San Miguel Mission
The church was locked up tight. We drove around the vast parking lot and I became acutely aware of what’s under the tires - probably a plaza and multi-story pueblo.
We came to see the interior of Socorro’s San Miguel Mission. Our associate Chan Graham was involved in a renovation in the 1970s and considered it one of his favorite projects. His story is here.
A man watering rose bushes in the churchyard told us that since “covida” they keep the church locked up except for services. Mass was at Five. Jerry asked him about the church and grounds and I admired the new expandable hose he was using. But our charm didn’t work. He didn’t have keys and we were a long way from mass.
The church is celebrated for being on the site of one of the first Missions established by Franciscans in the 1620s on one of the first sites of contact with natives in what would be called the New World. Oñate led explorers and a couple of priests here, or near here, in 1598. In their relief at finding friendly native Piro villagers, the place was later named ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Help’ or Nuestra Señora de Perpetuo Socorro.
They weren’t the first Spanish explorers by a long shot. Coronado himself may have been in a small party on his expedition that traveled through here in route to visit the unfortunate Tiguex in 1540. Chamascuro and Espejo expeditions also documented the Piro in 1581 and 1583. Multiple Piro villages sat along both sides of the route to and from Mexico near the northern end of the notorious Journada del Muerto, a near waterless segment of the Camino Real.
Authoritative sources on all this history include:
- Michael Bletzer, who’s written many things about the Piro, including: “The First Province of that Kingdom: Notes on the Colonial History of the Piro Area. New Mexico Historical Review, Volume 88 Number 4 Fall 2013.
- Paul Harden, who has written extensively about area for the Socorro paper, many available online like this one, courtesy of the Socorro County Historical Society .
According to Spanish chroniclers the place name for the area south of Tiguex was Tutahaco. The individual village names in the Piro “kingdom” are probably Spanish versions of the original place names. They are intriguing; Seelocu, Pilabo, Teipana, Senecu or Tzenoque, and Qualcu. The overwhelming majority of these sites have been partially or totally destroyed through neglect or flooding or both.
The Pueblo Revolt in 1680 forced long term abandonment of Socorro. According to the church website, a priest buried church silver, including a solid silver communion rail. The silver was never found. Or no one ever admitted to finding it.