Jemez Historic Site

Jemez Historic Site protects the ancient village of Gisewa and the San Jose de los Jemez mission church. At Jemez you can learn about the culture of the people of Gisewa (pronounced GEE-say-wah) and the role the Franciscan mission played in the colonization of New Mexico, the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, and New Mexico as we know it today. This is one of the best-preserved sites you will see in the American Southwest.

Gisewa is an ancestral 14th century village of the present-day Jemez Pueblo, a sovereign nation of 3,400 members, about 60 percent of whom live on tribal land. Its full name Gisewatowa (GEE-say-wah tuu-wah), is a Jemez word that translates to "Village by the Sulfur", a reference to the multitudes of hot springs in the area. For hundreds of years, Gisewa and other villages in the region were home to the people who call themselves the Hee-meesh, which the Spanish, interpreted as "Jemez". The villagers of Gisewa raised corn, squash, and beans; in addition to hunting game and collecting herbs.

In the winter of 1540-41, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his entourage of 400 Spaniards, at least 1,500 Native American allies, four Franciscan friars, and dozens of African slaves overtook the Tiwa village of Kuaua (now Coronado Historic Site),about 40 miles to the southeast, and camped nearby for the winter. From there, Coronado sent an exploration party under the direction of Captain Francisco de Barrionuevo, who reported visiting Gisewa. In 1598 Don Juan de Onate led Spanish settlers to colonize and Christianize New Mexico. The first missionary assigned to Gisewa was Fray Alonso de Lugo, who constructed a small church here around 1598.

Characters and Conflict
How did life change for the people of Gisewa when their village became a Spanish mission?

The large ruins that stand today are the remains of the San Jose de los Jemez Mission. Fray Geronimo Zarate Salmeron designed it in the winter of 1621-22, and the Jemez people living at Gisewa built it of local materials. Note that the walls throughout the site are of stone, and in some places, they are seven feet thick. Before the arrival of the Spanish, the villagers of Gisewa had conducted their religious ceremonies in underground kivas. Here, they performed rituals that revered spiritual beings and asked for blessings of sun, rain, fertile crops and healthy families. Though we have limited written records of San Jose de los Jemez Mission specifically, once Salmeron expanded the mission and built the massive church, it is likely that the people of Gisewa attended mass three times per day, as was common at other missions. Jemez people also learned reading, writing, and European crafts. The Spanish brought innovations such as new farming techniques, domesticated animals, fruit trees, and iron tools.

Though the Spanish invested a substantial amount of effort in this mission, it was only in use for about twenty years. Franciscans abandoned the mission in 1640, when Spanish authorities chose to concentrate their efforts on a more easily accessible neighboring mission at Walatowa (modern Jemez Pueblo).