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Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico: San Juan Bautista Catholic Church and Tewa Missions

About the Church of San Juan Bautista and Tewa Missions:

Juan de Oñate was a wealthy mine owner in Zacatecas, Mexico, but in addition to his quest for gold, he sought to colonize and convert the land which is now the Southwest United States. After being commissioned viceroy of this area by the King of Spain, he crossed the Rio Grande into New Mexico to establish the first permanent Spanish settlement in North America. He brought with him 129 soldiers, 10 Franciscans (eight priests and two brothers), and other men, women and children totaling between 400 and 500 people. For three months, this group followed the course of the Rio Grande north from present-day El Paso, Texas. They passed through several Indian Pueblos and sites of the future cities of Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Finally, on July 11, 1598, Oñate came upon the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo (Ohkay Owingeh means home of the Strong Ones} abo.

Located about 35 miles north of Santa Fe which consisted of a confederation of five separate pueblos under common leadership offered to move out of Yunque Yunque, one of their five pueblos, and to allow Oñate and his group to live there. Oñate accepted. It was here that the first parish was established.

Oñate renamed Yunque Yunque, giving it a Spanish name, San Gabriel, and it became the first European capital in the current United States. At the same time, Oñate called the entire Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo San Juan de los Caballeros in honor of both his own patron saint San Juan and the Native Americans whose genteel hospitality merited them to be called Caballeros or knights.

On August 23, 1598, Oñate’s men began building a church, and 15 days later, it was dedicated to San Miguel (St. Michael archangel). It was large enough to accommodate all the people, but because it was built in such a short period of time, it was probably built from unfinished wood and given a mud plaster, although some say it was built from the first adobes made in New Mexico. The first Mass was celebrated in this church on September 8, 1598, a truly historic event. Padre Martinez blessed the church and consecrated the altar and the chalices.  The second church, which replaced the first church, was also built at San Gabriel and was approximately 70 feet long, 60 feet wide in the transepts, and 30 feet wide in the main aisle (its foundations were unearthed in 1959).

The next church was built in 1643 about a mile away, near the site of the present church. This church was dedicated to San Juan Bautista, and it was destroyed in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

The fourth church. After the Pueblo Revolt, San Juan was re-established as a mission and the fourth church was then built in 1706 but this time in the present-day main pueblo, on the same site where the present church is located

The next major event in the recorded history of the parish occurred when Rev. Jean Baptiste Lamy, a parish priest serving in the state of Ohio, was made first bishop of Santa Fe in 1851. Shortly after he arrived, he returned to his native France to recruit priests for his new diocese. Among the priests he brought was a seminarian, Fr. Camilo Seux, who arrived from Lyon, France in the spring of 1865. Archbishop Lamy ordained him shortly thereafter. He first served as an associate pastor in Taos, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Pecos before he was made pastor in San Juan in 1868 and served at San Juan for 56 years! In 1870s, he renovated the old adobe church, had it whitewashed and built a new altarpiece. Later, he acquired an organ and also started replacing the carved santos with plaster statues. In 1888, he ordered and erected in front of the church a beautiful bronze statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, 15 years after Lourdes was declared an official apparition site.

The new church was completed in 1913 and was built in the French neo-gothic style. Visiting our parish today you will see this church, which, relative to their history, is considered a new addition to their parish. It is truly a unique site to see on an Indian Pueblo!

Finding the Church of San Juan Bautista and Tewa Missions:

Ohkay Owingeh is roughly 50 miles north of Santa Fe, and has several Pueblos in the samearea.

Address:  185 Po’Pay   (mailing address P.O. Box 1075) Ohkay Owingeh, NM 87566

Tel: +1 505-852-4179

Click here for the official website of the Church of San Juan Baptista and Tewa Missions.

Note:  Native communities, sites and events held on Tribal lands are open to the public at the Tribal communities’ discretion.  Schedules may change suddenly, always call ahead before planning your visit.

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