by Patty Guggino
Los Lentes, a small village on the west bank of the Rio Grande several miles south of Isleta Pueblo, is identified in the Spanish Census of 1790 as La Plaza de San Antonio.(8) This identification of the village with the patron saint of the Capilla, or chapel, that still stands at its heart, establishes a terminus for the date of construction for the building. Because the land the chapel occupies was acquired by Matias el Ente and several other residents of Isleta Pueblo in a series of transactions between 1744 and 1760, it is possible that construction of the chapel began in the middle of the 18th century.(9) However, as a map drawn by Bernardo Miera y Pacheco in 1776 still identifies the area of the village with the San Clemente land grant rather than with the patron of the chapel, it more likely that the building was constructed after the Miera y Pacheco map was drawn (Figure 8-1).(10)
Regardless of its exact date of construction, La Capilla de San Antonio remains one of the earliest Spanish Colonial chapels in continuous use in New Mexico. This important aspect of its significance belies the fact that the chapel rests upon the remains of a Tiwa Indian village, known as Los Lentes Pueblo (LA 951), which according to ceramic evidence, was established in this part of the Rio Medio in the 1300s. In 1931 archaeologist H.P. Mera described Los Lentes Pueblo, which was surveyed but never excavated, as a moderately sized puddled adobe apartment complex of not more than 100 ground floor rooms. Sherds of D and E-type glazed pottery indicated to Mera that the pueblo was inhabited between 1540-80, and though probably abandoned by the third decade of the 17th century, it was certainly one of the group of southern Tiwa villages in existence during the initial period of Spanish contact. Los Lentes Pueblo is closely identified with the remains of another vanished Tiwa pueblo, Be-jui Tu-ay (LA 810), more commonly known as Rainbow Village, the remains of which are located approximately 200 meters east of La Capilla de San Antonio.(11) Substantially larger than Los Lentes Pueblo, Rainbow Village was also abandoned during the early 1600s. Like Los Lentes Pueblo, it was possibly absorbed into Isleta Pueblo to the north during one of the many reduccións, or reductions, enforced by the Spanish, which for administrative and defensive reasons consolidated smaller pueblo settlements into larger neighboring communities.(12)
In the century following their abandonment, the raised mounds left by the two Tiwa pueblos became attractive building sites in the flood-prone middle Rio Grande valley and residents of Isleta Pueblo, one of whom was Matias el Ente, began to acquire the land on which the abandoned pueblos stood. The first of these transactions involved the sale of a tract of land by heirs of Felix de Candelaria from La Merced de San Clemente, the land grant established by Doña Ana Sandoval de Manzanares in 1718. Another 261 varas(13) of land was acquired personally by Matias el Ente from Domingo de la Candelaria in 1760.(14) El Ente, was an Indian or genízaro living near Isleta Pueblo in 1736.(15) Genízaro’s were formerly enslaved Native Americans and their descendents who had been ransomed from various tribes and who lived in Spanish communities. By 1802 Lente and his heirs had prospered to the point that the census of that year identified the entire area as La Plaza de Los Lentes (the family surname having evolved from el Ente to Lente by that time).
The prosperity of the Lente family is also demonstrated by the size of the La Capilla de San Antonio, which somewhat exceeds the domestic scale typical of the family chapels and oratorios of the Spanish Colonial period, and is large enough to hold a substantial congregation in the nave and transept of its cruciform plan.(16) The Los Lentes community maintained strong associations with Isleta Pueblo and the mission of San Agustin that had been established there in 1629. The strength of the connection between San Agustin and Los Lentes is reflected in the adoption by the village of the advocacy of San Antonio de Padua for its chapel. San Antonio was the initial patron of the mission at Isleta until its advocacy was changed at the beginning of the 18th century.(17) The reason for the change in advocacy at Isleta is unknown, however, such events were relatively rare at Spanish Colonial religious institutions in New Mexico and may have had caused a degree of spiritual disturbance in the local population that remains reflected in Los Lentes today.(18) At the beginning of the 20th century, the priest at San Agustin observed that his parishioners still “had not transferred their affection to the new image [of San Agustin], and mournfully insisted that it did not hear their prayers so well as the old one of their fathers.”(19) The mid 19th-century bulto of San Antonio housed in the chapel remains an important object of devotion for parishioners of both the chapel and San Agustin today.
La Capilla de San Antonio exhibits a number of architectural influences that migrated into the region in the middle of the 19th Century following the opening of the Santa Fe Trail, the resulting American conquest of New Mexico and the introduction of a French Catholic hierarchy under the leadership of Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy. As originally constructed, the chapel was a flat-roofed building with a transverse clerestory – the unique structural characteristic of Spanish Colonial and Mexican-era religious architecture in New Mexico that channeled exterior illumination into the sanctuary. Evidence of this original configuration, which is now concealed on the exterior by the steeply pitched gable roof, is still apparent in the layout of the vigas in the transept and the difference in roof levels between it, the nave and the sanctuary. The original clerestory configuration is still evident in the attic of the chapel.
Serious flooding in the vicinity in 1906 destroyed the original sacristy and possibly prompted the most significant alterations to the building, which based on a photograph taken about 1912, had been altered through the addition of the gabled roof, central belfry, façade towers and conical steeples. Additional changes included the enlargement of the window openings in the façade and nave and the insertion of arched Gothic elements into the frames of the windows in the transept.
These influences are equally apparent at neighboring San Agustin, where they are preserved in an extensive photographic record beginning in the 1880s that documents a series of architectural alterations initiated there in the previous decades (Figures 8-2, 8-3). Given the close association between the two congregations, the alterations made to the Los Lentes chapel, for which photographic documentation prior to 1912 does not exist, may have been influenced by those that were taking place at the parent church. The present vertical emphasis on the façade of San Antonio and the tripartite division created by the central gable, belfry and flanking steeples, resembles the similar emphasis given to Isleta’s façade in a re-configuration that took place between 1889 and 1910. The additional vertical emphasis at Los Lentes provided by the prominent central belfry, which was absent at Isleta, is indicative of the pride placed by the chapel’s parishioners in the bell acquired for it under the leadership of Father Anton Docher in 1893.(20) Positioning the bell in a central belfry, rather than in either of the two towers is no doubt due to its size, but it may also reflect the prior placement of the bell in the open and on the edge of the roof over the entrance. A similar situation is recorded in photographs of another nearby church, Nuestra Señora de la Concepción at Tomé, which prior to the collapse of its nave in 1920, supported two unsheltered bells on the edge of its roof between Gothicized adobe towers (Figure 8-4).
The pre-1920 configuration of the church at Tomé, which was completed by 1746, and like Los Lentes was constructed by a community of genízaro and Spanish families, may also be indicative of the first post-Lamy alterations made to San Antonio.(21) The earliest photographs of San Miguel at Soccorro, the principal mission south of Isleta, as well as those of San Agustin, depict flat roofed buildings with square towers on which elaborate wood steeples with prominent Gothic louvered openings have been placed. Photographic evidence for a similar phase of alteration at Los Lentes is absent; however, the earliest written documentation of the chapel following Bishop Lamy’s arrival in the territory, a benediccion or blessing of the building recorded in 1864, includes an intriguing drawing by Father Feliz Jouret, then pastor at Isleta (Figure 8-5). While it is possible that Jouret’s drawing is merely a generic artistic flourish intended to embellish the document it accompanied, its strong similarity to contemporary photographs of the church of San José at Laguna Pueblo (Figure 8-6) – San Antonio’s closest neighbor to the west – lends credence to a belief that it is faithful depiction of the chapel’s façade prior to the first phase of French inspired alterations. If this is the case, then it is possible that the architectural evolution of San Antonio began with the construction of towers flanking the façade to support a pair of adobe steeples similar to those found at Tomé or wooden ones as are found at Isleta during this period. This alteration was subsequently followed by the concealment of the building’s original Spanish Colonial details – chiefly its transverse clerestory, parapets, and canales – beneath the steeply pitched metal clad roof and the placement of the bell acquired in 1893 in the large central belfry.
The ongoing connection of the congregation with the chapel is evidenced by the children’s playground and basketball court in the southwest corner of the plaza and most particularly by the single-story frame building erected along the west side of the plaza that houses concessions and activities during the annual San Antonio Fiestas in June. Hundreds of people come to meet old neighbors during this event while they also pay homage to the bulto of San Antonio, hold special prayers and processions and listen to the story of the chapel built by their ancestors over two centuries ago.
The scenario of the fiesta, ever evolving, yet always the same, is the concrete expression of cultural continuity. It reflects the persistence of a New Mexican community that was ruled first by Spain, then Mexico and finally the United States. Los Lentes, a village descended from Tiwa and Piro Native Americans, Genizeros, Hispanos, Americans, French and Germans is a living example of a people who have not only survived several governments, but who have incorporated other ethnicities while maintaining their own ancient culture. Concrete evidence of this fusion is the plaque at La Capilla de San Antonio that commemorates local men who served the United States in World War II. Acknowledged here are the surnames of Apodaca, Baca, Blaylock, Carrasco, Carillo,Chavez, Gabaldon, Hernandez, Huning, Jaramillo, Lente, Marquez, Montoya, Martinez, Padilla, Perea, Piro, Romero, Sichler, Sais, Salazar, Sanchez, Savedra, Tafoya, Trujillo,and Urrivall. These are the descendents of some first recorded in the 1790 Spanish Census, and others listed many times thereafter on land transactions and other government documents.
(8) Olmstead. Spanish and Mexican Census of New Mexico, 1750-1830.
(9) Jaramillo. A Small History and Folklore – El Pueblo de San Antonio de Los Lentes: 1-2.
(10) A date of 1789 was said to have been carved or drawn on a viga in the chapel. Last observed by parishioners in the 1980s, the location of this date has been obscured by oiling and varnishing of the vigas and can no longer be confirmed.
(11) National Register Nomination. Spanish Contact Indian Pueblos and Spanish Colonial and Mexican Settlements in the Rio Medio District of New Mexico. 34-36 and 39-41.
(12) Kubler: 16-17.
(13) The vara (in Spanish meaning a stick or pole) is a traditional unit of distance in Spanish Colonial America as well as in Spain and Portugal. The length of the vara was generally about 33 inches.
(14) New Mexico State Archives. San Clemente Land Grant Records.
(15) Chávez. Origins of New Mexico Families: 205.
(16) Sze, “Religious Properties of New Mexico,” Multiple Property Documentation Form, 1995: 70-74.
(17) Kubler: 120.
(18) Association of Isleta with St. Anthony appears to have lingered well into the 18th century. A French map of 1744, “la Carte de la Louisianne cours du Mississipi et pais voisins” by N. Bellin continues to identify Isleta as S. Antoine de l’Islette at that date.
(19) Prince. The Spanish Mission Churches of New Mexico: 195.
(20) Jaramillo: XX
(21) De la Vega. The Three Centuries of Tomé, N.M.: 14.
Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Office of Historic-Artistic Patrimony and Archives. La Capilla de San Antonio de Los Lentes, Los Lentes, New Mexico, file.
Bunting, Bainbridge. Early Architecture in New Mexico. Albuquerque, Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1976.
Chávez, Fray Angélico. Origins of New Mexico Families – A Genealogy of the Spanish Colonial Period. Santa Fe, Museum of New Mexico Press, revised edition, 1992.
De La Vega, Roberto. Three Centuries of Tomé, New Mexico. Los Lunas, San Clemente Parish, 1976.
Jaramillo, Pauline. A Small History and Folklore: El Pueblo de San Antonio de Los Lentes New Mexico. Los Lunas, San Clemente Parish, 1990.
Kubler, George. The Religious Architecture of New Mexico. Albuquerque, Univ. of New Mexico Press, fourth edition, 1972.
Museum of New Mexico Photo Archives, Santa Fe.
National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Listing, “Rio Medio Archaeological Thematic Group,” (SR 1240).
New Mexico State Archives, Santa Fe. San Clemente Land Grant Records.
Olmstead, Virginia L. Spanish and Mexican Census of New Mexico, 1750-1830. Albuquerque, New Mexico Genealogical Society, 1981.
Pratt, Boyd C., et. al. “History of the Development of Religious Properties in New Mexico, 1598-1945.” NM State Historic Preservation Office historic context, 1993.
Prince, Bradford. The Spanish Mission Churches of New Mexico. Cedar Rapids, The Torch Press, 1915.
Sze, Corinne. “Religious Properties of New Mexico,” National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Listing (SR 1615), 1995.
Patty Guggino with Ann Tondre Williams, 8 October 1982.
Patty Guggino with Moises Griego, 2 May 1997 and 5 February 2003.
This essay was taken from "La Capilla de San Antonio (Los Lentes)," National Register of Historic Places, June 2003.