Next year, 1912, New Mexico will celebrate its centennial as a state of the Union. In his book My Penitente Land, Fray Angelico Chavez called Padre Antonio José Martínez (1793-1867) New Mexico’s greatest son. Upon his death, the NM Territorial Legislature called him “La Honra de Su País”/THE HONOR OF HIS HOMELAND.” In 2004, the NM state legislature unanimously reprised that encomium and provided funding for a more-than life sized bronze memorial in his honor that was placed in the center of the Town of Taos Plaza in 2006. His life traversed three distinct eras–the Spanish period until Mexican Independence from Spain in 1821, the Mexican period until the United States’ occupation of Santa Fe in 1846, and the American period until the present. His life of 74 years was replete with both great contributions to church and state as well as great controversies. He was a pioneer printer and journalist, author and publisher printing on his own press a newspaper, religious and political tracts as well as books. He was a priest of the people serving in his parish of Taos for forty-two years. He was an educator starting a school for girls as well as boys in 1826, a seminary in the 1833, and a law school in the 1846. He was an accomplished politician who served six terms in the Mexican legislature for the Mexican Republic’s Department (equivalent to a state) of New Mexico, and seven times as a representative for the Territorial Legislature of New Mexico after it became part of the United States.
The last decade of his life was clouded by serious controversy with his French Bishop who came to New Mexico in 1851. The conflict dealt with the policy of tithing that Martinez successfully opposed as a young priest–begetting a change in Mexican civil law–but that Bishop Lamy reinstated shortly after his arrival when church jurisdiction was transferred to the hierarchy in the United Sates.
Martinez was wrongly suspected of being complicit an 1837 rebellion against the Mexican government because of taxation. Ten years later, he was falsely accused conspiring to assassinate the new American governor Charles Bent–for whom there was no love lost.
It is true the Padre Martinez had a child before he became a priest, and had some illegitimate children afterwards. However, either he was very discrete about this or his bishop chose not to make that an issue. Nevertheless, Bishop Lamy censured Padre Martinez first with suspension from the exercise of his ministry and then by excommunication for publicly disagreeing with his bishop on the question of tithing.
Authors Father Tom Steele, S.J. (RIP), Vicente Martinez, and Father Juan Romero have been collaborating on MARTINEZ OF TAOS to be published sometime in 1912. Paul Espinosa, the award winning film maker of Espinosa Productions, has been preparing a film documentary on the Padre that is expected to be completed about the same time. To keep up on on these events, and to read documents and essays pertaining to the life and times of Padre Martinez, subscribe gratis to <thetaosconnection.com>.
Fr. Juan Romero – May 27, 2011