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.
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
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.
Copyright © 2004 Chimayó Museum. All rights reserved.