Saturday, November 17, 2007

Death Comes for the Archbishop

Death comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather is a classic novel about New Mexican history and religion. I have wanted to read it for years, and finally got around to it this past week. It is a neat book because it is based on true events and the work of Jean Baptiste Lamy, the first Archbishop of Santa Fe, who was sent by the Pope in 1850 to restore the Catholic Church in the American southwest.


In the novel, the fictional Father Jean Marie Latour (who is based on Archbishop Lamy) arrives in New Mexico in 1851 with his friend and fellow priest Father Joseph Vaillant. The novel is the story of their work to build the Church and the resistance they meet, as well as the deep friendship the two share. What I enjoyed was the various settings throughout early New Mexico, such as Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Taos, Mora, Pecos, Acoma. Father Vallant works in various places in the southwest (New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado) while Father Latour builds the church at Santa Fe, including the building of Saint Francis Cathedral.

There were some great quotes in the book which I liked:

“Where there is great love, there are always miracles.”

“Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky….the world one actually lived in, was the sky, the sky!”

“To fulfil the dreams of one’s youth; that is the best that can happen to a man.”

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Saint Francis Cathedral is built in the Romanesque style that Archbishop Lamy brought from his native France. He began construction on the cathedral in 1869, using yellow limestone blocks quarried near the present site of Lamy. The cathedral was built around and over the old adobe church of La Parroquia. The cathedral was finished in 1884. All that remains of the old adobe church is the Conquistadora Chapel. Saint Francis Cathedral is the Mother Church of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, and was elevated to a basilica in 2005. The Romanesque style of the cathedral stands in stark contrast to the pueblo adobe architecture of the rest of the city.






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Willa Cather was born in Virginia in 1873. In 1883 she moved with her family to Nebraska, and many of her novels depict pioneer life in that state. She graduated from the University of Nebraska, was a high school English teacher and wrote for several magazines prior to her career as a novelist. She was a Baptist but converted to Episcopalianism. She was politically conservative. She was noted for her friendships with women, and rumors persisted about her sexual orientation. She was a very private person who destroyed many of her old drafts, personal papers, and letters. She died in New York in 1947 and is buried in New Hampshire.

As far as I can tell, Death Comes for the Archbishop is her only novel set in New Mexico.

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I am glad I read the book. It adds to my knowledge of New Mexico, but also to my intrigue about the spiritualism, the mystique, the enchantment of this land. The soul of New Mexico shines all through Death comes for the Archbishop.

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11 comments:

Lin said...

Towanda, I JUST finished reading that book a couple of weeks ago, even though it had been languishing on the book shelf for a year! I also found a better sense of this amazing place through it, especially given when it was written. Oh, oh, oh, you've got me going now - try to borrow a copy of a book called "Wild, Woolly and Wonderful" by, I think, Ann (?) Counselor. Long out of print.

Ooops, I have a lot more stops to make before the generator gas runs out! Sigh, sigh, sigh. I will be back!

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Towanda said...

Lin ~ Thanks for the tip...I am going to try and find that book! Have you read "Bless Me, Ultima" by Rudolfo Anaya? I am reading it now...I don't want to put it down!

Lin said...

Uh-oh ... don't get me going on another 'must have/can't put it down' book. I must now pass this on to my in-house librarian/book procurer. There is also another one that our 2NN (2nd nearest neighbors) gave us which you might like. It is still buried in the moving trailer until we can resurrect Mark's library after the new buildings arrive. This whole process could take many more months though.

Buck Pennington said...

Did you turn your comments off, Towanda? I wanted to leave a comment on your Zia/flag post above and although I've refreshed the page twice, I still don't see a "comment" button.

So I'll comment here! LOL

You said: I have always considered the number four a lucky number for me (there are 3 fours in my birthdate) and perhaps I was drawn to the groups of four sun rays in the flag.

The number four (in one of its pronunciations) is a homonym for "death" in Japanese. I know this lil arcane piece of trivia because I raced under the number four in the waaay-back when I was stationed in Japan. I was taken aside by one of the sanctioning body officials at my first race and politely asked to change numbers. I was given the explanation above when I asked "why?" (I thought someone else might be using the number, at first.) Being the arrogant young pup I was at the time, I refused to change, and the matter was dropped. But...BAD form on my part, I later realized.

I bought my bike at Zia Power Sports in Clovis, btw. :-)

Towanda said...

Hi Buck.

I don't think I turned off the comment function unless I did it unknowingly.

I DID edit the Zia post to add the links, and after that the comment link was missing, so I messed up.

I checked it with a test post and the comment thingy was working, so I guess everything is working.

YIKES! My lucky number means DEATH? Not sure I am liking that .... at least I'm not Japanese so maybe I am safe?? LOL

Buck Pennington said...

I DID edit the Zia post to add the links, and after that the comment link was missing, so I messed up.

I thought perhaps your labels were obscuring the "comments" link...

And...you're not Japanese, so I think you're safe! ;-)

Lin said...

I've found the comments part of Blogger a little nebulous myself. So far, so good but I touch wood a lot in the process.

Bag Blog said...

Iwanted to post on the zia flag too. Back when I lived in Northern NM, some Indian group tried to sue the state saying that the zia symbol was theirs - as if they had a copyright on it. I don't remember anymore on what happened over it, because my eyes rolled back in my head.

One of my favorite books about Northern NM is "Red Sky at Morning" by Richard Bradford. Having gone to school in Questa as a little girl, I could laugh at the story.

Towanda said...

Hi bag blog!
I have never read "Red Sky at Morning." Maybe I should get a copy and read it. I have been reading books about NM. I just finished "Bless Me, Ultima" a few weeks ago. It was a different sort of book, by Rudolfo Anaya, a native NM author, and the theme was mysticism and religion and Hispanic culture, as told through the eyes of a 6 year old child. Wondering if anyone here has read it and what you thought.

Bag Blog said...

I have not read that one, but it sounds interesting. There is certainly plenty of mysticism and religion in the Hispanic culture. Throw in some Indian rituals mixed with Catholosism and you have some wild stuff. If I blog about San Geronimo Day (St. Jerome) which takes place in Sept. at the Taos Pueblo, I'll let you know.

Brigette said...

I also recently read this book, and loved it. It was all the more meaningful since I'm a parishioner at the Cathedral that Archbishop Lamy built.