From the Rector: The History of New Mexico and of the Diocese as depicted in the Cathedral Windows

The History of New Mexico and of the Diocese as depicted in the Cathedral Windows.

The windows of the side chapels tell the story of the history of the evangelization of what is now the Diocese of Gallup. The first European to set foot here in New Mexico was a Franciscan priest, Fray Marcos De Niza.

Marcos de Niza (1495–1558) was a Franciscan friar and priest who was sent north from Mexico City by Viceroy Mendoza in 1539 to search for wealthy cities that were rumored to be somewhere north of the frontier of New Spain. Mendoza had been excited by Cabeza de Vaca’s stories of rich Native American pueblos. De Niza started in Culiacan, Mexico, on March 7, 1539 and journeyed north into the unknown for several months. By early April he was in a native village called Vacapa in what is now southern Sonora, where the people had not heard of the Spanish Christians, and where he spent some days. He stated that he left there April 7. Some weeks after that, he departed from the main Cibola route along the West coast of Mexico, correctly reporting that the coastline did not turn inland toward Cibola, but rather turned sharply west.

The other specific date that he reported is May 9, when he entered the final, 15-day ” despoblado ,” or unpopulated stretch, prior to reaching Cibola. De Niza sent his guide and companion, Esteban ahead along the northward route. Marcos stipulated that if Esteban received good news, he was to send the friar a sign. “If what [was reported],” the friar wrote later, “was of moderate importance, he would send me a white cross [the size] of one palmo; if it was grand, he would send one two palmos [in size]; and if it was something grander and better than Nueva España, he would send me a large cross.”Just four days later, Indian messengers returned from Esteban carrying a “cross the size of a man” and bringing word of a marvelous place called Cíbola.

Despite his now urgent desire to proceed on northward, Marcos awaited the return of his messengers to the coast, as well as the culmination of the Easter observances, before starting in pursuit of Esteban. For weeks thereafter Marcos trailed behind Esteban, who continued to send messages of very large and wealthy population centers ahead, messages seemingly confirmed by local native people along the well-traveled route. Finally, though, came appalling news. Esteban had reached Cíbola and had been killed there. This would place him at or near Cibola around May 24. In the summer of 1539 de Niza returned and wrote a report saying he had discovered the cities – in a province called Cibola (the present-day native American pueblo of Zuni, New Mexico). He said he reached the first city, the Zuni village of Hawikuh, and saw it only from a distance. Because his companion had been killed there, he returned without entering it. Others reading their own hopes into what was written by de Niza, excitedly spread reports of wealthy cites to the North, something the friar never actually claimed to see.


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