I've been having trouble getting to write this last post about our vacation. We spent most of Thursday at the Acoma Pueblo, "Sky City", between Albuquerque and Gallup. For my husband and his son, this was probably the most powerful, most thought-provoking day of vacation.
I had been to the pueblo before, back in 1993. I went with a bunch of Lutherans from Denver who were in town for the Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly. I remember being impressed by the beauty of the mesa, and the ancient history of this oldest continuously inhabited community in North America. But I had heard about a casino now being hyped, and feared that this would somehow detract from the image I remembered.
Nobody can go up to the mesa without a tour guide. There is a road up to the mesa, built in the 1920s for silent films. A bus takes you up to the top, but you can walk down. Usually you can pay a fee and take pictures, but this day was a feast day, and no pictures were allowed on the mesa. We took some at the bottom, though. (the second picture is from my first time at Acoma in 1993).
Our tour started near the old mission church, the church of San Esteban. Our tour guide told us that September 2 was the feast of San Esteban, and that the whole village would celebrate on that day. If anyone happened to be visiting on that day, he said, they would probably be invited to stay for dinner. "And I'm a good cook," he told us.
He told us stories from long ago, about how the first Spanish priests gained the trust of the people and came to live at the pueblo. How some of the things that the Spanish did were good, and others were oppressive. How the priests kept trying to force the people to accept Christianity, but they refused. They did not accept the new religion. They thought theirs was good enough. He told us about the graveyard, and the people buried there, and the hole in the wall to let in the spirits of those who had been taken away to slavery. He told about the black tips on the white crosses, to signify the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Then, as we were about to enter the church, he told us to take off our hats, "for you are about to enter a holy place. And I will tell you why."
Inside, he told about the construction of the church, how long it took, how many lives it cost, the people who are buried here. He told more about the people's reluctance to accept Christianity, and how the Spanish finally tried to break their spirit.
They made them build the church over their kiva, the holy place of their religion.
"So," our guide told us, "this place is doubly holy. It is holy for two religions. For finally we came to accept Christianity. We didn't embrace it, but we accepted it. It was a pure religion, but it has been corrupted," he said. "We built this church, but we built it the way we wanted to." And he told us about how they used both sacred Christian images and native images and numbers to create the walls and the art, even to the thickness of the walls.
He encouraged us to take some time in this holy place, to leave our cares and our prayers and our concerns there, because he believed there was power here. "Look at us," he said. "We have come through many things. We have been oppressed, and enslaved, and we have endured and overcome. We are still here."
(the first picture is the Enchanted Mesa. According to legend, the Acoma lived on this mesa first, until a storm swept away their means of getting up and down. A grandmother and granddaughter were stranded on top, and jumped to their deaths rather than starve.)