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San Esteban del Rey Church and Convent, Acoma Pueblo


Begun in 1630, only 32 years after Juan de Oņate took possession of New Mexico in the name of King Philip II of Spain, San Esteban del Rey Church was one of the few Spanish missions to survive the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. When one considers the labor that the Acoma people expended to build this massive structure, it's no wonder they chose not to destroy it. To build the church, convent, and cemetery, they moved approximately 20,000 tons of earth and stone from the canyon floor up the precipitous sides of the mesa. The quantity of water hauled by burros and carried on the heads of Acoma women during the 14 years of construction is difficult to estimate; the amount of labor required to transport the numerous 40-foot vigas the necessary 20 mountainous miles is hard to imagine.

Today, the church houses the largest inventory of early 17th century building material of any structure in New Mexico. Its collection of Spanish colonial ecclesiastic art is unique and includes an original hand-hewn circular staircase, hand-carved rails, paintings, a reredo, and more. Since 1999, Cornerstones Community Partnerships has worked in partnership with Acoma Pueblo to restore their important historic structures and to help build capacity among community members to effectively manage their own cultural and historic resources.

To complete the assessment, Cornerstones worked with the gaugashti (tribal members who make unpaid lifetime commitments to care for the church). Since the restoration has begun, community members have performed much of the work needed following in the traditions of their ancestors. Because of the interventions of modern materials and practices, however, few Acoma remember the old ways used for centuries to maintain the buildings. From the gaugashti, youth trainees will learn (in the traditional way, often through stories) centuries-old skills as well as religious practices and the responsibilities required of those who maintain the church. From the Cornerstones staff, they will learn the principals of historic preservation and its application to their lives. In this way, the Acoma people will be able to restore their sacred buildings today and. maintain them in the future


Cornerstones Community Partnerships
227 Otero Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
Phone: (505) 982-9521
Email: info@cstones.org

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