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Brothers Of Light, Brothers Of Blood: The Penitentes Of The Southwest

For forty-two years, Padre Antonio José Martinez was known as the Cura de Taos. He served his people of northern New Mexico for many years during the middle third of the nineteenth century. His life spanned the three major eras of New Mexican history: as a colony of Spain until 1821, as a Department of the Republic of Mexico for the twenty-five years following, and finally as a Territory of the United States of America after 1846. Padre Martinez was instrumental in brokering New Mexico’s new territorial status through the “epoch of the most transcendental importance”1 that occurred from 1846 to 1848. The life of Padre Martinez was marked by many accomplishments through his roles as clergyman, rancher, educator, journalist, publisher, and politician. He was the founder of a seminary that he later transformed into a law school, institutions that deeply influenced the history of New Mexico. In addition, this liminal2 man was a pioneer legislator in New Mexico both under the Republic of Mexico and under the United States of America. He was an exceptional statesman and first New Mexican citizen of the United States of America.Padre Antonio José Martinez, Cura de Taos (1793-1867) wrote his own autobiography in late 1837 and published it on his own press within a year.3 It was written shortly after the difficult circumstance of a rebellion when Padre Martinez was 44, the time of his midlife. Nevertheless, he had been a priest for only twelve years, and his life’s story was in no way complete; he still had almost thirty more years to live before his death in 1867. His story would be filled with other personal and public challenges and crises of much greater proportion. These included the Taos Uprising of January 1847 (the assassination of Governor Bent in the New Mexico theatre of the U.S.-Mexican War) and the famous conflict that raged during 1856 to 1858 between Padre Martinez and his new ecclesiastical superior Bishop Lamy.Santiago Valdez is the author of an important primary document on the life of Padre Martinez. Santiago Valdez was a very accomplished man of New Mexico whose father was “unknown.” The Valdez family, neighbors on the south side of the Padre’s residence, adopted him. The Last Will and Testament4 of Padre Martinez effectively acknowledged Santiago Valdez as his son, and bequeathed his own Martinez name to Santiago’s progeny. Valdez began the first information-rich biography of Padre Martinez5 shortly after the priest’s death in 1867. Benjamin Read, bicultural pioneer historian of New Mexico, amplified the Valdez biography, and his younger brother Larkin “faithfully copied” the manuscript that was completed ten years later. However, the manuscript has never been published, and is kept at the Huntington Library in San Marino near Los Angeles. It remains virtually inaccessible except to scholars. On the occasion of the bicentennial of the birth of Padre Martinez in 1993, while on sabbatical, I rendered a contemporary English version of the 1877 Valdez manuscript.6 Curator of Manuscripts at the Huntington Library, Mr. Peter Blodgett called it a “very significant work…of the most utility to scholars,”7 and urged me to have it published soon. David Weber thanked me for lending it to him for his book on the Martinez Hacienda,8 and he commended my “generosity and scholarship that facilitated” his work. Benjamin M. Read also authored an illustrated history of New Mexico9 that was published in 1912 when the territory became the forty-seventh sate of the Union. Fluent in Spanish as well as English, Read’s mother was a native New Mexican with deep roots in the land, and his father was a Civil War veteran. Read’s bilingual ability enabled him to correct errors of previous historians10 who were not familiar with original documents written in Spanish. Benjamin Read’s access to papers of Padre Martinez through his brother Larkin, married to a relative of the priest, enabled Benjamin Maurice Read to write authoritatively about New Mexico. He wrote convincingly about the “epoch of the most transcendental importance,”11 i.e. the American invasion and third change of government that introduced to New Mexico fundamental changes on so many levels. The Priest of Taos was a key player during this time of transition as he was in the years after the prior transition of New Mexico in 1821 from the Kingdom of Spain to the Republic of Mexico.Related to Padre Martinez through marriage, Pedro Sanchez in 1903 wrote a biography of the Padre based on his memories.12 Written over a quarter of a century after the Valdez manuscript, Pedro Sanchez’s printed recollection more succinctly covered much of the same ground as the Valdez manuscript, but from a slightly different perspective. Unlike the Valdez manuscript, the Sanchez booklet was published. Like Santiago Valdez, Pedro Sanchez avoided dealing directly with some of the principal conflicts confronting the priest, and veered more toward the hagiographic than biographic. Pascual Martinez, another relative of the Padre Martinez, closely related to and namesake of a younger brother of the Padre, published an essay about the priest in 193813 in the LULAC News.Vicente F. Romero, fourteen years younger than his half brother Santiago Valdez, was also a putative son of Padre Martinez. Vicente was a young teenager when Padre Martinez was excommunicated. Before he was 30, he formally converted to the Presbyterian Church and by 1873 had become a young elder of the first Presbyterian Church in Taos. He was a pioneer lay evangelizer who grew to become quite effective until his death in 1924. The mother of Vicente F. Romero was Theodora Romero, a neighbor on the north side of his residence and housekeeper of the Padre who allegedly fathered other of her children. In spite of the fact that the priest had discreet but illicit relationships, his superiors never accused him of moral turpitude or concubinage. Otherwise, during his lifetime, the Padre’s enemies14 would definitely have made more of an issue of the priest’s forbidden indiscretions. The parameters of conflict with the Bishop were on other fronts that brought upon Padre Martinez the sanctions of suspension and ultimately excommunication. His public disagreement with Bishop Lamy about the reinstitution of tithing is the best-known aspect of their conflicts, and there were other differences between them as well.Pedro Sanchez and Pascual Martinez, the younger brother of the Padre, flirted with the Protestant faith, as did several relatives and friends of Padre Martinez after the serious conflict between him and Bishop Lamy during the last decade of the priest’s life. Many converted to the Presbyterian religion. Some of them returned to their Catholic roots after a Mission by the Jesuits shortly after the death of the Padre in 1867, but others did not. Both Catholics and Protestants revere Padre Martinez for his many accomplishments on behalf of the people of New Mexico. Willa Cather reviled Padre Martinez, making an ogre of him. She, and others like her, received their information about him from sources inimical to him, such as the letters, journals and reports of French clergyman and hostile landowners or businessmen such as Charles Bent.15In 1956, E.K. Francis, quite sensitive to the “scar” the dramatic conflict between Padre Martinez and Bishop Lamy had left in the psyche of the people of New Mexico, crafted a seminal essay on the mythic dimensions of the Padre.16 In 1958, a century after the excommunication of Padre Martinez, Father Philip Cassidy17—a non-Hispanic native priest of New Mexico—began to write a sympathetic biography of Padre Martinez. However, he did not complete it. For almost twenty years afterwards, there were no serious attempts to treat the life and significance of Padre Martinez, but that was about to change. In 1975, U.S. historian David Weber lamented, "Although no writer of the Mexican period can ignore the ubiquitous padre from Taos, a well-documented biography of Martinez has yet to appear."18 About the same time, a Mexican publication on history agreed stating, “There does not exist one modern biography on Padre Martinez which could be categorized as satisfactory.”19 In that same year, unbeknown to Weber or the Colegio de Mexico, my monograph Reluctant Dawn20 was published as an initial foray to attempt to deal with those justified observations from both sides of the Rio Grande. It was based largely on the primary source of the Valdez manuscript. Retired Vatican Librarian and Jesuit priest, Father Francisco Miranda Ribadeneira21 wrote a very complimentary foreword to the monograph. Although the booklet was not well marketed nor distributed, within a decade Reluctant Dawn became a “much cited”22 work, and it earned the reputation of being a "precious gem of historical scholarship"23 for many writing in the field of U.S. Hispanics and the Church. Fray Angelico Chavez strongly commended my opus upon its publication, and told me, "If I were younger, I would have beat you to it."24 His own classic biography of Padre Martinez25 was published six years later. His was the first of a trilogy dealing with native priests of New Mexico who lived in a time of tension with the new way of being Church after 1846.26 My Reluctant Dawn remained little known by the general public, was difficult to access, and was out of print by 1985. Well-known writer on themes of New Mexico and the Church, Jesuit Father Tom Steele told me in 1993, "I did a whole library search on your book, and could not find it." He then correctly observed, "An intellectual biography on Padre Martinez is needed." This echoes the call of William Wroth who also affirms the need for a “scholarly biography” on Padre Martinez.27Paul Horgan also published in 1975 his classic work on Bishop Jean Baptist Lamy,28 first bishop of the diocese of Santa Fe. Horgan treated Padre Martinez fairly, but quite differently than I. Although we used many of the same source materials, our perspectives and emphasis are clearly distinct. The year 1975 was a banner year for the publication of other of Padre Martinez-related materials. Dora Ortiz Vasquez published her story of Rosario,29 a young Navajo slave who worked as a servant in the household of Padre Martinez. The book related family lore through the perspective of a great grand daughter of Padre Martinez. Her uncle was Vicente Ferrer Romero. Her own son, one of those to whom the booklet was dedicated, is Edmundo Vasquez,30 a social worker, now retired and living in Los Angeles. Martha Weigle in Brothers of Light, Brothers of Blood treated of the role of Padre Martinez in the Cofradía de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno, commonly called the Penitentes.31 A couple of years later, in 1978, Ray John de Aragon in Padre Martinez and Bishop Lamy,32 discussed the different perspectives of church that they represented and focused on the conflict between them personally. Servite Priest Alberto Gallegos contributed an essay on excommunication for this publication. E.A. (Tony) Mares offered a dramatic take on the life of the priest, playing the part of Padre Martinez in his play33 that he often performed in concert with Larry Torres of Taos doing with panache the role of Bishop Lamy. New Perspectives from Taos was a very significant contribution to the literature on Padre Martinez. Especially noteworthy was Father Steele’s essay, “View from the Rectory.”34 In 1998, for the fourth centennial of the presence of the Church in New Mexico, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe sponsored a symposium and published the papers. I wrote an essay on the role of Padre Martinez in the 1847 Taos Revolt.35 General Stephen Watts Kearney upon occupying Santa Fe in the late summer of 1846, invited Padre Martinez and his brothers to swear allegiance to the new government of the United States. In an audience with the newly promoted from Colonel First Dragoons to Brigadier General, they did so, becoming New Mexico’s first citizens of the USA. Shortly thereafter, Padre Martinez lent General Kearny his printing press on which was published the Kearny Code. The memory of Padre Antonio José Martinez, Cura de Taos, lives! At therequest of the Fundación Presbítero Don Antonio José Martinez,36 TheState Legislature of New Mexico, under the leadership of Senator Carlos C. Cisneros,in early 2002 reprised the commendation of the 1867 Territorial Legislature thatinscribed the epitaph upon the tombstone of Padre Martinez, “La Honrade Su País-The Honor of His Homeland.” A few weeks later, theLegislature unanimously approved legislation to appropriate Public Art fundsfor a Memorial in Honor of Padre Antonio José Martinez. The memorialis scheduled to be dedicated on Taos Plaza on July 16, 2006. MoreEspinosa Productions37 has produced a thirteen-minute trailer on the Life and Times of Padre Martinez in the hope of generating sufficient funds for a full-length documentary on the priest’s untold story to air nationally on public television.The Fundación created this website to make accessible documents pertainingto the study of the life of Padre Martinez. More Ihave begun a blog to make accessible on the web information pertaining to PadreMartinez, especially as new things unfold. A central item is a shortened paraphraseof the Valdez manuscript. Dr. Henry Casso of Albuquerque is leading an effort for the New Mexico National Cultural Arts Center to sponsor a Bi-national Symposium on Padre Martinez to take place in Albuquerque on the Thursday evening to Saturday afternoon November 9-11, 2006. On the docket is the publication of a second edition of Reluctant Dawn, preliminary to a full-length biography. In 1975, a group of interested priests and people advocated having the priest’s censure of excommunication posthumously absolved or declared invalid. Although Archbishop Robert Sanchez was sympathetic, he was advised against pursuing the matter probably because the time did not seem opportune. However, the right time may be coming soon. Rev. Msgr. Jerome Martinez, Santa Fe Cathedral Rector and Canon Lawyer, has publicly stated for the film documentary on the Life and Times of Padre Martinez that “The excommunication was invalid.” 38 That shadow of that ecclesiastical censure39 Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy imposed on the Padre still lingers, and it weighs heavily upon many New Mexicans. In the case of Galileo, it took more than three and a half centuries for the Church to officially recant the Inquisition’s accusation of “vehement suspicion of heresy.” His punishment for embracing the Copernican hypothesis that the earth revolved around the sun was to put Galileo under house arrest for a decade. His daughter, a woman religious, died of extreme melancholy within a year of that censure.40 May this website—without denigrating anyone or anything-- explore and express the full truth about Padre Martinez and his legacy. May the insights it offers be widely accessible to people of goodwill throughout America the entire continent, and beyond.

Brothers of Light, Brothers of Blood: The Penitentes of the Southwest


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