The Chimayó Cultural Preservation Association

Chimayó's renown for flavorful chiles, fine weavers and artists, and the healing spirit at the Santuario gives it a prominent place among the many magical valleys of Northern New Mexico. The cultural roots of these traditions reach deep, but very few people have taken time to learn about and preserve Chimayó's rich historical legacy. The Chimayó Cultural Preservation Association is working to change that by building an archive of historical photographs and documents, gathering oral histories, maintaining historic buildings, and increasing community awareness of local history and culture.

Many Chimayó families can trace their ancestry back nearly 400 years, when Don Juan de Oñate led the first European colonists into New Mexico in 1598. Suprisingly, the land-hungry settlers found the fertile Santa Cruz empty of Pueblo villages and began building homes and farms here soon after Oñate's arrival. Some of the bolder families established themselves far from the main centers of population, near the upper end of the valley at a place they called Chimayó in reference to the tall hill named Tsi Mayoh by the Tewa pueblos. The isolation of their scattered farmsteads proved to be a liability when, in 1680, the Pueblo people rebelled against their Spanish overlords and ran them all out of New Mexico, killing many in the process. Chimayó became a ghost of a Spanish settlement and victorious Pueblos took over the fields and farms.

ccpa Some of the hardy pobladores (colonists) waited in El Paso del Norte for sixteen years after the revolt and then, led by the great soldier and statesman Diego de Vargas, returned to their ruined farms, expelled the Pueblos, and re-established themselves in Chimayó. Eventually, continuing attacks by unfriendly natives forced them to move their homes close together in small clusters, one of which was fortified and built in a rectangular plaza form.

The called this small, enclosed rectangle of simple adobe homes the Plaza de San Buenaventura in deference to the patron saint of their new home. Later, they began calling it Plaza del Cerro--the Plaza by the Hill. This plaza, with its contiguous adobe buildings and interior garden space, remains as a reminder of the harsh times the Spanish colonists faced.

Besides the Plaza del Cerro, many placitas (little plazas) sprang up in the valley during the troubled times of the 18th and 19th centuries, including El Rincón de los Trujillos, Potrero, Los Ranchos, Centrinela, Río Chiquito, El Llano, and others. Each placita has its own history and character, although each one is intricately connected with the others through an elaborate kinship network that binds the valley as one community called Chimayó.

The placitas of Chimayó still retain their character, and people who remember the old ways live in each one. Stories and photographs remain to be gathered. Historic structures wait to be restored. The purpose of the Chimayó Cultural Preservation Association is to work with the community to pull together these treasures and keep them intact. That way, present and future generations of Chimayosos will remember where they came from.

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