On this day: Fray Angelico Chavez

by Gerelyn Hollingsworth

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On this day, 15 years ago, Fray Angelico Chavez died at Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Of the desert galley
On the Spanish sandy main,
Sent by the Master of the boat
On Galilee.

--a cinquain from Cantares: Canticles and Poems of Youth, 1925-1932, by Fray Angelico Chavez. Notice the dedication to his parents on page xxix, written on the day of his solemn profession as a Franciscan.

Another poem from the same collection:

The Painting Poet

I plucked a feather with a cactus drill
From the gray wing of a thrush;
One side I sharpened to a poet's quill,
The other end, a painter's brush.

I paint the sage upon the shady ground
With pigment-words of silver-jades,
And then I turn my wonder-pen around
And with it add the purple shades.

--Fray Angelico Chavez

If you love the Southwest in general, and New Mexico in particular, and Santa Fe very particularly, you know Fray Angelico Chavez. If you're not familiar with the Franciscan priest's work, reading "Sangre de Cristo", "I Wondered and I Asked Myself", and "On the Alameda" will introduce him.

(Notice the picture of the statue of Fray Angelico Chavez on page xl. Although Chavez dropped the accent marks from his name very early in his long career, someone saw fit to restore them after his death, and they appear on his name on the plaque beneath his statue and on his name in new editions of his books. In Catholic Authors: Contemporary Biographical Sketches, 1930-1947, edited by Matthew Hoehn, O.S.B., St. Mary's Abbey, 1948, we learn that Chavez also "omits O.F.M. when he writes because he thinks initials disfigure a name. He concludes if his work is no good, the Order will not suffer; if his work is successful, people will soon find out to what Order he belongs".)

Perhaps the best introduction to Fray Angelico is "From Mora to the Mission", an interview included in Turn Left at the Sleeping Dog: Scripting the Santa Fe Legend, 1920-1955, edited by John Pen La Farge, University of New Mexico Press, 2006, in which Chavez talks (and laughs) about his childhood, his education, and his vocation to the Franciscan Order.

For an analysis of Chavez's career as a writer, historian, and archivist, and of his commentary on "the invasion of a foreign culture intent upon establishing a new social and economic order", epitomized by Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, see Genaro M. Padilla's "Introduction" to the 1987 edition of The Short Stories of Fray Angelico Chavez, University of New Mexico Press, 1987.

"Memories of Fray Angelico Chavez", recounted by his nephew, Thomas E. Chavez in Fray Angelico Chavez: Poet, Priest, and Artist, edited by Ellen McCracken, University of New Mexico Press, 2000, are charming.

Click here for the excellent Wikipedia article on Fray Angelico Chavez.

New Mexico Triptych: Three Stories Set In The American Southwest, by Fray Angelico Chavez, and illustrated by the author, was first published in 1940.

Our Lady of the Conquest, by Fray Angelico Chavez, 1948, was reissued in 2010, the centenary of his birth.

For the latest scholarship, see The Life and Writing of Fray Angelico Chavez: A New Mexico Renaissance Man, by Ellen McCracken, University of New Mexico Press, 2009.

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