colonial past.


While the Spanish hacienda of the Martínezes looked inward, facing its placita , Bishop Lamy’s cathedral looked to the world outside. The bishop’s God was an authoritative, transcendent being, whereas for Padre Martínez, God was as familiar a figure as any other inhabitant of his hacienda. In the Martínez house and on the altars and walls of the padre’s church hung the santos , figures of saints, who, it was believed, observed and even participated in family life. Bishop Lamy strongly disapproved of such icons; he removed them from his churches and chastised the parishes that continued to display them.

Padre Martínez, in contrast to Bishop Lamy, very much inhabited the day-to-day world of his people. He served in territorial legislatures under both Mexican and American administrations, and as a parish priest he established schools for the children of Taos, published the first newspaper in the territory, and continued to urge peace not only among all the Indian groups in-the region but with the Baptist missionaries who had begun to move in.