PADRE MARTINEZ TAKES OVER THE PLAZA:

JULY 16, 2006
By Father Juan Romero

It was 8 PM on the eve of this midsummer night of 2006 that the expected dedication of the more than life-sized bronze Memorial of Padre Antonio José Martínez was to take place in the Taos Plaza. The event was scheduled to take place at 2 PM the following day, Sunday July 16, on occasion of the beginning of the “Fiestecitas” that anticipate the celebration of the annual Taos Fiestas. I circled the plaza in my rented car on my way to the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe where I would be spending the night. From that church, Padre Martínez actively served the people for thirty-two years. For another ten years before his death, he would continue to live in Taos and serve the people as he could as a priest and as a politician.

On this pleasant summer night, after settling in at the rectory through the kind hospitality of Father Larry Brito, the current and young “Cura de Taos,” I once again circled the Plaza—this time walking and inspecting the area more closely. I wanted to check further for signs that something special would be taking place the following day. After all, for sometime I had been touting the dedication of a life-sized bronze memorial of the well-known Padre Martínez of Taos that the state of New Mexico funded and artist Huberto Maestas of San Luis, Colorado sculpted. I had been inviting and encouraging friends, acquaintances and anyone who would listen to come to Taos on the weekend of July 14 to 16 for the dedication of the Padre Martínez memorial. Upon closer nighttime inspection of the site, it still seemed that absolutely nothing was ready for any kind of celebration! Not only was there was no statue covered up and ready to be unveiled, but there was no statue–period!

The next morning, after celebrating a Mass at the nearby Taos Pueblo, I again checked the spot where the memorial was to be erected. This place was directly across the street from La Fonda Hotel, and in the center of the Plaza. Although there was still no statue, at least this time I did notice that some cement had been poured into what had been a large stationery (“permanent”) flowerpot or rectangular container for a tree or other landscaping. The cement had been covered over with paper during the night and for sometime, and so could not be seen. Now some bolts with threaded tips were visible and they stuck out of the cement bed. However, by 10 AM, there was still no sign of a memorial.

Through the gracious courtesy of both Eugene Sánchez of “Gallery A” and of Corina Santistevan of the Taos Historical Society, I dedicated myself to book signings of the second edition of my historical monograph RELUCTANT DAWN, a biography of Padre Martínez. At noon, there was still no sign of a memorial, and some were suffering all the symptoms of high anxiety! I distracted myself by signing books and praying in hope. Mr. Maestas the sculptor had shared with me some of his difficulties impeding timely completion of the project: illness, delays in arrivals of materials, accidental tipping of work in progress, etc. He had told me by phone that the memorial might not be finished on time, and was hoping for an extension. “You’ll make it!” I encouraged. However, now at 1 PM–an hour before the “unveiling” and dedication–I was temporarily disheartened by the possibility of having a dedication and blessing without the memorial physically present to dedicate. This momentary doubt was assuaged by the recollection that Huberto and his wife were present at the Plaza on the previous Friday when Senator Carlos Cisneros and Mayor Bobby Duran chaired the low-key ceremony inaugurating the weekend of the Padre Martínez Memorial Dedication. When I asked Huberto if the memorial would be ready, he slightly smiled a cryptic smile, but did not promise anything.

Finally by about 1:30 Sunday afternoon, a white truck appeared, and it had the bronze image in tow. Now came the delicate maneuver of hoisting the image. It was a dramatic resurrection, a paradigm of what this whole even signaled! Ten minutes to the hour, ropes were tethered to the ten-foot image that circled and dangled over the area of dried—if not yet completely cured–cement pad with threaded bolts. It was definitely a high wire act that played to the crowd that had by now filled the Plaza in anticipation of the dedication

ceremony. To the stares of politicians, clergy, some Indians, many tourists, and a host of native New Mexicans, the image swayed—was stayed and put in place. The peoples’ applause erupted at the appropriate placement of the memorial of Padre Antonio José Martínez. Finally, only a couple of minutes before 2 PM, the bolts were firmly fastened.

As a child, when visiting Taos on family vacations, I remember seeing a large glass-encased poster at the northwest outer edge of the Plaza. It was a testimonial in homage to Padre Martínez, and it bore witness to his many contributions for the benefit of the people of Taos, of New Mexico, and beyond. However, after the “renovations” of the Plaza during the bicentennial of this county, the large poster was removed. With it was taken a source of continuing memory for many young people of Taos as well as source of important information for visitors to the Plaza. Happily now, with the dedication of the new super life-sized memorial, Padre Martínez is home once again, symbolically alive in bronze and present in the midst of his people, visible in esteemed effigy in the middle of the town square. Many more people will now see him in a “new light,” or more appropriately in the renewed light by which legislators of the Territory of New Mexico in 1867 wisely proposed that we remember this Cura de Taos—as LA HONRA DE SU PAIS/THE HONOR OF HIS HOMELAND!

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