You are here
Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe Mission
A contested symbol within the pueblo, the much-altered church of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe both commemorates the generations of Zunis who built and used the former Franciscan mission, and is emblematic of the fraught legacy of Spanish colonialism.
Founded by Fray Roque de Figueredo in 1629, the first mission at what is today Zuni Pueblo only lasted until 1632, when Zunis revolted against Spanish demands and killed two Franciscan friars. A missionary returned by the 1650s and directed the construction of a single-nave church and residency ( convento) on an ash heap southeast of the pueblo. Completed by 1661, the mission was burned in 1680, when Zunis joined the Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish occupation of New Mexico.
Fray Juan de Garaycoechea reestablished the mission in 1700 and repaired the church and convento. An increased population after the Revolt led to the town’s expansion around the formerly marginal mission site, creating a new plaza in the heart of Middle Village. Its guarded incorporation into the pueblo reflects the Zunis’ ambivalence towards Spanish culture, selectively adopting certain introductions while retaining their indigenous religion and cultural identity.
The single-nave church measured 118.5 by 38.5 feet, with at least one bell tower on the facade (at some point a second tower and balcony were built), a choir loft over the main portal, and a rectangular apse. Its adobe walls stood on substantial sandstone foundations and were finished with mud and lime plaster. A flat ceiling of packed earth over hewn beams spanned the nave and a transverse clerestory lit the altar. The adjoining convento was almost square, with an open patio 39 feet per side. An ambulatory provided internal communication between convento rooms, and it may have had a second story.
Around 1776, the congregation purchased a small altarpiece by Bernardo Miera y Pacheco featuring the Virgin of Guadalupe. But distance and disinterest made the Pueblo a hardship post for Franciscans and there was no resident priest by 1824. The gradual dismantling of the convento reflects the mission’s declining importance, as does the ruined state of the church by the 1890s. Anglo-Americans took the altarpiece sculptures for museums, including the Brooklyn Museum and Smithsonian Institution, from whence the figure of San Miguel was repatriated in 2004. Such expropriation of Indigenous material culture by purchase, trade, and outright theft was once a common practice by anthropologists and collectors.
According to Frank Hamilton Cushing, Zunis saw the ruins as sacred: members of the pueblo had been buried beneath the earth floor of the church and in the cemetery, making it a hallowed ancestral site. To this day, the mission cemetery is unmaintained and restricted except for rare burials. Despite this reluctance to interfere with a natural process of decay, the church was rebuilt around 1901–1905 by Jésus Eriacho, a Yaqui/Mexican man who had been adopted into the Zuni community. Because the beams he used were too short to span the nave, Eriacho tore down and reconstructed the north and west walls, moving them 5 feet inward.
The National Park Service (NPS) oversaw the excavation and restoration of the mission in 1966–1970. Following the seventeenth-century plan, and incorporating surviving parts of the facade and choir dating to the earlier churches of 1661 and 1700, the NPS replaced Eriacho’s roof, reconstructed the collapsing south wall with pressed adobe bricks, and replastered the exterior with hard stucco. In 1975, Alex Seowtewa began painting striking, life-size Zuni Kokko or Kachina figures in the nave, with winter Sha’lak’o ceremonies on the north wall, and others on the south wall. Though Seowtewa wanted to pass traditional Zuni culture on to younger generations, these oil paintings remain a point of contention for those within the community who are uncomfortable with the representation of sacred figures.
The restored structure functioned until 2004, when it devolved to the tribe. The need to address its structural deterioration has been evident since the 1990s, with conditions assessments by the NPS Division of Conservation in 1991, NM Community Foundation: Churches Symbols of Community in 1992, Cornerstones Community Partnerships of Santa Fe in 2005–2006, and Barbara Felix Architecture and Design in 2009. These assessments have repeatedly found problems with moisture that leave the mission “in a state of imminent structural failure.” NM Community Foundations directed the installation of a new roof and viga repairs by Rosas Roofing of Santa Fe in 1993, but by 2005 the church still needed extensive repair to prevent structural failure. A 2009 effort improved the drainage of the surrounding grade, but was still unable to address the major structural problems. Moisture currently endangers Seowtewa’s paintings, which also need restoration. While some Zunis want the paintings to be preserved, others see this is a sign of the Kokko going home to the elements.
Due to continued deterioration, the mission is closed for tours.
Caywood, Louis R. The Restored Mission of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Zuni, Zuni, New Mexico. St. Michaels, AZ: St. Michael’s Press, 1972.
Cornerstones Community Partnerships. 2006. “Conditions Assessment of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico.” Cornerstones Community Partnerships Archives, Santa Fe, NM.
Cushing, Frank Hamilton. “Outlines of Zuñi Creation Myths.” Thirteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 323-447. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1896.
Dominguez, Fray Francisco Atanasio. The Missions of New Mexico, 1776. Trans. by Eleanor B. Adams and Fray Angelico Chávez. 1956. Reprint, Albuquerque, NM: Sunstone Press, 2012.
Ferguson, T. J., and Barbara J. Mills. Archaeological Investigations at Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico, 1977-1980.ZAP Report 183. Zuni Pueblo: Zuni Archaeological Program, 1982.
Gavin, Robin Farwell, and Donna Pierce. “The Altar Screens of Bernardo Miera y Pacheco.” In The Art and Legacy of Bernardo Miera y Pacheco: New Spain’s Explorer, Cartographer, and Artist, edited by Josef Díaz, 63-102. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2013.
Hart, E. Richard. “Alex Seowtewa’s Murals in the Old Zuni Mission.” Zuni History: Victories in the 1990s, section II, 28. Seattle: Institute of the North American West, 1991.
Kennedy, Tom R., and Dan Simplicio. “First Contact at Hawikku (Zuni): The Day the World Stopped.” Telling New Mexico: A New History, edited by Marta Wiegle with Frances Levine and Louise Stiver, 63-71. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2009.
Kessell, John L. The Missions of New Mexico Since 1776. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1980.
Kubler, George. The Religious Architecture of New Mexico: In the Colonial Period and Since the American Occupation. 4th ed. Albuquerque: School of American Research and University of New Mexico Press, 1973.
Treib, Marc. Sanctuaries of Spanish New Mexico. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.
If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.
SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.