Wednesday, October 10, 2007,5:14 PM
Conquistadors and Peace

When I was in Santa Fe last week, we spent one afternoon doing the tourist thing. As we wandered around the city, we paid a visit to the Cathedral. Apparently the most famous relic in the Cathedral is a statue of Mary. I was a bit puzzled when I saw the sign that gave its name. All the signs there are written in both Spanish and English so I wasn't surprised to see two names in those two languages listed. But I was surprised to read "La Conquistadora" and "Our Lady of Peace." Last time I checked "conquistador" meant "conqueror" and not "peacemaker." Obviously this wasn't a matter of direct translation. So I decided to read up on the story. What follows is a very brief, cut and pasted history of the statue and Santa Fe.

The City of Santa Fe was originally occupied by a number of Pueblo Indian villages with founding dates between 1050 to 1150. The "Kingdom of New Mexico" was first claimed for the Spanish Crown by the conquistador don Francisco Vasques de Coronado in 1540. Spanish colonists first settled in northern New Mexico in 1598.

During the next 70 years, Spanish soldiers and officials, as well as Franciscan missionaries, sought to subjugate and convert the Pueblo Indians of the region. The indigenous population at the time was close to 100,000 people, who spoke nine languages and lived in an estimated 70 pueblos.

In 1680, Pueblo Indians revolted against some 2,500 Spanish colonists, killing 400 of them and driving the rest back into Mexico. The conquering Pueblos sacked Santa Fe and burned most of the buildings. From those burning buildings, the Spanish rescued the oldest statue of Mary in America, brought to New Mexico in 1625. In "exile" De Vargas made a vow to Mary that they would enthrone her as their Queen back in the Cathedral of Santa Fe if she would permit their taking their former property without bloodshed. In trust the Spaniards returned. The Indians for an unknown reason withdrew from their stronghold and Governor Vargas entered Santa Fe without opposition. Within four months, 23 pueblos of 10 Indian nations had been conquered and 2,000 Indians converted without the loss of a single life. The Mary statue returned to Santa Fe and has since become a cultural icon.

Originally known as Our Lady of the Rosary or Our Lady of the Conquest, she is currently called Our Lady of Peace. She is best known as La Conquistadora.

So she's called "Our Lady of Peace" because the Spanish were able (the second time around) to kick the Indians off of their land without the use of violence. This symbol of dominion and empire is revered as a religious icon of peace. Wow. Is our faith still that messed up?

Peace as conquest that avoids bloodshed. That is what the Kingdom message of Jesus has been reduced to here. Imposing our wills onto others, taking away people's homes, and forcing them to abandon their culture is revered as peaceful. And apparently the whole town throws a big Fiesta each year in honor of this statue and all it symbolizes. (and don't get me started on the value of this 29-inch wooden Lady of "Peace's" extensive wardrobe...). If this is the understanding of peace that we promote - that which merely avoids bloodshed no wonder we are having such a hard time understanding the issues behind America's cultural domination of the world. We not only bring violence, but even our "peacekeeping" teams are conquerors and destroyers.

I think "peace" is a word that needs to be reclaimed. To be stripped from its associations with empire and dominion. To be returned to an active word that goes beyond passivity or just avoiding violence. Peace as working to restore relationships, peace as respecting others, peace as encouraging the oppressed. Peace as love not control.

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posted by Julie at 5:14 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 10/11/2007 04:54:00 PM, Blogger paul

    thanks julie, i agree, peace is a word that needs to be re-examined - after all the pax-romanus did a similar thing in Jesus day - it brought peace and prosperity at the price of the empire and its demands. We often are willing to trade in our lives and freedoms to maintain the peace we know - for example the war on terror and the cost that has for civil liberties.

    It certainly makes me think that the peace of God that transcends and transforms all understanding can look like Jesus deprived of all rights, including his right to life and yet at the same time demonstrating a non-coercive love that still is at work in the world - seeing our enimies as our lovers...


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