A Brief History of Pueblo Catholicism

August 15, 2016

Timeless Pueblo Traditions

Pueblo civilization has thrived in the region that’s now New Mexico for thousands of years, and in that time we’ve governed our towns and farmland, refined beautiful artforms, and developed a deeply spiritual worldview and way of life.

19 Pueblos - Santa Clara Dance 1925From daily routines to seasonal traditions, Pueblo elders and scholars often note that our beliefs are so tightly woven into community life that it’s difficult to define our religious doctrine as a thing apart.

Rituals of gratitude involving corn pollen and cornmeal sustain the Pueblos’ place in the world. Various ceremonies honor the Great Spirit and the spirits of ancestors. Some of the oldest and most elaborate services are held in holy underground chambers called kivas.

Dances in particular play a sacred role in communing with the spirits of nature and seeking blessings as the yearly cycles roll on. The different types of regalia worn during these dances are rich with symbols of rain, growth, harvest, and the hunt.

Several Centuries of Catholicism

When the Spanish arrived in our land in the 1500s, their friars brought the teachings and traditions of Catholicism. Even as power struggles complicated our relationship over the following century, many Pueblo people incorporated new elements into their spiritual practices.

Our original pantheon of sacred spirits absorbed Catholic saints and the Christ figure. Pueblo MissionHonoring the Virgin Mary felt similar to our veneration of the Corn Mother. While Spanish missionaries directed the construction of new churches above ground, we continued to conduct age-old ceremonies in our kivas, blending different stories and symbols into our faith.

Each Pueblo adopted a patron saint and began celebrating his or her annual Feast Day. We continue to mark these holidays each year by attending a special morning mass, then filling the village plaza with dances as the sun arcs overhead.

Nowadays each Pueblo, and each family and individual within it, has its own interpretations of the relationship between indigenous rites and the Christian beliefs that influenced them. One tradition that we’ve all kept alive: respect for each other’s sacred nature as spiritual beings.

Want to learn more about the complex history of Catholicism in Pueblo communities? Come to our next session of the Counter-Narrative, a unique lecture series that offers the public an Indigenous perspective on a different subject of interest each month. This week we’ll hear from guest speakers Deacon Joe Herrera (Cochiti) and Father Edmund Savilla (Isleta).

The Counter-Narrative: Pueblo Catholicism
Wed. August 17, 5:30-7 pm
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
2401 12th St NW
Albuquerque, NM 87104
This event is free and open to the public.


  1. Michelle Barkley says

    Hi! Are these lectures available later, through the internet or transcript? Thank you!

  2. Indian Pueblo Cultural Center says

    Hi Michelle, thanks for your interest in our Counter-Narrative series! We do plan to develop a system for recording these lectures and making them available to the public afterward, but for right now that isn’t in place. We hope everyone continues to attend when they can and are happy to supplement the information discussed in the events with previews and posts like this one, too.

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