La Conquistadora of Santa Fe - Our Lady of Peace

La Conquistadora - The Many Faces of Mary

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The Pueblo Indians revoltThe Fiesta of Santa Fe - La Conquistadora

Enough is enough!  After years of mistreatment at the hands of various unscrupulous Governors, the Pueblo Indians revolted in August, 1680.  On the 10th of that month, an organized attack was made on the city of Santa Fe and outlying ranches.  Trying to wipe out any vestige of all that represented the Spaniards in their midst, they wildly attacked anyone in their path.  No one was spared!  Twenty one Franciscan Priests were martyred throughout the territory, and are today honored at Martyr's Hill in Santa Fe.  Other people were killed as well, and the rest fled the city.  The Church of the Assumption was burned down by the Indians, but not before the faithful risked their lives saving the image of Our Lady of the Rosary.  The people just took what they could, in most instances very little, just the clothes on their backs, and fled until they finally found refuge in El Paso, Texas, some three hundred miles away.  There they met up with other refugees from the ranches around

Santa Fe.  They didn't have much; but they had their lives and they had their Lady.

These dear people were in exile for thirteen long years, from  1680 to 1693.  They were the ones who kept the Faith, and kept the morale of the community going.  Old people died and children were born during that time.  They still held on to the devotion to their Lady, their Conquistadora.  She had conquered their hearts and their souls.  They had been faithful to Her; She would take care of them.  And She did.  There were times during those hard years when Our Lord Jesus and their Conquistadora were all they had to hold on to.  But they did hold on.  We're sure that they prayed in petition for a hero to rescue them from their plight.  And there were times when it seemed like it would never happen.

But they always had faith in the Lady.  And she did not let them down.  A hero was sent from Spain to be their champion, General Don Diego de Vargas.  He was made the new Governor of the people in exile.  It was time for his people to return to the land their grandparents had fought for.  He gently walked among the Pueblo Indians, carrying a banner bearing Our Lady's picture on it, to Whom he gave full credit for his successful, bloodless victory.  His action was to get the Pueblo Indians in Santa Fe to release the city of Santa Fe and its surroundings back to the Spanish.  But he was not like the other Governors they had to contend with.  He was a gentle man; he was a fair man.  He spoke to them with his soothing voice and pleasing personality, and they could see in him a Governor whom they could live with, who would not mistreat them as Governors in the past had done.  And so in September, 1692, he and his troops marched into Santa Fe for a meeting with the Pueblo Indians.  He gained their trust, and they agreed to turn over Santa Fe to the people.  He continued on to the other Pueblos, and was successful in getting the cooperation of the Indians there as well. 

There was great joy in the refugee camps they had lived in, three hundred miles away from their home.  When Don Diego returned and advised them that they would finally go home after thirteen years in exile, he gave all credit to La Conquistadora for the bloodless victory they had been given, as the Indians had agreed to return the city to the Spanish without one shot being fired.  Don Diego de Vargas vowed that as soon as they were safely back in Santa Fe, he would build a new and more beautiful church for their Queen, La Conquistadora.  And so they gathered their belongings and headed back to Santa Fe, with their Queen, to Whom Governor Diego de Vargas had given the title: "Queen and Patroness of the Kingdom and of the Villa of the Holy Faith."[1]  They were going home.

There is only one sad part of this triumphant return to Santa Fe.  It took them too long.  By the time they completed the arduous journey from El Paso to Santa Fe, winter was upon them.  On December 16, General Don Diego, his men and the Franciscans arrived at the gates of the city.  But it was too cold for the Indians to leave.  Where would they go in this weather?  Meanwhile, they had gathered strength from other Indians in the surrounding area.  And so they locked the Spaniards out!  They made many excuses why they could not leave, and General de Vargas accepted most of them graciously.  But when his people had been left out in the freezing cold for twelve days and the Indians were now saying they had no intention of leaving, the General knew what he had to do.

General Don Diego had complete faith in Our Lady.  He prayed before the makeshift Shrine set up for Her outside the city walls.  He and all his men went to Confession, and turned the entire campaign over to the intercession of La Conquistadora.  Then they went into battle to retrieve the city, which had been promised to them peacefully.  Meanwhile the people, waiting in the freezing cold to return to their city, began a Rosary crusade in that little section which today houses the Rosario, the little Chapel built in remembrance of that time in 1693, when they waited in the freezing cold winter for Our Lady to give General Diego de Vargas victory.

They prayed!  General de Vargas stormed the city walls with his troops, but they were held back by the strength of the Indians.  However, after a full day of battle, just before daybreak of the next day, the Indians were finally overcome by the Spaniards, and the city belonged to them.  The battle was over.  Upon his triumphant return to the little camp, they had set up on the outskirts of town, General de Vargas gave complete credit to Our Lady, La Conquistadora.  He gave her a bastón, a military officer's stick, and renewed his vow to seat her again in a place of honor, by building a proper church for her where the Church of the Assumption had stood.  He also wanted to initiate a fiesta in honor of the peaceful victory of September 1692. 

The Church was built, but not during his lifetime.  The Fiesta came also, but again, not during his lifetime.  But he had put the wheels into motion.  The Cathedral of St. Francis was built over the remains of the little Church of the Assumption that Fr. Benavides built in 1625.  A small Chapel had been built in honor of La Conquistadora right after the victory, but it was then replaced by a proper Chapel, which is today part of the Cathedral of Santa Fe.

The story of La Conquistadora continues...

The Fiesta in honor of the peaceful takeover was begun in 1712.  The same format which has, by and large, continued to this day, was initiated.  On a Sunday afternoon in June, Vespers were prayed at the little Chapel of La Conquistadora.  Then the procession began down the main street of Santa Fe, San Francisco Street.  Thousands of people either joined the procession or lined the streets with their umbrellas protecting them from the sun.  The distance from the Chapel is a little over a mile.  (They like to tell you it's a mile, but we walked it in the June sun.  It's more like a mile and a half.  But it doesn't seem that long.  Our legs held up well, as did those of all the people, young and old, who made the procession.)  At the end of the procession was a small makeshift Altar of boughs, awaiting La Conquistadora.  La Conquistadora stayed down there for nine days, during which Mass was celebrated each day and Vespers prayed.  Then on the ninth day, a royal procession brought her back to the Chapel (now in the Cathedral) where she stayed for another year, until the next procession.

Over the years, different groups of people have been given the honor of carrying the litter on which La Conquistadora reigns, from the Cathedral down to the Rosario on that first Sunday, and then back nine days later.  Today, there is a group of men called "Caballeros de Vargas."  It is an honor guard in more ways than one.  We're told that in any procession or festival in which the statue is to take part, the Caballeros are there to escort her.  There is a long waiting list to become a Caballero.  We're not sure what the qualification requirements are to become a Caballero, but in interviewing a few of them, we were told that being a Caballero was a lifelong dream for many of them.  We can see from the eyes of many of those who are around Our Lady's image here, a great love.  The young Caballero, who helped move her from the dressing room to the main Altar, also lifted her off the litter, when we all reached the Church of the Rosario, and placed her on a platform.  After her gown was straightened, his loving task was to lift her from the platform and carry her to her place of honor in back of the main Altar.  After having put his Lady, La Conquistadora, in the alcove, reserved for her, we could see tears coming down from his eyes, as he left the Altar and stood with the rest of us, his eyes never leaving his Conquistadora.

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La Conquistadora
Our Lady of Peace

Taped at Shrine in Santa Fe, New Mexico during Festival

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