This article reclaims the historicity and sanctity of sanctuary as a dynamic cultural and spiritual practice and Indigenous survival strategy cultivated in regions of refuge and rebellion in the Americas. Tracing heterogeneous configurations of sanctuary in the North American Southwest during the Spanish colonial period, it compares the institution of church asylum with cross-tribal Indigenous sanctuary place-making and traditions of radical hospitality. As Indigenous people became refugees in their own homeland they capitalized on their knowledge of the landscape and banded with other persecuted and displaced peoples in “sanctuaryscapes,” vast autonomous regions and insurgent urban centers where new pan-Indigenous solidarities and identities emerged. Locating sanctuary practices within specific regional cartographies and social relations substantiates diverse autochthonous traditions of sanctuary that dramatically reorient and revitalize the origin stories that animate and also validate contemporary sanctuary movements and practices.
The old San Gerónimo Mission at Taos Pueblo, located seventy miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is material evidence of a violent end. There are no public memorials that recall the massacre at Taos Pueblo, but the community remembers. The charred, crumbling adobe remains of the mission, the crosses that crowd the graveyard and wander out into the llano, the disfigured santos tossed from the flames. These materialities live on to remind us. On January 18, 1847, two thousand Mexican and Pueblo Indian dissidents joined Mexican nationalists Pablo Montoya and Manuel Cortés and Tiwa leader Tomás Romero in rebellion against the US occupation of New Mexico. They assassinated the territorial governor, Charles Bent, and brutalized anyone deemed a traitor to Mexico.1 US troops were deployed from Santa Fe to Taos to put down the rebellion, which had quickly spread to the neighboring villages of Mora, La Cañada, and Arroyo Hondo.
Outnumbered and out of ammunition, a large faction of the Mora insurgents took refuge in the mountains among the Jicarilla Apache, where they continued to resist the US occupation until the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in February 1848.2 The Jicarilla Apache, however, refused to submit. Meanwhile, US forces brought down a campaign of fire and blood upon the people of Taos Pueblo. Those who could not escape to Apache-controlled regions of refuge, as the Mora rebels had done, turned to another custom in times of crisis. They took sanctuary within San Gerónimo Mission.3 But the invaders did not recognize the privilege of ecclesiastic immunity or the sanctity of church asylum, which remained inscribed in Mexican law until 1860.4 The soldiers fired relentlessly on the mission and set the roof on fire.5 Billows of black smoke choked down screams of unimaginable pain and terror as the 150 men, women, and children trapped inside its earthen walls were reduced to ashes.
The imprints of lives lost and stories untold smudge contemporary sanctuary practices and movements in the North American Southwest and haunt the religious narratives that frame them. Sanctuary is fundamentally about the search for home and the remaking of homelands through space-making projects that mobilize individual and collective acts of spiritual and material regeneration. It involves productions of place and space—the differentiation of space and the spatialization of difference—and draws upon culturally defined notions of solidarity, mutuality, and exchange. Further, spaces of protection are configured in relation to external conditions of violence that force people to flee from their homes and to depend on the generosity of strangers for survival. Sanctuary, in concept and practice, is inherently contradictory and contingent. It depends on multiple kinds of negotiations (moral, spiritual, political, economic) about who belongs within the circle of community and who is worthy of protection and care.
Sanctuary is said to have ancient roots and universal dimensions but also particular historical and cultural expressions.6 However, it is often assumed that the origins of sanctuary, or more specifically, the practice of creating safe spaces for the persecuted or accused and offering hospitality to people in need of protection, derives its sacred character and institutional authority from Christian providence and its corresponding medieval European legal codes and theologies.7 This article challenges these conventional perspectives and calls for a situated historiography of sanctuary in the Americas, one that acknowledges its coloniality as an instrument of pastoral power and centers Indigenous regions of refuge and negotiations with settler colonialism.
Opening this dialogue requires a radical reorientation of sanctuary’s given terms and historical trajectories. I begin by redefining sanctuary as a dynamic autochthonous tradition and Indigenous survival strategy cultivated (and continuously remade) in regions of refuge and rebellion.8 As Indigenous people were displaced from their homelands or forced to congregate in missionary compounds they became refugees in their own homelands. They capitalized on their intertribal relations and knowledge of the landscape and sometimes banded together with other persecuted or displaced groups to create new multiethnic communities. Indigenous “sanctuaryscapes” can be understood as “transformative space-making projects” that allowed Indigenous peoples and knowledges to survive colonialism and continue into the present.9 Sanctuaryscapes were mobile, collective, and often precarious but they were also spiritually grounded and politically strategic. Restoring Indigenous and African sanctuaryscapes to the origin stories of sanctuary movements in the Americas revitalizes and also complicates contemporary imaginings of sanctuary’s potential as a radical or transformative practice.10
The most common understanding of sanctuary is rooted in Christian notions of sacred space as set apart from the mundane world. The inner sanctum of the church is where the altar and the tabernacle reside. In contrast to the mobility and diversity of sanctuaryscapes, church asylum is confined to consecrated grounds—the mission, convento, or church and their environs including courtyards and cemeteries. Church asylum is a specific practice of sanctuary that evolved in tandem with Christendom and Western European legal systems. The notion that fugitives who fled to churches received impunity (at least temporarily) occupied a central place in medieval legal traditions and debates.11 The laws and rationales that governed the right of asylum had both secular and spiritual provenance and balanced powers between church and state.12
The privilege of church asylum was exclusive to Christians and conferred to individuals.13 Ecclesiastical judges, in negotiation with civil authorities, adjudicated cases in consideration of the circumstance and the gravity of the crime committed with reference to both civil law and theological sources. Spanish legal and theological treatises, which extended to Spain’s American colonies, regulated church asylum and clearly outlined the rules regarding the treatment of the accused, but distance from the metropole and the specificity of local conditions allowed for a wide array of interpretations. Sanctuary and clemency were inscribed in law and subject to intense juridical debate, but they were also embedded in religious vocation or the clergy’s obligation to care for the material and spiritual well-being of the flock.14 The institution of ecclesiastic immunity, which gave the clergy jurisdiction over church asylum, was rooted in Christian notions of sin and redemption and matters of divine authority, but it was also premised upon pastoral power—the clergy’s special charge to procure converts, hear confessions, bestow sacraments, and ultimately to manage the social, spiritual, and moral life of the community.
Situated within the matrix of colonial governmentality, sanctuary was integrated in the techniques and ideologies of imposing rule over Indigenous populations, including forced congregation in missions and settlements. As an instrument of colonial governance, sanctuary was embedded in the logics and infrastructures of colonization and Christian conversion, which defined Indigenous sovereignties, spiritualities, and ways of knowing and relating to the land as aberrant and in need of reform or eradication. I argue that church asylum, which was the primary way that sanctuary was practiced in Spanish America, was another enclosure within an already colonized space and therefore, implicated if not fully entrenched in the very forms of violence and domination that made Indigenous people refugees in their own homeland. At the same time, Indigenous people maintained their own spatial autonomies inside and outside colonized spaces.
Mission compounds were inside Indigenous territories and became embedded within them over time because they were places where goods were produced and traded. Pueblo people who lived within or adjacent to missions and colonial settlements made astute use of pastoral care as Christian converts and in some cases took sanctuary in churches to evade punishment by secular authorities. Spanish missions were not isolated colonial outposts. They were economic and spiritual centers positioned within preexisting Puebloan ceremonial geographies that nested the village within concentric sources of power such as sacred mountains, reservoirs, cultivation grounds, shrines, and other features of the landscape.15 The mission enterprise also extended beyond its physical boundaries as priests traveled between settlements or ventured out to seek potential converts and track down apostates who had fled to Indigenous sanctuaryscapes.16
Therefore, it is necessary to locate sanctuary practices more broadly within the racial geographies and rationalities of colonial rule that differentiated Indigenous from European humanity and ways of life while also compelling them together and drawing them violently apart. The Indian that filled the landscape and so occupied and preoccupied the Spanish imagination was docile and hospitable or barbarous and hostile, ripe for conversion or violently recalcitrant.17 Following Saldaña-Portillo’s observation that the drive to know, reform, and, ultimately, control Indian souls and sovereignties was the precondition of Spanish colonialism and in turn, for the production of “settled” and secure spaces, sanctuary was part of the terrain of possibilities that shaped and also constrained Indigenous agencies and struggles for autonomy. Therefore, Indigenous regions of refuge and colonial sanctuary can be understood as adversarial but also co-constituted spatial practices.
I bring an eclectic collection of sources and a time-traveling methodology to this investigation of sanctuary practices and relations in the North American Southwest, which is understood today as a politically bifurcated yet restless cultural and geographic space whose unevenly integrated transborder region encompasses northern Mexico and the southwestern United States.18 My analysis juxtaposes fragmented church asylum cases that date from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in New Mexico and El Paso de Norte (1681–1796)19 with historical and archeological studies of Pueblo cities of refuge and Apache defensive enclaves from the same period. Through the methodology of juxtaposition, Indigenous regions of refuge are placed alongside church asylum to reveal the generative diversity of sanctuary relations and practices that emerged during the colonial period in unsettled regions of the Spanish Empire.
Drawing on Anthony Tyeeme Clark and Malea Powell’s concept of Indigenous groundwork and “homescapes,”20 which advance a Native American politics of place and space “at the intersection of colonizing ideologies and Native epistemologies,”21 I introduce “sanctuaryscapes” as a framework for understanding the mobile, diverse, and generative regions of refuge that Pueblo and Athapaskan peoples forged to confront colonialism. These networks, escape routes, and defensive enclaves were often unstable and temporary, but they allowed Indigenous people to selectively accommodate to Spanish/Mexican rule and evade the coercive protection and care of the mission. Sanctuaryscapes could be defined as “radically conservative” in that traditional ways of gaining status and creating alliances through trade and raiding, kinship relations, and exchange of captives (women and children) were creatively adapted to fit new circumstances and accommodate diverse tribal practices.22 These altered relations were solidified and sanctified through origin myths, marriages, and markings on the landscape.23 Therefore, Indigenous practices of hospitality and mutuality were not merely improvised but part of a broader moral and spiritual economy comprised of material and symbolic forms of solidarity that mobilized sanctuaryscapes and held them together.
According to historian Juliana Barr, areas that the Spanish considered barbarous or unpacified were identified as the Indigenous nation’s borders and marked the limits of the Spanish Empire.24 Barr notes that when Spanish maps identified Indigenous territories their borders were amorphous, disorderly, and unknown, whereas the boundaries of Spanish towns were clearly defined. Euro-American mappings intentionally erased or obscured Indigenous territories. The Comanches and other seminomadic tribes controlled vast territories of northern New Spain, a region the Spanish entered with great trepidation and disparaged as La Gran Chichimeca. Despite their physical presence and continual occupation of the landscape, Indigenous peoples were considered landless and itinerant from the Euro-American perspective. When we ignore Indigenous homelands and relationships to the land in our renderings of national borders and territories, we reproduce the colonial logic that holds this racial geography in place—an inert landscape emptied of its Native inhabitants and ripe for the taking.25 With regard to the historiography of sanctuary as a mode of representation, we participate in a similar process of erasure when we ignore how colonialism and slavery disrupted Indigenous societies and reconfigured territories, economies, land-based spiritualities, and intertribal relations. These social and political upheavals and displacements gave rise to sanctuaryscapes.
Therefore, “sanctuaryscape” acknowledges how geopolitical and cultural borders were shaped by colonialism and also how sanctuary was and continues to be a form of containment or enclave in which internal spaces of protection are configured by external spaces of violence. While the Spanish may have imagined territories controlled by barbarous Indians as the space of violence that required taming, and Spanish towns as “green zones” with military installations and armies to protect their integrity and resources from dangerous and hostile outsiders, Indigenous peoples viewed space and place differently. The territories that they controlled were bulwarks against colonial rule, and peaceable spaces where Indigenous life could flourish independently. “Sanctuaryscape” recognizes the spatial dimensions of Indigenous assertions of power. As Barr asserts, “Indians knew the regions within which they were safe or vulnerable. Far more than that, confederacies, chiefdoms, and nomadic hunter-gatherers circumscribed the geographic areas within which they asserted control over resources, people, relationships, culture, ritual, and historical memory.”26
The Revivals of Sanctuary
The ancient roots of Western European asylum practices within the Christian sanctuary tradition have served as a source of inspiration and legitimacy for contemporary sanctuary movements. Scholars who have written about the revival of sanctuary in relation to the Central American refugee crisis during the eighties have done considerable work documenting ancient sanctuary practices and offer a compelling historical context for these faith-based movements.27
The majority of these case studies acknowledge sanctuary’s Christian origins in references to cities of refuge in the Old Testament or the ethic of offering hospitality to the stranger. Movement participants clung to biblical sources of justification for enacting sanctuary against the law, which motivated scholars to recover the ancient roots of the concept. The focus of these studies is contemporary sanctuary movements and politics in the United States, Canada, and Europe. However, few provide detailed or comprehensive cross-cultural or transhistorical analysis of sanctuary traditions. To clarify this point, while scholarship on the sanctuary movements of the 1980s illuminates how white, middle-class Christians and Jews formed durable transnational alliances and authentic cross-cultural connections with Central American refugees,28 the literature on sanctuary and asylum in non-Christian and non-Western societies is rather thin. Further, there is a wide scholarly gap on Native American, Polynesian, Aboriginal Australian, and African sanctuary and asylum practices especially in relation to colonialism.29
From an anthropological perspective, sanctuary is built into the fabric of human evolution and the development of sociality and mutuality. Linda Rabben explains that “giving asylum or sanctuary may be seen as one of the basic manifestations of altruistic behavior and human morality.”30 “Survival of our species,” she posits, “depended on extending bonds beyond immediate kin by making alliances through marriage partners or other kinds of reciprocity.”31 Rabben shores up sanctuary’s universality with a robust assortment of cross-cultural comparisons, but the bulk of her historical research is on Christian and Western European practices. This bias is partly the result of the content of the archive and the availability of sources, yet as Anna Tsing contends, “universalisms are not politically neutral.”32 Universal reasoning is part of the coloniality of power in which European knowledge is viewed as representative of all of humanity whereas the cultures and knowledges of the colonized are considered particular and therefore trivial.33
Ignatius Bau traces the ancient origins of sanctuary from Greek and Roman temple asylum to Old Testament cities of refuge, and to medieval privilege of church asylum in England, which he notes became riddled with corruption and eventually outlawed by Parliament in 1624. His chapter on sanctuary in US history begins with the familiar story of Puritan and Pilgrim exiles in a promised land emptied of Indigenous inhabitants. Church asylum disappears in colonial America but reemerges in the text as radical hospitality in opposition to unjust laws, specifically the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which mobilized the Underground Railroad to help African Americans escape to free states in the north. Sanctuary activism makes a brief appearance in the United States and Europe during World War II in response to the Holocaust,34 but Bau and others pin the revival of contemporary sanctuary movements to the Vietnam War era when conscientious objectors began taking refuge in churches and universities.35 Admittedly, the origin story that he narrates and others recite maps onto sanctuary activists’ own spiritual and cultural justifications for harboring or assisting refugees and participating in the movement to end US military intervention in Central America. However, this origin story, which has become essentialized within sanctuary movements and scholarship about them, has a notable Protestant overtone that curiously overlooks Native American practices of hospitality as well as the robust Catholic tradition of church asylum that flourished in Spanish colonial America.
Native American and other non-Western traditions of sanctuary and hospitality are not well documented, but they must also have ancient roots. Political exchanges and alliances beyond immediate kin were essential to the survival of tribal groups. These alliances and relations were radically transformed with the advent of European colonialism (and the imposition of Christianity and the slave economy) producing mass displacements of people, tensions between former allies and trading partners, and causing widespread social and political unrest. Indigenous sanctuaryscapes existed long before the arrival of Europeans, but these practices of protection and hospitality became more pronounced and essential to survival in response to colonialization.
Another area of great scholarly interest is the relationship between secular and religious authority in movements that mobilized Christian notions of hospitality and sanctuary to contest what activists saw as unjust immigration laws.36 Foucault’s theories of governmentality and pastoral power and Agamben’s notion of the exception have been useful for positioning sanctuary squarely within modern forms of domination and the rule of law.37 Pastoral power is of particular interest because, as Randy Lippert suggests, it “entails certain spatial imagining” that allows for the protection and care of migrants but also the constant monitoring, counseling, and surveillance of them as pastoral objects entrapped within sanctuary’s enclosures.38 Put another way, pastoral care involves total knowledge of the other, which has a panoptic effect of creating individuals who are willing to make themselves docile and controllable. The politics of discernment—the power to decide who is deserving of or eligible for protection and care—is of particular value for understanding how seemingly benevolent actions can also involve coercion, confinement, and other forms of discipline.
The contradictions of pastoral power and care underlie the secular and sacred tensions at the heart of sanctuary. Spanish colonial documents and Native oral histories tell of Catholic missionaries loving their neophytes to death through infrastructures of congregation that dispersed and contained Indigenous people within colonized spaces.39 Congregation was an infrastructure of racial differentiation that traversed public and private domains. Historian Daniel Nemser’s research on early colonial Mexico illuminates how architecture and spatialization of difference configured secular and religious notions of Indian humanity as aberrant yet potentially redeemable. The connections he makes between colonial logic and actual structures—roads, plazas, missionary compounds, military installations, and houses—furthers my argument that sanctuary’s enclosures tightened the coercive embrace of pastoral care while simultaneously creating secular notions of protection that demarcated European spaces, bodies, and ways of living from Indigenous ones.
Recent studies of sanctuary cities tend to brush over historical accounts of sanctuary. They are secular in orientation and bypass the religious side of the concept altogether. Instead, these studies investigate forms of governance such as local immigration politics and policymaking, citizenship and immigrant rights, and the relationship between municipal governments and policing.40 The relations of power that organize sanctuary’s conditions of possibility are unmoored from religion as it enters policy worlds. Some scholars argue that churches and states, refugees and advocates, are systematically entangled in a secular politics of discernment that sorts criminal from law-abiding immigrants and deepens law enforcement and municipal governments’ participation in securing the sanctuary city.41 Nevertheless, immigrant rights advocates use public safety arguments strategically to get sanctuary city resolutions passed. Reforming policing practices can reduce racial profiling and in turn protect immigrants from being targeted by police and then questioned about their citizenship status. Sanctuary cities aim to protect all residents by decreasing deportations and promoting an ethic of inclusion.42
Modern international asylum laws are tied to nation-states and their particular political interests, but sanctuary has operated inside and outside the rule of law, tradition, or custom.43 Today, as in the past, sanctuary is subject to defilement and moral corruption as witnessed with the rise in conservative backlash against sanctuary cities and the 2017 immigration roundups branded “Operation Safe City,” which targeted them. Securing a place to belong and build a livable life is fundamental to human survival. Deciding who is eligible for protection with regard to the politics of care belies the secular and religious tensions at the heart of sanctuary. The search for belonging and safety impresses upon sanctuary in a variety of ways.
In sum, sanctuary carries diverse forms of power that flow between church and state, public and private spaces, the temporal and the eternal. Sanctuary is a political act hedged with restrictions, ideological conflicts, and power struggles. Municipal policies also promise protection and care to undocumented residents. Echoing the contractions of pastoral care discussed earlier, providing limited protections and services to these vulnerable denizens can also, as Jennifer Bagelman contends, create “docile subjects who are willing to defer the rights of citizenship” and wait indefinitely in legal limbo without permanent status.44 As sanctuary has entered the secular arenas of law and policy, it has become part of the machinery of governance and bureaucratic systems. However, sanctuary is also a grassroots movement—a stand against injustice that empowers local communities to work together to create spaces of protection and belonging and in solidarity with the marginalized, the undocumented, the refugee.
Regions of Refuge and Rebellion
The concept of regiones de refugio (regions of refuge) derives from anthropological studies in the 1970s of Indigenous communities in Mexico that had long been neglected by the state and lived under conditions of extreme poverty.45 It was used to describe the subsistence strategies and selective processes of acculturation that Indigenous peoples adopted to survive colonialism. Fleeing to inhospitable regions of refuge relatively isolated from urban settlements was a forced choice. These defensive spaces provided Indigenous people a measure of autonomy that allowed them to maintain their customs and lifeways while bearing the brunt of failed economic policies and land reforms that further impeded their development and sustainability. This strategy of resiliency to colonial oppression (past and present) and racialized subordination in regions of refuge was described as a process of ethnic enclavement, a concept that gained considerable traction in anthropological studies of urban immigrant communities in the United States.
Sanctuary practices in the Americas cannot be fully appreciated without attention to coloniality. Regions of refuge emerged within the context of colonial violence, the genocide and forced removal of Indigenous peoples, the transatlantic slave trade, and other forms of persecution and unfreedom that marginalized groups suffered under European colonialism. During the Spanish colonial period and up until the nineteenth century, Indigenous people, mestizos and African runaways (cimarrones or maroons) intermarried and frequently rebelled against colonial rule, escaping to regions of refuge high in the mountains or deep into forestlands or swamps where they created sanctuaryscapes for themselves.46
While life in regions of refuge was (and continues to be) precarious, these defensive spaces were also sites of resistance where Indigenous peoples and escaped African slaves gathered their resources, planned rebellions, and established communities that withstood settler colonialism for generations. African sanctuaryscapes are also part of this story. In Spanish Florida, African slaves routinely fled from British plantations to missions where they were given sanctuary, converted to Catholicism, and granted land to establish a free black town, Gracia Real De Santa Teresa de Mose, near St. Augustin (1738–63).47 Slave revolts involving Indians, Africans, and mixed-raced people erupted throughout Mexico, Latin America, and the Caribbean throughout the colonial period. Runaways known as cimarrones in Mexico rebelled against Spanish rule in 1607 in the Port of Veracruz, under the leadership of an African man called Yanga. His band of insurgents was so tenacious that the Spanish granted them a settlement.48
During the Spanish colonial period and through the nineteenth century, Mexico’s northern hinterlands were considered hostile and dangerous. Nevertheless, Spanish/Mexican elites believed that the unruly northern territories held strategic and economic promise with mineral wealth and a new harvest of souls for the expansion of Christendom and the Spanish Empire. The arid and mountainous terrain, which includes the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sonora, and parts of what is now New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona, acquired the moniker La Gran Chichimeca.49 The Spanish defined the region as savage and inhospitable, populated with cruel and murderous bands of nomads or indos bárbaros who refused to become civilized. The imaginary of La Gran Chichimeca was created in opposition to the pacified and cultured agriculturalists of the south. This cultural and regional divide persisted well into the nineteenth century and has continued to shape national histories and research agendas.50
Endemic warfare between colonists and Indigenous peoples defined the Chihuahuan frontier. A culture of perpetual warfare, retribution, and violence came to define norteño society.51 The constant state of rebellion to the forms of subjugation that the colonists, the church, and the colonial state imposed on Indigenous populations ensured that their transformation into docile colonial subjects was never fully realized. Historian Ana Maria Alonso observes that “throughout the seventeenth century indigenous peoples of Chihuahua, such as the Toboso, the Manso, the Conchos, and the Tarahumara, were in a nearly continuous state of ‘rebellion’ engendered by the advance of the colonial frontier and by the processes of subjection that the colonists, the church, and the state tried to impose on them.”52 While some of these groups were exterminated or deported, the Tarahumara fled to the most inaccessible regions of the Sierra Madre Occidental, where they continue to live today.53
In other cases, Indians and lower-class mestizos were given incentives and land grants to establish free colonies in exchange for their military service to Spain and later, the Mexican state, in wars against the Apache and other rebellious tribes that raided and ravished colonial settlements and rural towns. Service in Indian auxiliaries was a way to show personal valor, gain prestige, and move up the social ladder, or to essentially “whiten” as citizens of frontier society. Alonso argues that the frontier was a zone of “intercultural exchange and transformation” where the boundaries of race and ethnicity, civilization and barbarism, were fluid and unstable.54
While a full analysis of the social, political, and cultural complexities of the Spanish borderlands is beyond the scope of this study, Indigenous people, mestizos, African slaves, and plebeian fugitives from colonial society sometimes banded together and rebelled against Spanish colonial rule. In other instances, they became further integrated into the colonial state as guides and scouts, military auxiliaries, and settlers in their own right. Indigenous and mixed-raced people also escaped from missions or avoided them by fleeing to regions of refuge high in the mountains or deep in forestlands and swamps, where they created sanctuaryscapes. They also took refuge with allied tribes across medicine lines (Native American territorial boundaries), capitalized on European territorial disputes, and built new communities where new alliances, intercultural subjectivities, and blended spiritual and material cultures emerged. In this context, sanctuary emerges as a site of collective action, transculturation, and social transformation.
In light of this evidence, our definition of sanctuary can be expanded to include regions of refuge. Indigenous sanctuaryscapes facilitated large and small resistance movements whose goals were political and decolonial. While the outcomes of these movements were diverse, they were not simple cultural revitalization movements that demanded a return to an Indigenous past that was no longer viable. They were future-oriented, not necessarily directed at eradicating all vestiges of European culture (although this may have served as a call to unity) or dismantling colonial society and establishing control over its resources but at finding a safe place to call home. In the next section, I will discuss two different but interconnected examples of sanctuaryscapes that emerged in the North American Southwest, Pueblo cities of refuge and Apache autonomous enclaves. I have chosen to concentrate on these specific cases because they exemplify intertribal relations, practices of hospitality, and cultural creativity in the making of sanctuaryscapes.
Pueblo Cities of Refuge
On August 10, 1680, the Pueblos of New Mexico and their mestizo allies rose up against the Spanish Empire. The rebellion had many causes—religious oppression, labor coercion, sexual abuse, conflicts between soldiers and priests, drought, disease, and famine—all of which came to a head in the mid-1600s. Jemez Pueblo scholar Joe Sando called the Pueblo Revolt “the First American Revolution.”55 Today, many Pueblo communities continue to commemorate the revolt as an important declaration of their sovereignty that inaugurated the modern era. It is said that the revolt had to happen in order to restore balance to the Pueblo world and to ensure the continuance of the people.56 Scholars who have evaluated the fragmented historical and archaeological evidence suggest that the primary reason for the uprising was slavery and the cultural breakdown that resulted as social systems, economies, households, and tribal relations were disrupted with the arrival of the Spanish and their Native allies.57
The Pueblo Revolt has been termed the “Pueblo-Athapaskan Revolt” because of the participation of Apache and Navajo allies and other non-Pueblo tribes.58 The uprising was preceded by numerous premeditated rebellions that began near the silver mines of Parral, Chihuahua, where Indigenous people captured from as far away as the Dakotas had been enslaved to work in the mines. One of the most significant of these rebellions was the Tepehuan Revolt of 1616, which embroiled Durango in warfare for over two years, and the Tarahumara rebellions in Chihuahua that erupted in the mid and late seventeenth century. In both cases, the survivors fled to the sierras, where they regrouped in multicultural sanctuaryscapes that sustained numerous households, and subsisted on a combination of agriculture and resources acquired from raiding Spanish settlements.59 These autonomous communities remained hostile to the Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries, and constant raiding drained military resources and slowed economic development throughout Nueva Vizcaya.60
The Pueblos likely knew about these rebellions and the deleterious impact they had on Spanish colonial rule in the south. They also learned from them. Pueblo and Athapaskan people had resisted Spanish colonization since the arrival of the outsiders, but the 1680 revolt was stunning. Po’pay, a spiritual leader from Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo strived for a spiritual return to Native ways and set out to realize his vision. Po’pay and his war captains (some of whom were mestizos and mulatos) from various mission communities planned the rebellion in secret over a ten-year period and formed an unprecedented pan-Indigenous alliance in the process. It is important to note that not all of the Pueblos were unified in this cause and not all of them respected Po’pay’s messianic vision or his leadership; nevertheless, his envoys were able to galvanize a powerful anticolonial coalition. Because of its efficacy in banishing the Spanish from New Mexico and the ripple effect it had on settlements in Nueva Vizcaya, it was also a Great Northern Rebellion.
The complete eradication of symbols of Spanish culture and Catholicism may have been Po’pay’s imperative, but not all Pueblo communities joined in the rebellion, killed their priests, or destroyed sacred icons. In the twelve years between the uprising and the return of Spanish authority in 1692, along with a motley group of settlers and soldiers recruited from Chihuahua and Zacatecas, the Pueblo people, reorganized as the pan-Pueblo alliance, began to fracture, and conflicts ensued.61 The Keres of Zia and Santa Ana Pueblos, whose participation in the revolt had been tenuous, consolidated at Cerro Colorado and broke ties with the northern Tewa. This rift strengthened revolutionary solidarity between the Tewa, the Jemez, and the Keres of Kotyiti.
The postrevolt landscape was flooded with migrants and refugees. Some remained in mission villages founded before the uprising, while others occupied Spanish colonial settlements such as the Governor’s Palace in Santa Fe. Pueblos from diverse tribes abandoned their mission villages and, following the sacred migration stories passed down to them from their ancestors, they built new communities atop high mesas empowered with Pueblo cosmovision (stories, sacred places and directions, celestial coordinates, and other significant markers).62 However, many Tiwa and some Tewa families took refuge with their Apache and Navajo allies and kin.
Archeologists have identified six Pueblo cities of refuge: Dowa Yalanne (Corn Mountain) near Zuni; Tunyo (Black Mesa) at San Ildefonso; Kotyiti, southwest of Cochiti; and three villages in the vicinity of Jemez: Astialakwa, Potokwa, and Bolestsakwa.63 These urban sanctuaryscapes displayed social experimentation and innovations in art and architecture. The entire Zuni population, which was previously settled in seven different villages, consolidated at Dowa Yalanne. Different kinds of social units were formed with the unification of households, clans, kiva groups, medicine societies, and priesthoods.64 Corn Mountain was inhabited various times after the Pueblo independence period and continues to be a sacred place where ceremonies are performed at certain times of the year. According to Pueblo archeologist Joseph Aguilar, who is currently surveying Tunyo (the site of the final battle of the reconquest in 1692), this mesa-top city functioned as a garrison where men of the warrior classes resided. Their families remained camped in the river valley below the mesa. He also confirms that Tunyo features prominently in the migration stories of the Tewa people and is considered a sacred place.65
Another unique feature of Pueblo cities of refuge is that they incorporated diverse Puebloan refugees who spoke different languages, and welcomed some Nadé (Apache) and Diné (Navajo) allies. For instance, at Potokwa, Towa-speaking people from the Jemez area lived together with Keres speakers from farther south and a few Diné. It was also well fortified with all of the rooms facing inward, encircling the central plaza. Houses could only be entered from rooftop openings using ladders that could be removed if the village came under attack. They created a dual-moiety social organization with twin kivas and plazas, which symbolized duality and solidified seasonal rotation of leadership to unite previously segmented groups.66
Women were also active agents in reorganizing households and reshaping social and political identities in the postrevolt period as cultural producers. At Kotyiti, pottery makers created ceramic designs that revitalized older styles. The reemergence of the double-headed key motif, which dates to the 1400s, provides a cogent example.67 This style was not in circulation before the revolt but reemerged as a rebellious symbol during the revitalization period. Barbara J. Mills observes that Zuni potters stopped using Spanish-era glazeware and kachina imagery, opting instead for solid red and black paint on white slips with a matte finish and feather motifs.68 These styles may have been more easily standardized across the different symbolic vocabularies and styles that were commonly used by culturally distinct Puebloan groups.
In light of the material evidence, Pueblo women and men created art forms that bridged cultural and linguistic differences through reinvention of older designs that moved across tribal communities. This strategy may have been used to achieve solidarity and project a revolutionary and pan-Indigenous identity among allied tribes.69 Archeologists and historians of the postrevolt period interpret semiotic reinventions of tradition as nation-building projects that promoted a communitarian vision and Pan-Indigenous subjectivity for the first time in recorded history among Pueblos and their Athapaskan partners.70 They also suggest that Po’pay and his war captains revalued and mobilized the social and cultural flattening that the Spanish had imposed to reduce tribal distinctiveness to one racialized designation—Pueblo—to create a form of solidarity.71
Another significant sanctuaryscape was El Cuartelejo, an Apache-controlled region located along the present-day Colorado and Kansas border, where at least five different bands resided. Pueblo people routinely escaped from Spanish missions and took refuge with their Plains allies. The existence of these autonomous regions was a constant threat to the clergy’s reeducation project. Converts frequently fled to El Cuartelejo, becoming apostates and reverting to their old way of life. In fact, after the Pueblo Revolt, the Picuris survivors (including two war captains who had helped orchestrate the rebellion) took refuge at El Cuartelejo. Archaeologist Sunday Eiselt suggests that the communities most resistant to conversion and colonization were the frontier Pueblos, who had closer ties with Apache and Navajo bands. She explains that “the Apaches played a major role in the resulting conflicts by harboring Puebloan fugitives, assisting Puebloan rebels, and attacking the missionized Pueblos who were allied with the Spanish.”72
Some Apache bands, the Jicarilla in particular, spent part of the winter near fortified Pueblo villages such as Taos and Picuris. The Pueblos provided their Plains trade partners and kin with hospitality in hard times. This kindness was returned when Tiwa allies sought refuge from Spanish domination. These relationships of reciprocity were also important in warfare. Eiselt also posits that sanctuaryscapes allowed Indigenous people to share and maintain cultural knowledge and interrupt Spanish attempts to assimilate or convert them.73 On the other hand, the interior Tewa villages were more vulnerable to Spanish domination because they did not have a sanctuary relationship with Athapaskan groups. They were entrapped, to some extent, within their own fortified communities alongside missions and Spanish/Mexican villages. As Pueblo people become more integrated into colonial economies, contact between Tewas and Athapaskans, which had become increasingly conflictual, resulted in outbreaks of violence.
However, many of these partnerships of exchange and kinship broke down due to intensification of the slave trade, which, according to Eiselt, made “relations between Apaches and the lowland frontier Pueblos tenuous and unpredictable” in the late 1600s.74 The same occurred in Towa communities in Jemez. Eiselt explains that following the rebellions of 1649 and 1653, the Jemez fled and took sanctuary with the Navajo, which gave rise to the Navajo Coyote Pass Clan, composed of Jemez women and their descendants.75 Family ties tend to be durable, but hospitable relations and intermarriage between the Jemez and Navajo deteriorated as Pueblo and Athabaskan communities in the region became ensnared in the slave trade. As anguished Pueblo and Navajo families made separate deals with the Spanish for the return of their relatives, allies soon became enemies and former sanctuaryscapes turned inhospitable.
By 1693, when the Spanish returned to New Mexico, Jemez Pueblo was fighting with their former Navajo neighbors who had allied with Cochiti Pueblo against the Gila Apaches. A few years later in 1706, sixty-two men and women and seventeen children from Picuris who had taken refuge and, in the words of Spanish authorities, had been “living as apostates in the remote providence of Santo Domingo del Cuartelejo” were returned by military escort to the “holy custody of the village and mission of San Gerónimo de Taos.”76 According to Spanish testimonies, the Picuris had been held there as captives of the Apache and were more than happy to return to their homeland.77 While it is possible that the Picuris had overstayed their welcome at El Cuartelejo or that the Apache had exchanged the refugees for Spanish provisions, based on their deep historical ties, it is unlikely that they were overjoyed to return to the mission. Shortly before their departure, Spanish authorities held a solemn ceremony declaring El Cuartelejo “pacified” and under the control of church and crown.78
In sum, the diverse sanctuaryscapes that Pueblo and Athapaskan peoples had forged before and after the revolt were important sites of transculturation. Because they depended on kinship ties and captive exchanges, women were important actors in maintaining peaceful relations and producing material and symbolic offerings of hospitality.79 These dense relations were codified in myth, language, and religious practices, as well as a shared sense of identity, and for this reason, they remained steadfast for generations while thin alliances fractured under the pressures of colonialism.80 Therefore, Indigenous sanctuaryscapes ebbed and flowed with some being more durable and dependable than others. The influence of Christianity was ever present. Many Indigenous people, Pueblos in particular, accepted elements of the faith, creating balance with their Native traditions. Additionally, the protection and provisions that Pueblos and Apaches were promised in missions, presidios, and on reservations known as “peace establishments” competed with sanctuaryscapes, which were difficult to sustain in a land embroiled in warfare.81
In the final section of this article, I focus on the Spanish institution of church asylum. Indigenous people and mestizos and mulatos created sanctuaryscapes, but they also took refuge in churches, missions, and conventos. But colonial authorities, both secular and religious, presided over church asylum. The privilege was only available to Christians or to those willing to submit to baptism, and was confined to sacred enclosures within colonized space. Submitting to baptism could be a strategic decision, but it came with consequences. Fleeing a mission was apostasy, a grave crime against God and the colonial state. The majority of New Mexican church asylum cases that I examined were originally compiled by Elizabeth Howard West in 1928.82 The bulk of these cases derive from a period in which church asylum had come under intense scrutiny in both Spain and its American colonies in response to widespread abuses and protracted conflicts between church and state (1680–1796).
The right to ecclesiastical immunity formed the basis of sanctuary in Spain and in the Americas. The practice was codified in civil laws, religious canons, and municipal charters or fueros. The Siete Partidas (1251–65) was a robust book of legal codes based on Roman and canon law. The volumes outlined the jurisdictions between church and crown (and other civil matters), and the Recopilación de Leyes de los Reinos de las Indias were civil laws that set forth the legalities of sanctuary. In addition, theological manuals such as Sumas de Teología Moral, which set down guidelines for correct and incorrect behavior expected of all Christians, were equally important statutes that dictated the right to asylum and the treatment of the accused.83 Individuals accused of crimes such as rape, forgery, desertion, and tax evasion were excluded from taking sanctuary in some cases, but debtors and people indicted of murder, assault, and other wrongdoing were not prohibited.84 In Spain as in America, sanctuary was a privilege afforded exclusively to Christians. Jews, Muslims, and heathens were considered ineligible.85
There were special rules guiding the extradition of the accused. In order to extract a person from sanctuary, a special bond, or caución juratoria, had to be issued, which served as an oath that the accused would not be harmed once removed from refuge.86 The bond had to be approved and signed by an ecclesiastical judge. The penalty for forcibly removing a person from sanctuary or for not following the proper procedure was excommunication. Sometimes disputes erupted between secular and ecclesiastical authorities involving sanctuary cases that became so intense and drawn out that priests exerted their wrath over entire communities, refusing to give mass, communion, or to perform sacraments until the conflict was resolved.87 The clergy’s pastoral power over the right of asylum balanced the authority to judge on matters both worldly and spiritual between religious and secular spheres. Ultimately, an individual’s moral failings and crimes against the church or state incurred eternal and temporal consequences.
In Spanish America, church asylum was widespread and unregulated. It was almost entirely governed by local authorities and situations. As a colonial institution, church asylum figured into prolonged disputes between church and crown. Unlike other European countries that outlawed the once robust practice by the late 1700s, its relatively long duration in Spain and its colonies attests to the power of the Catholic Church in all aspects of life and the centrality of the church in deciding on the exception.88 Criminal inclinations and actions were interpreted as moral failings, lack of faith, or even being under the influence of evil or demonic forces rather than as a social or psychological problem. Therefore, the church’s authority to deliberate and adjudicate was considered righteous and extended well beyond the purview of faith.89
Church sanctuary was often misused and abused, and clergy often profited, as did people of all races and classes who took advantage of the system for their own benefit. As a result, sanctuary came under scrutiny in the 1700s in both Spain and the Americas. The Bourbon Reforms were particularly harsh on sanctuary. Many of the reforms of the period targeted ecclesiastic immunity to limit the role of the Catholic Church in matters related to criminal justice and clemency. The crown issued various royal cédulas focused on limiting the practice of church asylum and regulating procedures related to the treatment of prisoners and the accused. Interestingly, the majority of recorded New Mexico sanctuary cases that have survived date from this period of heightened surveillance and reform. Although the archive is fragmented, it seems significant that there was an uptick in recorded cases from this period of conflict and transition, which reflects a broader transatlantic cultural and political shift toward secularization.
Church Asylum in New Mexico, 1685–1796
The first recorded incident involving sanctuary in New Mexico occurred in 1663. Governor Diego de Peñalosa arrived in Santa Fe to replace Bernardo López Mendizábal, who had been charged by the Holy Office of the Inquisition as being a crypto-Jew and also for allowing the Pueblos to perform their traditional dances, which were believed to be diabolical. Mendizábal and his wife had been taken to Mexico City in chains to stand trial for religious crimes. Mendizábal died during his trial in prison. Peñalosa’s transition to the governorship was rocky, to say the least. He found himself in the middle of warring factions of Franciscans and unfortunately seems to have sided with the weaker faction, which placed him in the line of fire.
Governor Peñalosa was indicted on a variety of grave offenses to church and crown from all sides. He was accused of committing adultery, having consorted with a concubine, Maria de Barrios, whom he had brought from Casas Grandes and who was living with him in the Governor’s Palace. Peñalosa was also accused of illegally confiscating all of Mendizábal’s property. But his most notorious crime, according to the witnesses who testified against Peñalosa, was removing Pedro Duran de Chávez from the sanctuary by force. Duran de Chávez had taken sanctuary at the convent of Santo Domingo after being accused of assault. The manner in which he escaped from bondage is quite dramatic. As the soldiers were taking him through Santo Domingo Pueblo on their way to Santa Fe, they stopped for a break. While the soldiers were occupied, the prisoner, who was bound, convinced an Indian to carry him into the convent. This situation was quite an embarrassment for the soldiers who were unable to secure the prisoner, and for Peñalosa, who saw the aiding and abetting of Duran de Chávez’s escape as an affront to his authority. He decided to take matters into his own hands and take the prisoner out of sanctuary by force. Witnesses reported that the governor had not only removed Duran de Chávez from sanctuary without proper documentation or permission from an ecclesiastical judge, but he had done so on a Sunday after mass. For this incorrigible offense against the church, Peñalosa was excommunicated and sent back to Mexico City, where he languished in the “secret prisons” of the Holy Inquisition.90 This case exemplifies the importance of the privilege of sanctuary not only in terms of the church’s authority but also in terms of community relations. The average resident respected the right to asylum, and Peñalosa’s disrespect of sanctuary was the last straw.
The majority of cases of documented church asylum in the archive occurred after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and involve individuals of all races and classes. However, the vast majority of asylees were men. There is one recorded case of a woman taking sanctuary in a church in Santa Fe, but she is only mentioned briefly in a case involving her sons, who had apparently, with the help of their mother, robbed a public warehouse.91 However, there are many documented cases of women taking sanctuary in Mexico City and Guadalajara. Some of these women were notorious rebels, but the majority were of the mixed-race lower classes and living in precarious conditions. It is possible that they committed petty theft or even feigned being accused of a crime in order to be fed and given shelter temporarily while in sanctuary.92
Presumably cases of women taking sanctuary in the New Mexico are lost to history. But it is also possible that taking sanctuary in churches, missions, or convents alone with priests notorious for having concubines and sexually violating women was not seen as safe or proper. Maybe there was no sanctuary for women, especially those of Indian or mixed-racial heritage who were vulnerable within the domestic space and within colonial institutions that did not recognize them as persons with the same rights or social status as men. Exercising the right to asylum usually worked out well for members of the elite classes and for commoners who had much-needed skills such as carpentry, masonry, or ironworking. These individuals were usually released on bond and resumed their lives after paying fines, serving in the military, or doing public works. Pueblo converts, women, and mixed-race plebeians were not so fortunate.
Church asylum was also used to subvert authority. Juan Tafoya of Isleta Pueblo was an unruly mestizo and a thorn in the side of Governor Pañuela. In 1712, he was accused of sedition and stirring up rebellion among the Christian Indians. He evaded capture by going from “pueblo to pueblo taking refuge in their convents and tampering with the Indians causing inquietude and apostasy.”93 The governor issued a warrant for his arrest and summoned him to appear in Santa Fe for questioning. His failure to appear after being summoned three times was considered an act of rebellion against the empire. Pañuela declared Tafoya a traitor, authorized anyone who found him outside the sanctuary to execute him on sight, and warned that anyone found assisting him would be charged with sedition. The rebel and apostate Juan Tafoya apparently was never captured. He disappeared from the record, so his fate remains unknown.
This case exemplifies how sanctuary could be used to evade authorities and even to further rebellious acts against Spanish rule. One may wonder why clergy would condone these abuses or take a man accused of inciting rebellion among the Pueblo converts into sanctuary. Although it seems incongruous, as an institution that kept religion and politics in balance and in tension, the clergy’s power to judge could supersede the content or magnitude of the crimes a person in sanctuary was accused of committing. However, because apostasy was a particular threat to the mission enterprise and the success of the colonial project more generally, this crime was treated with special pastoral care and vigilance. Apostasy was not only a crime against Spanish authority, it was a crime that placed one’s eternal soul in jeopardy. Therefore, it is not that surprising that clergy were willing to accept Tafoya into sanctuary. Perhaps they saw it as an opportunity to counsel him and bring him back into the fold of the Christian faith. After all, he had voluntarily placed himself at their mercy by taking sanctuary in the church, and it was the priest’s obligation to respond appropriately in accordance with his Christian vocation.
Spanish officials saw abuses of church asylum and Indigenous sanctuaryscapes as threats to the colonial state. In a case that occurred in 1757, two prisoners, Diego Antonio Marqués and Juan de Venavides, escaped from jail and took refuge in La Parroquia de Santa Fe. Guards were placed outside the church entrance to ensure the criminals did not escape. The alcalde mayor of Santa Fe, Francisco Guerrero, wrote a letter to the vicar and ecclesiastical judge, Don Santiago de Roibal. In his letter Guerrero expresses his concern that the men would flee and “become apostate, passing to the rancherías of infidel Indians of the barbarous nations who inhabit these environs.”94 Father Roibal was willing to comply with the alcalde’s request, but the refugees had testified that they would only return to jail if they were promptly executed. Therefore, he was burdened with a moral dilemma. The vicar did not want to be complicit in the refugees’ suicides, which weighed heavily on his conscience.95 Suicide, in his view, was a greater crime against God and a more serious act of apostasy than escaping to the autonomous rancherías.
The clergy’s investment in the institution of sanctuary as a matter of pastoral power and care was equally important (if not more important) as maintaining law and order. Furthermore, the Christian Pueblos, in this case, are represented as being vulnerable to disobedience and evil influences. This paternalistic perspective covers the reality that the Pueblos were never fully under the control of the padres or the alcaldes. There was always the looming potential of rebellion and apostasy even among the seemingly “docile” Pueblo converts. Just beyond the mission walls the province of “barbarous infidels” beckoned.
However, Pueblo converts also used church asylum strategically. In 1731, two Indians from Santa Clara Pueblo had a violent altercation, and one of the men involved was gravely injured. The survivor, Joseph Naranjo, took sanctuary in the mission at Santa Clara. The deputy alcalde attempted to interrogate Naranjo after taking the testimony of his dying victim. Naranjo responded, “Iglesia me llamo” (my name is church) to every question the inquisitor asked him. He even refused to give his name.96 He continued to evade questioning for three days using the prescribed response, which indicates that Naranjo was confident that he would not be removed from the church if he refused to admit to any wrongdoing. After two months, the governor ordered both men to appear in Santa Fe or be charged with rebellion and disobedience. The injured man had died by that time, and Joseph Naranjo failed to appear for questioning. After two years in sanctuary, his small plot of farmland had been seized and his family was on the brink of starvation. Finally, the victim’s widow dropped the charges against Naranjo and petitioned the governor for his release so that he could return to his wife and children.
This case illustrates that even a personal altercation could be considered an act of sedition when Pueblo converts were implicated. In the end, the community had to find its own form of restorative justice. The wives of the two men involved in the altercation came to a resolution that would serve the best interests of both families. Naranjo remained in sanctuary for two years and he cleverly used his right to remain silent in order to stay out of jail, although in so doing he basically imprisoned himself in another enclosure confined within the space of the mission.
The Catholic Church remained central to the administration of justice beyond crimes against the faith or the clergy in colonial New Mexico (and elsewhere in Mexico and Latin America). Clergy had a say in punishment and mercy as managers of morality and envoys of divine justice. On the other hand, sanctuary also benefited the commoner and the rebel who could use it to avoid or delay punishment, evade the law, or even receive shelter and a free meal while in sanctuary. The church asylum was a Spanish institution dictated by the metropole, but it was enacted in the colonies in accordance to local customs, political systems, and social hierarchies. Sanctuary privileges were diverse and open to interpretation but also to widespread abuse and corruption. But sanctuary was an exclusive right only available to Christians (or those willing to submit to baptism), individuals already within the folds of Spanish colonial society.
In reclaiming the sanctity and historicity of sanctuary, its multifaceted nature is revealed. Sanctuary can simultaneously work against and in collaboration with power. It could be confined within the sanctified enclosures of the church regulated by colonial authority or, alternatively, dispersed in the form of autonomous and mobile Indigenous sanctuaryscapes. When Indigenous people fled to regions of refuge or created defensive spaces for themselves to resist or evade colonial domination, it was often temporary and precarious. However, the solidarities and cultural innovations that emerged from both rural and urban Indigenous sanctuaryscapes had enduring social and political implications not solely for those who created these protective enclaves, but for Spanish authorities and settlers who lived in fear of rebellion from within and from afar.
Church asylum, on the other hand, offers an example of institutionalized forms of sanctuary that are hedged on state and pastoral power as an aspect of colonial governance. While this structure could be manipulated from below, sanctuary was implicated in the clergy’s power to decide on religious and secular matters. However, clergy sometimes allowed crimes that undermined colonial rule to go unpunished or deferred to uphold their Christian priorities and obligations to care for the spiritual and material well-being of those under their charge. Sanctuary power writ large was a stage upon which the perpetual struggle between the secular and the religious played out, one of the many threads in the making of the secular borderlands.
Legacies of radical hospitality hold profound historical, political, and spiritual relevance for immigrant rights advocates in New Mexico today. They recall the mesa-top Pueblo cities of refuge that flourished in the wake of the Great Northern Rebellion of 1680 and continue to inspire contemporary social movements. In December 2016, residents packed city hall in Santa Fe to register support for the Welcoming City Resolution, one of the most progressive sanctuary city proposals in the nation. The resolution passed unanimously in open defiance of the Trump administration’s legally dubious sanctions on sanctuary cities. Santa Fe was one of the first cities in the country to become a sanctuary for Central American refugees in 1985 at the height of the faith-based sanctuary movement. The following year, Governor Toney Anaya declared New Mexico a “state for sanctuary” in solidarity with the Central American cause.97
A prominent theme that runs through New Mexico’s prior sanctuary proclamations and resurfaced in the array of testimony given in support of Santa Fe’s Welcoming City Resolution is that providing safe harbor to those in need is a long-standing local tradition. City councilor Renee Villarreal, one of the representatives who introduced the resolution, asserted: “New Mexico has a long tradition of providing sanctuary to those fleeing harm, from the Pueblo Revolt to those fleeing persecution in Central America during the 1980s. We won’t turn our back on our sacred traditions now. Instead, we must strengthen those policies.”98 When advocates evoke the language of tradition, they awaken a particular politics of locality and belonging, one that enfolds sanctuary within a homeland that predates the nation-state.99 At once aspirational and haunting, this imagined and contested homeland lives among the ruins and revivals of sanctuary.
In New Mexico, legacies of resistance to colonialism coalesce in movements against unjust immigration laws in our current moment of social and political crisis. If sanctuary can be understood as a form of collective action against injustice, its deep historical memory is what sets it apart from other movements in the North American Southwest. As a cultural tradition that is prior to US nationalism and its exclusionary forms of citizenship, sanctuary offers a counternarrative that anchors an alternative vision of solidarity and belonging—a local citizenship or ethic of solidarity and belonging that must continuously be remade and reclaimed in relation to changing circumstances of struggle.
In the documentary Surviving Columbus (1993; dir. Diane Reyna), Roxanne Swentzell, a native of Taos Pueblo, is interviewed about what happened at the old San Gerónimo Mission. She talks about the burnt statue of a saint that her grandmother cherished and cared for and also asserts that the people took sanctuary in the mission expecting to be protected.
West, “The Right of Asylum in New Mexico in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” 362. According to archaeologist Michael Adler (personal communication, October 25, 2018), residents of Taos Pueblo are resolute that their ancestors indeed took sanctuary in the mission with the expectation of immunity.
Rabben, Sanctuary and Asylum.
Bau, This Ground Is Holy; Rabben, Sanctuary and Asylum.
Aguirre-Beltrán, Regions of Refuge; Vélez-Ibáñez, “Regions of Refuge.”
Rojas, “Bajo el amparo del Altísimo.”
Nemser, Infrastructures of Race.
Schneider and Panich, “Native Agency at the Margins of Empire.”
Saldaña-Portillo, Indian Given, 26–27.
Vélez-Ibáñez defines the SouthWest North American region in terms of political ecology, economic integration, and shared cultural geography. He excludes Mesoamerica from his analysis and instead focuses on the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Sonora, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas, which form the transborder region. See Vélez-Ibáñez, “Continuity and Contiguity of the SouthWest North American Region.”
Most of these cases were originally collected by Elizabeth Howard West when she was cataloging materials for Ralph Emerson Twitchell’s Spanish Archives of New Mexico in 1914. She published the cases and her interpretation of them in “The Right of Asylum in New Mexico in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” which was published in 1928 in the Hispanic American Historical Review.
The term “homescapes” was composed by Muskogee literary critic and novelist Craig Womack. See Womack, Red on Red.
Leckman, “Meeting Places,” 86–87.
Saldaña-Portillo, Indian Given, 24–25.
Barr, “Geographies of Power,” 9.
Bau, This Ground Is Holy.
It is interesting to note that people from the global South are more often represented as migrant/asylum seekers than as producers of alternative sanctuary spaces. In addition, although Indigenous people have suffered forced removals, religious persecution, state-sponsored genocide, slavery, and other horrors, they are rarely defined as refugees or people in need of sanctuary within settler colonial nations. As far as I can tell, there are no sanctuary movements before the 1980s that centered on protecting Indigenous people from unjust laws or genocidal polices. While revivals of sanctuary in the United States are traced to the Underground Railroad, which mobilized following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 to assist escaped African American slaves, no faith-based movement arose to protect the Cherokee and Choctaw after the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830.
Rabben, Sanctuary and Asylum, 27–28.
Rabben, Sanctuary and Asylum, 28.
Golden and McConnell, Sanctuary.
Bau, This Ground Is Holy, 161–71.
Coutin, The Culture of Protest; Cunningham, God and Caesar at the Rio Grande; Lorentzen, Women in the Sanctuary Movement.
Lippert, Sanctuary, Sovereignty, Sacrifice, 126.
Nemser, Infrastructures of Race.
Rabben, Sanctuary and Asylum, 28–38.
Bagelman, Sanctuary City.
According to Pedro Tomé, this term derives from the Mexica word Chichimecatlalli, which referred to the north. See “Redescubriendo la Gran Chichimeca.”
Tomé, “Redescubriendo la Gran Chichimeca.”
Alonso, Thread of Blood.
Alonso, Thread of Blood, 25.
Alonso, Thread of Blood, 25.
Alonso, Thread of Blood, 70–71.
Sando and Agoyo, Po’pay.
Villarreal and Leaños, “Animating Resistance.”
Eiselt, Becoming White Clay, 100.
Gradie, The Tepehuan Revolt of 1616.
Merrill, “Cultural Creativity and Raiding Bands in Eighteenth-Century Northern New Spain.”
Liebmann and Preucel, “Pueblo Settlement, Architecture, and Social Change.”
Joseph Aguilar, personal communication, June 29, 2017.
Liebmann, Revolt, 83–95.
Capone and Preucel, “Ceramic Semiotics.”
Mills, “Acts of Resistance.”
Mobley-Tanaka, “Crossed Cultures, Crossed Meanings.”
Preucel, “Writing the Pueblo Revolt,” 4–5.
Liebmann, Revolt, 141.
Eiselt, Becoming White Clay, 78.
Eiselt, Becoming White Clay, 78.
Eiselt, Becoming White Clay, 79.
Eiselt, Becoming White Clay, 79–81.
“Fray Francisco Jiménez, of Taos, certifies that he has received the apostate Picuris, 31 August 1706.” Archivo General de la Nación de México (AGN), PI 36, page 95, fol. 37r.
“Ensign Francisco de Valdés Sorribas certifies to Ulibarri’s taking possession and pacification of the new province, 4 August 1706,” AGN PI 36, p. 94, 36r.
Pearsall, “‘Having Many Wives’ in Two American Rebellions.” See also Barr, Peace Came in the Form of a Woman.
Eiselt, Becoming White Clay, 93.
West, “The Right of Asylum in New Mexico in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.”
Rojas, “Bajo el amparo del Altísimo,” 5.
Uribe-Uran, “‘Iglesia me llamo.’”
Sánchez Aguirreolea, “El derecho de asilo en España durante la Edad Moderna,” 583.
Uribe-Uran, “‘Iglesia me llamo,’” 450.
Uribe-Uran, “‘Iglesia me llamo,’” 451.
Uribe-Uran, “‘Iglesia me llamo,’” 471–72.
Rojas, “Bajo el amparo del Altísimo.”
West, “The Right of Asylum in New Mexico in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” 384.
Uribe-Uran, “‘Iglesia me llamo,’” 465–66.
“Church-State Relations in New Mexico 1609–1659.”
West, “The Right of Asylum in New Mexico in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” 380.
West, “The Right of Asylum in New Mexico in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” 381.
West, “The Right of Asylum in New Mexico in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” 375–76.
“Sanctuary Proclamation,” March 28, 1986, Toney Anaya Papers, Center for SouthWest Research, University of New Mexico.
Dax, “The Defiant, Refugee-Loving History of New Mexico.”
In “The Hispano Homeland Debate Revisited,” Sylvia Rodríguez traces the emergence of the homeland concept in northern New Mexico as a product of different ethnopolitical mobilizations since the 1960s. It encompasses competing ethnic nomenclatures (Hispana/o, Mexicana/o, Chicana/o) class interests, and religious perspectives.