About Padre Antonio José Martínez, Cura de Taos
Born in Abiquiu, Province of New Mexico on January 17,1793 to Don Severino Martínez and María del Carmel Santitevan, the life of the Presbyter Don Antonio José Martínez extended through the Spanish, Mexican (1821-1846), and American periods of New Mexico’s turbulent nineteenth-century, and in each he made enduring contributions in education, religion, and politics. In spite of the fact that he was easily the most influential Hispano nineteenth-century New Mexico figure, as that he played a role in shaping the Southwestern United States, widely available, accurate information about Padre Martínez is scant.
As an educator and publisher, Padre Martínez established the first co-educational primary school in Taos in 1826, and in 1833 he established a college preparatory Latin school for prospective native New Mexican seminarians. Realizing the American invasion of New Mexico was immanent; he expanded his curriculum to include courses in civil law. The padre’s students went on to become some of the most important New Mexican Hispano leaders of the second half of the nineteenth-century, and his alumni included the first Hispano federal judge in New Mexico, leading legal scholars, numerous territorial legislators and even U S Congressional delegates. In 1835 Padre Martínez obtained the first printing press in New Mexico and printed grammar, mathematics, and law books for his schools. He also printed circulars on issues of popular discourse and resumed publishing the regional newspaper, El Crepusculo de la Libertad.
Martínez’ career as a political leader was equally impressive. Under Mexican Governments, he was he was elected to the New Mexico Departmental Assembly, and served in the Assembly in 1830-31, 1836-37, and 1845-46. In December 1847 his name headed a formal petition seeking annexation of New Mexico to the United States, and in 1848 he presided over the convention to organize and establish New Mexico as a US Territory. He presided over the New Mexico Constitutional Convention of 1850, served as President of the Upper House of the Legislative Assembly in 1851, and later served as a member of both Upper and Lower Houses of the Legislature.
His role as a religious leader began four years after the death of his wife in 1813, when Antonio José Martín y Santistevan traveled to Durango, Mexico where he studied at the Tridentine Seminary. He returned to New Mexico as one of its only native-born Catholic clergy and served as parish priest in Taos from 1826-1867. As he stated in his on words in his last will and testament:
“I declare, that during the forty-two years of my spiritual administration in various parts of this Territory of New Mexico, and most particularly in this County of Taos, I procured/obtained and fulfilled my Ecclesiastic Ministry with fidelity and good faith, and tried to the best of my knowledge …to enlighten the mind[s] of my townspeople, to be the cause of their worldly good, and above all, their spiritual good, all of this because it has been decreed by my Christian religion that I profess.”
With change in leadership of the Catholic Church brought about by the American conquest of New Mexico, Martínez became increasingly controversial. Conflicts with the leadership in the newly established Archdiocese of Santa Fe and its Bishop, Jean-Baptiste Lamy, led to his excommunication in 1858. After his break with the archdiocesan hierarchy, Martínez continued to lead his parishioners from his private chapel, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, and the rupture created by this break eventually helped open the doors for Protestant missionaries into the Hispano community.
Upon his death on July 27, 1867 the New Mexico Territorial Legislative Council issued a proclamation recognizing Padre Martínez as “The Honor of his Homeland.” That tribute is most appropriately reprised as a memorial with a life-sized bronze statue in the center of the Taos Plaza, to be dedicated on July 16, 2006.
Although Hispano leaders like Padre Martínez embraced the democratic and economic ideals of their new sovereign, they posed an obstacle to the Anglo-American political and economic hegemony in the region. Consequently, American historians as well as writers of fiction in the late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century derided Padre Martínez and other Hispano leaders in the deployment of anti-Hispano discourse. With the onset of the Chicano Movement of the 1960’s, revisionist historians began taking another look at Padre Martínez, but often did so with revolutionary zeal.
In the past 20 years, there has been little work published on the Padre. In order to redefine and present a more balanced discourse on the Padre Martínez, his contemporaries, and his legacy, the Fundación was organized in 1999 with the stated mission, “serve to promote awareness of the culture and history of northern New Mexico with principal emphasis on the historical period covering the life of Antonio José Martínez, Cura de Taos, (1793-1867) and the historical accomplishments of Padre Martínez.“ As part of the educational mission La Fundación has established this web site, to disseminate scholarly research, articles, biographical information, and contemporary artistic interpretation on the life, times, and historical significance of this religious leader and political and educational visionary.�