Fr. Juan Romero

(Revised May 5, 2024)

  A dust-heap since the mid-1960s, the Duran Chapel in the village of Talpa near Taos, NM was built in 1838. Its adobe rubble may be in for a remake because of Doreen Duran, resident of Albuquerque, who has been working with family members and others towards its restoration. A short distance east of the famous church of St. Francis in Ranchos de Taos, it was originally dedicated in honor of Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Talpa in Jalisco, Mexico for which the northern New Mexican village was named. A decade before the Duran Chapel was built, a sister chapel was built in 1828. This first one, built in honor of San Juan de Los Lagos, remains in good condition and in active use as a chapel of ease for the famous church of St. Francis.  The presence of these two chapels named for Marian images from Jalisco so close together in northern New Mexico is a testament to commerce among traders along El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro connecting Mexico City to Santa Fe

The Chapel in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary of Talpa (AKA The Duran Chapel), built in 1838 and re-roofed in 1851, was dedicated and given for the use of Padre Antonio José Martinez, Cura de Taos.

  The chapel’s intriguing history is the subject of a compelling book published in 1979, The Chapel of Our Lady of Talpa by William Wroth. The Taylor Museum of Fine Arts Center at Colorado Springs, Colorado published the booklet of one-hundred-plus pages and digitized it in 2008. The museum houses a first-rate collection of the original altar screen and accompanying santos by classic nineteenth century santeros, wood carvers of holy images. The publication offers an arquitectural blueprint of the chapel and other interesting data provided by the Works Project Administration (WPA) that President Roosevelt created to provide employment for artists, writers, and others during the Great Depression of the 1930s to early ’40s. Modern rebuilders of the chapel will certainly use the floor plan in its reconstruction.

  My interest in the chapel is personal and historical. My father’s mother is a descendant of Nicolas Sandoval who built the chapel. One of Sandoval’s daughters, Juana María, married a Duran from whom the chapel later took its name. One of Juana’s daughters, Margarita Vigil, married my grandfather Juan B. Romero for whom I am named.  Secondly, I am interested in the life and legacy of Padre Antonio José Martínez whose brothers in 1804 pioneered Arroyo Hondo twelve miles north of Taos and to whom my mother is related.  In 1973, I published Reluctant Dawn, a biography about the Padre, and I maintain a blog about him, <>.  More specifically, when the chapel was re-roofed in the summer of 1851, it was dedicated “a disposeción (sic) del presbítero Don Antonio José Martínes (sic)”.

Esta Adorasion [sic] de/ Mi Señora de Talpa/ Fue consedido y fabri/cado su oratorio A/disposecion [sic] del/ Presbitero Dn Ant/ José Martines/ el dia de hoy/

2 de Julio/ de 1851- José de Gracia [Gonsales]

This her prayer-chapel in veneration of my Lady of Talpa was today granted and refashioned for the disposition of the presbyter Don Antonio José Martínes

July 2, 1851 – José de Gracia [Gonzales]

  Expert santero Jose de Gracia, at the direction of Sandoval, inscribed this dedication on latillas (planks) in between the vigas (beams) on the ceiling. The date of the inscription was significant because it precisely marked the time that Bishop Juan B. Lamy was arriving in Santa Fe as the new Vicar Apostolic of New Mexico, now for three years part of the United States. Within the westward expansion of the United States, S.W. Kearny occupied Santa Fe in 1846. The US-Mexican War ended with the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in February 1848, and New Mexico then became a territory of the United States. Civic-political adjustments took place rather quickly, but adjustments within the ecclesiastical sphere dragged on. The American Bishops met at Baltimore in 1850 and petitioned Pope Pius XI to transfer jurisdiction of ecclesiastical affairs from the see of Durango in the Mexican Republic to Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Holy Father named French missionary Jean Baptiste Lamy as Vicar Apostolic to the new Vicariate Apostolic of New Mexico, a temporary missionary status dependent on the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri. Father Lamy was ordained a bishop in 1850 but did not take charge until he was fully credentialed a year later.

  Ecclesiastical bureaucratic confusion occasioned a delay in the official transition of jurisdiction. Rome had mistakenly advised the neighboring Bishop of Sonra in Mexico   instead of the proper Bishop of the far-flung Diocese of Durango. Consequently, New Mexican clergy did not at first accept the change since Bishop Zubiria, their own ordinary or bishop-in-charge, had not formally been advised of the transfer of church jurisdiction. However, within a few months, and after a cordial meeting at Durango between Bishops Zubiria and Lamy, the confusion was resolved, and Bishop Lamy arrived in New Mexico by July 1851 to commence his new ministry. On July 1, a day before the Talpa Chapel was dedicated for the use of Padre Martinez, Bishop Lamy wrote a letter advising the clergy of New Mexico of arrival, and shortly afterwards he arrived into Santa Fe.


  Many of the images within the Chapel were related to the Penitente Brotherhood for whom the Cura de Taos was chaplain. As laymen, members of the Penitente Brotherhood could not celebrate Mass nor administer the sacraments, but they served as the as “the spiritual back bone” of isolated Catholic communities where priests were scarce. The brotherhood had a deep devotion to the suffering Christ inherited from its roots in medieval Spanish Catholicism which took the form of voluntary self-flagellation, the carrying of heavy crosses (maderos), and other forms of self-mortification. Although some of their past penitential expressions may have been exaggerated, Los Hermanos de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno modified those expressions in accord with the exhortations of Bishop José Laureano Zubiria of Durango. His Excellency in 1831 made his first episcopal visitation to the northern outpost of his far-flung diocese. During the Bishop’s visit, Padre Martinez finessed the occasion to be appointed as chaplain of the Hermandad. He thereby somewhat assuaged the Bishop’s concerns and exhorted the Hermanos toward moderate means of self-mortification. Bishop Zubiria followed up his visit with further correspondence in 1833. (Cf. Weigle, Brothers of Light, Brothers of Blood, 1976:195-6)

  Penitente leaders held an organizational meeting in 1835 that some leaders consider to be the formal beginning of the Brotherhood. Three years later, Nicolás Sandoval– an active and influential Penitente — established the private chapel of Our Lady of Talpa. Sandoval and Padre Martinez had mutual roots in Santa Cruz east of Española, near the Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh/San Juan Caballeros at the junction of the Chama and Rio Grande rivers, the original site of the Spanish colonization of New Mexico in 1598.


  Antonio José Martínez was born 1793 in front of the Santa Rosa chapel in Abiquiú (still standing but in ruins) along the Chama River. At the age of 19, he married a distant cousin who died in childbirth. A couple of years later, the young widower decided to a become a priest. Leaving his daughter with her maternal grandparents, Martínez traveled one-way over a thousand miles from Taos south to the seminary in Durango. A bright student, he excelled in the study of Canon Law, and was ordained in 1822, a year after Mexico’s independence from Spain. He returned to Taos where he had grown up since the age of eleven, and where he lived with his parents after his ordination while recuperating from an asthmatic condition.

  After a few assignments outside of Taos, Padre Martínez in 1826 was appointed as priest-in-charge of his home church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe at the Taos Plaza, dependent on the San Geronimo parish established at the Pueblo in the early 17th century. In the mid 1830s or early 1840’s, Our Lady of Guadalupe church at the Taos Plaza became the seat or headquarters of the parish, and Padre Martínez officially became its pastor. The Cura de Taos would play a powerfully influential role in both church affairs and politics of New Mexico until his death in 1867.

  After a sabbatical in Durango during 1842, Padre Martinez returned to Taos. Within a short time, the church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe became a parish in its own right—no longer juridically dependent on the Pueblo Church of San Geronimo that had been the parish seat (headquarters) for over two centuries.  Padre Martinez was named pastor, cura proprio ofGuadalupe Church, no longer a mission of the Pueblo Church but now the parish headquarters. Soon thereafter, Governor Armijo certified Martínez as a civil lawyer, already recognized as an expert in Canon (Church) Law.


  These years were the precursor to the “transcendental epoch” in between the US occupation of New Mexico in 1846. the arrival of J.B. Lamy as the new bishop of New Mexico in 1851, and New Mexican statehood in 1912. (Benjamin Read, Illustrated History of New Mexico, 1912) As a major expression of Manifest Destiny, the American Army occupied Santa Fe in mid-August 1846. Steven Watts Kearny invited Padre Martinez and his brothers to swear allegiance to the United States and they did. Martinez took his printing press to Santa Fe and lent it to Kearny who printed his historic Law Code on it. Within weeks, Padre Martínez returned home and turned his seminary into a law school because he believed that, from now on, the one who would “ride the burro” of influence and authority in New Mexico would no longer be the clergyman but the attorney. (Cf. Santiago Valdez, Biography of Padre Martinez, 1877)

  Padre Martínez adjusted relatively quickly and rather well to New Mexico’s new political reality under the United States. However, for all his talents and accomplishments as the Priest of Taos and politician of New Mexico, Martínez had difficulties adjusting to the new ecclesiastical reality.


   In the early 1850s, Bishop Lamy traveled to France to recruit clergy for his new diocese and to Rome to take care of business. As travel companion and priest-secretary, he took with him Father Eulogio Ortiz, a former pupil of Padre Martinez at his home-preparatory seminary. He was also the nephew of Padre Juan Felipe Ortiz, former Vicarcio of Santa Fe on behalf of Bishop Zubiria of Durango.

  Padre Martinez in a letter to Bishop Lamy divulged his frail health with concomitant advancing age, but the Bishop took it as a desire to retire from the strains of parish ministry. While in Rome, Bishop Lamy met Basque priest Father Damaso Taladrid and recruited him to work at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Taos where Padre Martinez was in semi-retirement. Father Taladrid arrived in Taos in May 1856, and the Bishop appointed him to succeed Padre Martinez. However, the two priests would prove to have a rocky relationship.

  A significant pinch-point was the desire of Padre Martinez to preside at the wedding of a favorite niece at Guadalupe Church where the Padre had been in charge for three decades. Father Taladrid, however, did not permit Padre Martinez to preside at the marriage. As a result, the Padre arranged to have his niece’s wedding at his private oratory that he had just finished constructing at his own house nearby, a five-minute walk from the church. Since a Catholic wedding is supposed to take place in church, Bishop Lamy, in September 1856, penalized Padre Martinez with “suspension” for having presided at the wedding at his private house-chapel (oratory). The Bishop suspended the Padre’s “facutlties”, i.e., his license, to preach, hear Confessions (give absolution), and publicly celebrate Mass.

  In another incident, Father Taladrid found that Padre Martinez was celebrating Mass in “private unlicensed chapels in various communities”, and complained to Bishop Lamy. Shortly afterwards, by 1857, Father Taladrid was removed from the parish, likely for causing too many problems not only for the retired pastor of Taos, but also for its people.

[Some people] came to ask me to go to celebrate a low Mass on the 15th of this month [of September, feast of Our Sorrowful Mother, a special devotion of Penitentes] in a chapel under the title of Our Lady of Talpa [my emphasis] …. Father Martinez had celebrated it every year …. this priest was not authorized by any law to celebrate Mass in any oratory or chapel without previous permission from his legitimate Bishop.

(AASF, L.D.  1856, N0.  24; Quoted in Wroth, Talpa Chapel)


   Padre Martinez suggested to Bishop Lamy that he appoint Padre Medina as Father Taladrid’s successor. Medina was a young native New Mexican priest whom Padre Martinez had taught in his preparatory seminary at his house. However, the Bishop chose Father Eulogio Ortiz to succeed Father Taladrid and become the new priest in charge of Guadalupe parish. Father Ortiz was also a former student at Padre Martinez’ preparatory seminary, also nephew of Vicario Ortiz and traveling companion of Bishop Lamy. The Padre’s initial joy was soon dashed.  One of the “last straws” in the struggles between Padre Martinez and Bishop Lamy concerned the Duran Chapel and Father Ortiz.

  After his 1856 suspensio a divinis, “suspension from divine things” and 1858 excommunication, Padre Martinez was regularly using the Talpa Chapel that had become his base. His many relatives and partisans were regular attendees at the Chapel, and they supported their beloved, aging, and sickly priest who had served the community for three decades.

  The Duran Chapel was also a headquarters for the influential members of the Hermandad, Los Penitentes. As Holy Week approached in 1858, Father Ortiz arranged the removal of Penitente-related images and vestments from the chapel. Taking the santos and vestments at this sacred time was calculated to impede the Holy Week ceremonies scheduled to soon take place there. This outraged Padre Martinez who immediately communicated his anger and fully expected Bishop Lamy to severely reprimand the younger priest.  Martínez fumed to his Bishop:

Such abuses [of Father José Eulogio Ortiz] have reached such a point of monstrosity, Illustrious Sir…to commit the tumultuous and sacrilegious action with which he broke into the oratory of Nicolas Sandoval dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and–with his accomplices– carried off its santos with injurious violence that has motivated his shameful appearance before the court of Santa Fe. An action such as this man did is a double sacrilege [my emphasis] because it was performed inside a sacred place and to sacred objects, with smashing of the doors and threats with weapons.  The laws…describe excommunication for the authors of such violence, not to mention the penalties of the Civil law.  [my emphasis]

(Quoted in Talpa Chapel, p. 36; AASF, L.D. 1858, No. 17.)

  What is quite ironic about this outburst is the demand of Padre Martínez for the “excommunication” of Father Ortiz. It had the effect of triggering his own formal excommunication by April 1858, a few weeks after his letter to Bishop Lamy.

  Padre Martinez thereafter began to use as his base the chapel of Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Talpa, AKA the Duran Chapel. The United States Census of 1860 claimed over 300 congregants for the chapel. They included family members and parishioners whose allegiance remained with the Padre. Father Angelico Chavez, dean of New Mexican historians, in his book My Penitente Land claims that the rupture was “not a true schism”. Nevertheless, there definitely was a split. The Padre’s younger son Vicente Ferrer Romero—a preteen when his father was suspended in 1856 and excommunicated in 1858—became a lay leader and effective circuit rider for the Presbyterian Church. The Padre’s youngest brother became a Presbyterian as did, for a while, Pedro Sanchez who had married the Padre’s favorite niece in his house chapel and authored a biography of the Padre in 1904. Sanchez, and hundreds of other relatives and partisans of the Padre who had left the church during the tumultuous times, returned after the Missions that Italian Jesuit Father Donato M. Gasparri preached at Taos in1869.  Nevertheless,

[the whole affair] left a wound in the side of the Catholic Church in New Mexico, which was long to heal, and the scar can yet be felt. To the Spanish American minority, however, the wholesale removal of the native clergy has been a tragedy, for it deprived them of their natural leaders capable of cushioning the shock of conquest for which as a group the Hispanos have never recovered.

(E.K. Francis, “Padre Martinez-A New Mexican Myth, New Mexico Historical Review, October 1956)

  “Never is a long time,” as my father used to say. The French clergy that Bishop Lamy recruited have disappeared, and native Hispanic vocations significantly increased by the 1970s. Robert F. Sanchez became Archbishop of Santa Fe on July 25, 1974 (died in 2012), the feast of Santiago – Patron Sant of Hispanic America. Until 1970, there was not one Mexican American or Latin American bishop native to the United States. That changed when Archbishop Patrick Flores was ordained Cinco de Mayo 1970. Since then (as of 2012) there have been many bishops appointed to serve in the United States: three Archbishops (San Antonio, Los Angeles, Philadelphia), ten Bishops, and thirteen Auxiliary Bishops. As important as hierarchy may be, the real cypher of missionary success is the growth of Latino Catholics well served. In 1970, the claim that “25% of the Catholic population in the United States is Latino/Hispanic” surprised many U.S. bishops. As a matter of fact, the Latino population has almost tripled since then, reaching over 60 million in the country, 18% of its total population. In some places such as the Archdioceses of New York and Los Angeles, Latinos make up more than half of the total Catholic population. Nevertheless, it remains a challenge to adequately serve that population. For various reasons, many have converted to other denominations. Lack of adequate service is one of those reasons.

  As Cura de Taos, the Padre occasionally opened his pulpit to a Protestant preacher. HIn his later years, he liked to use the Anglican Prayer Book, and seems to have flirted with becoming an Episcopalian. Anglican Bishop Talbot visited the Padre at his home, but the Anglican hierarch insisted that Martinez regularize his relationship with Teodora Romero, mother of his children. Despite being censured by his church, Padre Martinez, nevertheless, held on to his Roman Catholic identity.

  Willa Cather, according to her Pulitzer Prize winning novel Death Comes for the Archbishop, put Padre Martinez writhing in hell. Her fictionalized account of the life of Bishop Lamy, whom she calls Bishop “Latour”, makes an ogre of Padre Martínez whom she calls by his proper name while making him a foil to her heroic bishop.

  Msgr. Jerome Martinez, former rector of the Cathedral-Basilica of Santa Fe and a Canon Lawyer, has opined that the “excommunication of Padre Martinez was invalid because it lacked the formality of three canonical warnings.” Certainly, no saint, Padre Martinez died reconciled to God and His Church through the ministrations of Padre Lucero, a former student of the Padre and pastor of neighboring parish in Arroyo Hondo. Lucero confessed, absolved, and anointed the Padre upon his death bed. It is common Catholic teaching that anyone who consciously and conscientiously celebrates these sacraments, popularly known as “Last Rites” enters directly into heavenly glory.

  A measure of the esteem in which Padre Martinez was held by the people of the villages of Taos, particularly the Penitente Brothers, is the fact that “more than 300 members of La Fratenidad Piadosa de Condado de Taos marched in his funeral procession in 1867.”  (Weigle, 1976:49) When the Padre died, the Assembly of New Mexico inscribed the phrase “La Honra de Su País” as part of his epitaph on the tall marble tombstone. When in 2006 the more than life-sized bronze memorial of the Padre was installed at the Taos Plaza, the NM State legislature reprised the phrase to name the memorial “The Honor of His Homeland”. In his book My Penitente Land, Fray Angelico Chavez—dean of New Mexican historians—called Padre Martínez “New Mexico’s greatest son”.

  It is my fervent hope that the restoration of the Duran Chapel, la capilla de Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Talpa, will presage a healing of divided families, a peaceful reconciliation between historically divided countries, and an end to rancor among people with divergent views on politics or religion. Tolerance and full acceptance of one another despite differences within families and among nations remains a dream deferred. Yet the practice of these virtues is certainly God’s will for us: “Love one another!” Through the intercession of Our Lady of Talpa, may the restored Chapel advance fulfillment of that velleity.

[Fr. Juan Romero was born in Taos, ordained in 1964 for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles where he grew up since the age of four. He served in several California parishes from Santa Barbara to Orange County and was pastor of three. He twice served on the national level in special ministry: 1972-1976 as executive director of the Mexican American priests’ association PADRES based in San Antonio, and 1984-1985 as national coordinator of the Tercer Encuentro Nacional Hispano de Pastoral sponsored by the US Conference of Bishops andbased in Washington, DC. He is retired from administration, resides in Palm Springs where he serves as a “supply priest” for the Diocese of San Bernardino. He recently marked sixty years as a priest.]