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Estaca – Plaza at an Ancient Crossroads

20 Mar
When my husand and I were deciding on where to vacation last year – New Mexico or the Ozaarks – it was an obvious choice for me!  Of course, I wanted to go to nothern New Mexico to visit the ancestral family home of my Montoya family.
 
After spending a few days in Santa Fe we headed north. And there we found Estaca – a small series of villages nestled between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (the lower Rockies) and the mighty Rio Grande on the high road to Taos.  As I understand it, Estaca is comprised of several small communities (or villages) and the names are very often used interchangeably in the records:  Rancho de los Lopez; Acequia de San Rafael; Plaza de San Francisco; Rio Grande Bosque; Rio Grande; and Arroyo del Palacio.  All of these small communities lie in the Espanola Valley which is about halfway between Taos and Santa Fe.  Would it sound cheesy and predictable to say that my spirit immediately felt “at home” ?
 
Our fist mission was to find the San Juan de los Caballeros Church at San Juan Pueblo. Within the walls of this church are kept the records of at least three generations (and probably four) of my Montoya family recording births, christenings, marriages, deaths and burials. The pueblo was founded around 1200 by the Tewa people who moved there from the north (perhaps southern Colorado). The Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Onate took control in 1598 and renamed the pueblo San Juan de los Caballeros.  He then established the first Spanish capital of New Mexico nearby, thereby merging two great cultures.  In November of 2005 the pueblo returned to its pre-Spanish name – Ihkay Owingeh - “place of the strong people.”

San Juan Pueblo - abt 1906 - church in background

After touring the church grounds and the pueblo, the hunt was on for the ruins of the Montoya adobe. However, before we found them, there were more surprises in store for us. We headed north from the church and crossed the Ro Grande River on the San Juan bridge, from there we took a right on the first road – the Camino Real.  We drove about four miles and we were there.  We came to a small plaza of sorts and in the middle of the road stood a small chapel.

San Juan de los Caballeros Catholic Church - present day

Unbeknownst to me at the time, we had arrived at The Plaza and La Capilla (Little Chapel) de San Francisco de Asis.  Delfinia Romero lovingly speaks of the Capilla in a book written by Mary Coyne entitled, A History of Estaca, New Mexico:

The Capilla remains at the heart of this community still, and as I look at it from my window, I contemplate how through the passing years it has consistently been solid, true, constantly there. The purpose of the little brown chapel has always been the same: to give devotion to el patroncillo, the patron Saint Francis and his ideals of hard work, poverty and love of animals. The devotion renews the beliefs and values at the very core of existence for the families in Estaca.

When the story is told of the building of the chapel, we recall that the women….Elizaida, Margarita, Rosaura and Ramoncita {Ramoncita Montoya Gallegos – my great aunt} - used their bare hands to spread the mud plaster on the walls, rubbing gently to make them smooth and to forever imprint upon the capillita their souls as well as their very beings. It will be told that the grave in front of the chapel is that of Antonio Martinez, who gave the land for the capilla because the bulto (statute) of the village’s patron saint, San Francisco, didn’t have a home and was passed from house-to-house throughout the years. Antonio’s gift made it possible for the community to come together and build the little chapel.

Capilla – The satisfaction of a beautiful form
Proportion of vision, Crypts close to ancestor roots
Tribes whisper names, stories
Holy ground. Numinous space. Capilla in Estaca
Fresh glitter of the jewels
Private suffering and death
Revelation.
Written by:  Margaret Rose Coyne (1943-2001)

The Plaza and La Capilla (Little Chapel) de San Francisco de Asis

As a postscript:  That day, we did find what I believe are the ruins of my great grandfather Montoya’s adobe home. The ruins sat on fenced property about a mile south of the “little chapel.“ There wasn’t much left of the adobe.  I’ve posted a picture on this site when I wrote about Maximiano Montoya – you can see it there.  Behind the ruins sat a more modern home; although, it was also in disrepair. Behind that I could see what might have been the apple orchards and behind that was the Rio Grande River. I cannot say for certain that this was the right place; however, I felt peace. It was almost as if the ancestors were whispering, “Welcome home.” 

Since we were technically trespassing – we didn’t stay long! There was a car next to the home, but I didn’t feel comfortable about pounding on doors. I would have loved to have been able to visit with the locals. I would surely have found many relatives. However, this is a culture and a community that does not always accept outsiders. We received several uneasy looks from folks. We did strike up a conversation with an older man on his front porch; but, he claimed not to know about any Montoyas or any ruins in the area……..even though we found them less than a mile up the road!!

 New Mexico – I now understand why they call you the Land of Enchantment – I will be back.

Espanola Valley and Sangre de Cristo Mountains

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3 Comments

Posted by on March 20, 2011 in Montoya, Times and Places

 

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3 responses to “Estaca – Plaza at an Ancient Crossroads

  1. IrishNewYorker

    March 20, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Wonderful story, Judy. My wife had a a very similar experience when we found her paternal grandfather’s birth place in Castleblayney, Ireland. I wrote a story about it called The Things We’ve Handed Down. I understand what you were feeling. Nice.
    Charles.

     

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