“Father Greyrobe: Was He or Wasn’t He?”
Southwest Crossroads Spotlight
Catholicism was the religion of Spanish conquest. By the late 1600s, it had dominated Pueblo life for well over a century. In the wake of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, few signs of it remained. The leaders killed the mission priests and burned the churches. They destroyed most of the religious articles in the Catholic missions after they liberated the pueblos.
But the removal of the Spanish religion was not as complete as the leaders of the revolt intended. Don Diego de Vargas met with a strange sight in 1692 when he arrived to take back Spanish control over the Pueblo world. “Sixteenth-century Franciscan Monk of New Mexico,” Unidentified (Artist)
De Vargas found the Zunis living on top of a mesa. After the revolt, the Zunis had moved from their vulnerable lowlands to the heights of Dowa Yalanne (Corn Mountain). After assuring the people he came in peace, de Vargas asked their permission to climb up to the pueblo. There, he reported, he “entered a room on the second floor, off the flat roof, finding there an altar with two large tallow candles burning; and some pieces of vestments were removed, which revealed the following religious articles”: a pair of large crucifixes with bronze figures of Jesus, four chalices for mass, bells and candlesticks, a painting of John the Baptist, a silver monstrance for the benediction service, and more than a dozen Christian religious books. De Vargas marveled that the Indians were still practicing Catholicism after the violence of the Pueblo Revolt. He said that he and his men had not seen any such relics in other pueblos: “For elsewhere they said that the religious articles had been lost or destroyed or that they had been carried off by the Apaches.”
De Vargas did not mention encountering any surviving Spanish priests, but the Zunis tell this story:
“It is said the priest stationed at Zuni neither was killed nor fled, but saved himself by abjuring his faith and turning Indian. That when the Spaniards went there at the time of the Reconquest, about the year 1690, they inquired for the padre, who answered in person that he was there; but, being dressed and painted like an Indian, they failed to recognize him, and asked him if he could write. He answered that he could, but had no paper. The Spaniards then passed up to him upon the rocky height where the pueblo then was situated a skin, upon which he made letters with charcoal. This satisfied them of his identity, when they demanded and received a surrender of the place.”
The Zunis knew this mysterious priest as Father Juan Greyrobe. Did he really survive the Pueblo Revolt at Zuni and “turn Indian”? If so, why did Don Diego de Vargas fail to mention him? If he wasn’t there, why did the Zunis carefully maintain all the religious articles required for the practice of Catholicism?