Hallowed and Historic

By David Collins

Oct. 8, 2007, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Rosario Chapel: Parishioners celebrate 200 years


Heirs of Santa Fe's founding families on Sunday commemorated two centuries of worship at one of their city's most sacred sites.


Monsignor Jerome Martinez y Alire rubbed a special oil into the altar at Rosario Chapel. It was only the second rendition of a ceremony first conducted when the adobe church was completed 200 years ago, said Bob Martinez, assistant mayordomo of Cofradia de la Conquistadora.


"This is basically one of the holiest places in New Mexico," said Martinez y Alire, rector of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.


The chapel, near the back of Rosario Cemetery across from DeVargas Center on Guadalupe Street, was built in 1807 at the site where Don Diego de Vargas in 1692 promised to honor the Virgin Mary if he could reoccupy Santa Fe peacefully, Bob Martinez said. De Vargas and other Spanish settlers had fled the region in 1680 after a Pueblo uprising.


Catholics have honored de Vargas' promise with Masses and Vespers at the site each year since de Vargas made the commitment, Bob Martinez said.


During each Fiesta de Santa Fe, worshippers carry a statue of La Conquistadora from the cathedral downtown to the chapel. Each year in June, worshippers attend a novena of Masses at the old church — faithfully practicing a week of daily reverence to honor de Vargas' promise.


Otherwise, Rosario Chapel is rarely used these days. Eulogies for dignitaries are sometimes held there. The chapel occasionally hosts concerts and special events. Graveside services are sometimes moved inside the chapel during inclement weather.

In the 1990s, members of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe began restoring the chapel. The floors, doors and roof were rebuilt, a new heating system was installed, the exterior received new stucco, and old vigas were resealed. This week, crews are scheduled to remove stained-glass windows for repairs to be completed by next year.


"I've been coming here since I was a child, coming to novena Masses," said Cofradia de la Conquistadora mayordomo Ignacio Garcia, who has overseen the renovations. "It means a lot to me and the people of Santa Fe to pray to Our Lady."


Bob Martinez said one word sums up the deep meaning of religious practices surrounding the city's early days — tradition.


Jerome Martinez y Alire said the tradition that was born of de Vargas' re-conquest is one where American Indians and Spaniards became a new people — New Mexicans.


Historians debate the extent to which de Vargas took the city peacefully. In his own words, de Vargas on Dec. 29, 1693, accounted for 70 Indian prisoners executed when his troops seized the Plaza.


Bob Martinez said de Vargas, while camped with his army near the site of Rosario Chapel in 1692, negotiated an agreement with local indigenous people so he could retake the Santa Fe Plaza without bloodshed.


It is that 1692 agreement that is commemorated to this day, Bob Martinez said. De Vargas returned the next year with settlers equipped for farming. When food ran low in the winter of 1693, his party stormed the Plaza stronghold, killing those who refused to surrender.


"I'm not saying the Spanish didn't commit atrocities before 1692, and possibly afterward, but they came back much more humbled," Martinez y Alire said.


Their return started a tradition of cultural sharing, in which Spanish and Indians depended on each other and learned to accept each other as they are, Martinez y Alire said. It's a lesson new arrivals continue to learn again to this day, the monsignor said.


"Sometimes when people move to Santa Fe, if they try to come to change Santa Fe, they are going to have to learn to submit to the same cultural thing," Martinez y Alire said.