Pilgrimages are as old as most religions, tied together by and sharing a similar goal and a path to follow to get there.
And as defined, somewhat, by Eleanor Munro in her book On Glory Roads: A Pilgrim’s Book About Pilgrimage, there are often several processes involved. The most poignant one being that pilgrimage is linked to our need to orient ourselves in the universe, a way to fix ourselves to the motions of the heavens. We find ourselves a polestar and we get ourselves to it. If not at least once then regularly. Why? Because this particular type of ritual connects us to the cosmic order, which in turn connects us to ourselves and each other.
Most religions have recognized the value of this type of physical experience, the way it creates a sense of shared journey with others of like beliefs. But one need not be of any particular religion to go on a pilgrimage or find value in going on one. There are probably just as many secular pilgrims as religious pilgrims.
But the paths they walk—or the reasons for walking these paths—often are the same: they are physical manifestations of a spiritual commitment each pilgrim feels is needed to enhance his or her life.
Certainly, pilgrimages go back centuries—to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, to Lourdes in France, and the Santiago de Compostela in Spain (which is 1,000 miles long and takes over two months!). Even hikers along the Appalachian Trail, or the path taken by Cheryl Strayed up the Pacific Crest Trail for her memoir, Wild, haven’t been out there merely to enjoy nature and be outdoors. They’re there to get at something deeper, or higher.
These are all routes people—pilgrims—have taken for centuries, sometimes millennia. And along the way, villages arose, often spaced a day’s walk apart and founded to feed, house, and encourage travelers—and sell them mementos and religious artifacts as signs of their accomplishment or objects of inspiration, items such as shells from the ocean at Santiago, or small handmade crosses and figurines of Jesus or the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico.
New Mexico has its own famed pilgrimage: Santuario de Chimayo. Leading up to Easter weekend, you’ll see people walking from as far away as Albuquerque, Raton, Taos, or Socorro. Some alone, some in groups, usually along the highways and county roads, young, old, too young, too old. People who look like they’ve never walked further than their driveway. All sharing a common goal: to make it to a remote church built by Catholic friars hundreds of years ago in the tiny town of Chimayo, 28 miles north of Santa Fe.
At this location, the Santuario de Chimayo, there was a mysterious spot that the Native Americans long ago recognized as having special healing powers. Mysteriously, fine sand endlessly appeared in a hole in the earth. Sand that seemed to replenish itself. The Spanish interpreted this as a sign from God and associated it with His power to cure illness through faith. As often was the case, the Spanish, like so many conquerors, then built their church directly on top of the indigenous peoples’ shrines.
For whatever reason, though, the Spaniards did not entirely eliminate the physical or spiritual presence of the Natives’ sacred spot. (They did, however, name the spot out of which the “tierra bendita,” the “good earth” came from: El Pocito—the Little Well.)
Instead, the Native Americans’ healing place not only survived but transcended its transformation into a Catholic church. And not unlike the Native Americans who’d been there before them, the peoples of Northern New Mexico found themselves drawn to the Santuario’s mysterious healing powers.
Today, signs of the Santuario’s healing powers are everywhere: the walls and ceilings are adorned with discarded crutches and canes, braces for arms, legs, necks, and backs, and even collapsed wheelchairs! And both inside the church and outside, in the porticos ringing the church, are hundreds of photos, most of family members standing next to or hugging their loved ones who’ve been cured by their faith in the holy sand.
While not for the fainthearted, today’s Chimayo pilgrimage offers a sense of rebirth and health for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, providing spiritual and communal bonding for all its participants.
Upon returning to Santa Fe, pilgrims in want of more earthly spirits are always welcome here at the Inn on the Alameda. The Agoyo Lounge, in particular, offers sojourners and guests alike a seasonally changing menu of regional foods, cocktails, and wines. Our staff is always ready to share their evenings with you in our small, intimate Inn. And though we may not be the Santuario de Chimayo, we consider many of our guests as pilgrims—many of whom come back to the Inn on the Alameda more than once, often in search of our humble hospitality, a place where they can orient themselves in Santa Fe if not the universe.
If you take a tour of Northern New Mexico, there are many things to see. Heading towards Abiquiu and Chama, one passes through Georgia O’Keeffe country where you will recognize countless images from her many paintings of the Southwest. While O’Keeffe’s work encompasses all things spiritual and beautiful in our everyday lives, there is another nearby part that represents the heartaches and losses of many of the early Mexican-Americans. I am referring to an episode which occurred in the tiny village of Tierra Amarilla, the scene in 1967 of what in some ways could be called the final battle of the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.
In the mid-19th century, cries of Manifest Destiny drove the US to claim or “liberate” the lands now known as Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. President James Polk accomplished this by declaring war on hapless Mexico. Following Mexico’s quick defeat, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed between the two nations which guaranteed the recognition of the Spanish and Mexican Land Grants in the Southwest, many dating back hundreds of years. This would legally protect the ownership rights of many Mexican-Americans.
Very sadly, over the next 60 years following the war, lawyers and judges in Santa Fe re-filed and altered the titles to 4,000,000 treaty guaranteed acres of these Northern New Mexico land grants. They had been stolen “legally” without compensation from the Mexican-Americans by the notorious Santa Fe Gang, lawyers and judges who were in the position to re-deed the Grants to themselves. These unethical land grabs included the Manuel Martinez Tierra Amarilla Land Grant of 1832. This theft set the stage for the bitterness, anger and desire for justice which resulted in an armed insurrection reclaiming these land grants. An uprising in 1967 was led by Reies Tijerina, a political and social activist who had been inspired by the political winds of change of the early 60’s, as was Cesar Chavez, the farm labor organizer.
Tension had been growing for decades, resentment driven by the poverty of the landless peoples from the area of this stolen land grant. In the 1950’s Reies traveled to Mexico to research the history of the land grants under the condition that the people unite to “regather the strength that the Anglos had taken from them.” He formed a group of like-thinking Hispanics called Allianza (Alliance) which by 1966 had grown to 22,000 members. They began a march on Santa Fe on July 4, 1966 in the hopes of receiving the State’s assistance in repatriating their ancestral lands but were rebuffed by the governor. Later, 300 Allianza members seized control of the Echo Amphitheater Park south of Tierra Amarilla and formed their own government called the “Republic of San Joaquin del Rio Chama.” Besides this little known piece of history, from a geological point of view, the Echo Park Amphitheater is also a great attraction on your drive north.
Police reclaimed the amphitheater, later arresting some Allianza members at road blocks. This drove Reies into hiding in a small town named Canjilon where the famous Courthouse Raid was planned. In June 1967, Reies led an armed raid on the Rio Arriba Courthouse to free the arrested Allianza members. In this confrontation, a jail guard was wounded and a sheriff’s deputy was badly injured. Reies and his men fled back to Canjilon. Now known as the King Tiger, a popular song about him was played continuously on the radio. The resulting manhunt involved a dozen agencies including the National Guard and was the “biggest (unsuccessful) manhunt in NM’s history”. Eventually Reies turned himself in, was sentenced to a 2 year sentence in 1970. And so ended in frustration the only armed attempt to regain what had been taken illegally from the Hispanics of Northern New Mexico. As Reies grew older, he ironically began to speak harshly of many other people and in the end was criticized for his lack of tolerance of other races.
Santa Fe has a rich and checkered history. The peaceful re-conquest by Spain in 1692 that wasn’t really so peaceful and the state-wide corruption of the Santa Fe Gang is one example. But Santa Fe also has a deep appreciation of the Spanish and Mexican cultures. The Spanish Colonial Art Museum and the Girard Folk Art Museums are two nearby institutions that salute the many cultural contributions of both cultures to the southwest. The Inn on the Alameda’s courtesy car can drive our guests up to Museum Hill to see the various collections. After a tour of either northern New Mexico or just the museums nearby, returning to the Inn to sit by the fire and order dinner and cocktails is a perfect way to reflect on the rich and varied aspects of the history of Northern New Mexico.
The Inn on the Alameda stands poised to begin its 30th year of business in Santa Fe. During that time I have gone from my latter 30’s to my latter 60’s, and my son Michael has grown from 2 to 31. What fortunate blessings have been bestowed upon us and our property. What began as a 36 room limited service property has now doubled in size, abandoned its little portable lobby bar, enclosed the outdoor patio and risen in national stature and recognition. The Agoyo Lounge is now where that patio was, and a new and improved bar will be installed this coming early spring.
Agoyo is a Tewa Pueblo word for star or under the stars which was used by an early Pueblo employee for the patio’s nickname before it was enclosed. Then the night skies were darker since Santa Fe was much smaller and the stars more brilliant than even today, which is hard to imagine. We enclosed the patio because we had completely underestimated the seating capacity at breakfast on inclement rainy or snowing days, when few guests wished to enjoy the town until the early chill had gone. Cramming 72 guests in the small lobby was an impossibility and we always relied on the outdoor patio. Our front Sun Room was leased to the Galisteo News, a very cool espresso/coffee/ croissant precursor to Starbucks, so unlike now, it was unavailable for guests’ breakfast.
Those were very exciting days for many reasons, but the best being was being named by USA today in 1986, our first year, as one of the top 10 romantic destinations in the country. With the brilliant guidance of Alice Marshall, our New York City based publicist, we began garnishing top 100, 200 and 500 hotels awards and acclaim from Conde Nast and Travel & Leisure. Along side our staff and location Alice stands as the 3rd leg of the stool for our amazing climb to even international recognition. Our breakfast room proudly displays the most astounding and notable covers of these two magazines.
As our 3rd decade ends, it is hard not to feel nostalgic looking back at all the wonderful people that have shaped the Inn. Kathy Lynch, our night auditor, has been here since we opened, and many of our people have stayed for more than 20 years. This has allowed a familiarity, warmth and even friendships to grow during this time. As we regularly see in write-ups of guests’ experiences that it is “like coming home”. So at this holiday season, a time of family gatherings, we welcome all of our guests to enjoy a hot drink in the Agoyo Lounge, bundle up, and stand under the brilliant night skies and thank the powers that be for all there is that is still good in the world.
This fascinating two-day celebration at the first of November is not only the oldest American ritual honoring the dead, but the most popular holiday in all of Mexico. The native peoples that inhabited Mexico before the Spanish conquest in 1521 had a deep connection with death and dying. While modern western medicine cannot explain what happens after death occurs, neither could the old healers tell anyone what truly lies beyond the veil of life. So when Catholicism became the religion forced upon the Indigenous People, the Church already had two special days of recognizing and remembering the dead: All Saints Day and All Souls Day.
The appealing concept and imagery of this special day remembering the dead helped the merging of the Catholics’ and the Indigenous Peoples’ histories and beliefs. Dia de los Muertos formed a perfect common and similar union between Catholicism and Mexican traditional days of celebration. Ironically, this is a day for the dead with little focus on the Church, Jesus Christ, nor the trilogy. Instead, candied skeletons, skulls, marigold flowers and photographs of the deceased family members adorn the beautiful and personalized shrines and altars throughout Mexico. It is an invitation from the living to the dead to come and share a meal. Often on display can be found tequila, beers, cigarettes, tacos, mole: whatever each individual dead honoree enjoyed the most.
It is widely believed that the American tradition of Halloween stems from the blending of these two traditional celebrations of the dead’s lives. However, as one might expect from a culture of consumerism, Americans buy our children costumes of spooks, ghosts and skeletons and hustle them off to scare people and ask for candy. One can certainly see the American propensity to commercialize what was at one time a day to honor and remember your people now passed over. On the Day of the Dead, one sees all over Mexico activities such as building altars and shrines, cleaning and decorating graves, listening to strolling musicians, telling funny stories about each deceased relative, now again living for two precious days a year in the cemeteries through the energy, respect and honor of their families. The energy is always joyous, never gloomy. It is ironically a celebration of Life, this Day of the Dead!
Modern American culture has morphed this wonderful celebration of life into children screaming “Boo!” as if the dead came back on All Saints Day to scare people. Give me candy or we will “trick” you somehow in revenge. The real trick would be to somehow culturally re-connect Halloween with the wonderful aspects of the Day of the Dead.
So this Halloween, or the Day of the Dead, please stop by the Agoyo Lounge at the Inn on the Alameda in Santa Fe for a celebratory meal and drink and toast your past family members; and through your memories, celebrate their lives on earth.