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Angelico Chavez, O.F.M.
Statue of Angelico Chavez
Statue of Angelico Chavez
Born Manuel Ezequiel Chávez
April 10, 1910
Wagon Mound, New Mexico, United States
Died March 18, 1996
Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States
Occupation Friar Minor, priest, writer, painter, historian

Angelico Chavez, O.F.M., (April 10, 1910 – March 18, 1996) was an Hispanic American Friar Minor, priest, historian, author, poet and painter. "Angelico" was his pen name; he also dropped the accent marks from this name.[1]

Early life

Born the first of ten children to Fabián Chávez and María Nicolasa Roybal de Chávez in Wagon Mound, New Mexico, Chavez was baptized with the name Manuel Ezequiel. In 1912, his family moved to San Diego, California, where his father worked for the Panama-California Exposition. The missions he was exposed to in California inspired him to follow in the footsteps of Junípero Serra and the other missionaries to the Native Americans.


Returning to New Mexico, Chavez attended public schools in Mora, staffed by members of the Sisters of Loretto. In 1924, at the age of 14, Chavez was admitted to St. Francis Seminary in Mount Healthy, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati.

While at the seminary, Chavez endeavored to improve his English (his second language) through a study of the classic literature of the language. He began writing fiction, essays, and other works at this time, several of which were published in the Brown and White, the student magazine he later edited.

As a member of the first class to inhabit the seminary's new dormitory, Chavez was allowed to paint murals of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua on its walls.

On August 15, 1929 Chavez was received in the novitiate of the Friars Minoas and received the Franciscan habit. Due to his promise as a visual artist, he was given the religious name Frater Angélico after the Florentine painter Fra Angelico. He continued his studies at Duns Scotus College in Detroit, graduating in 1933. He studied for four more years before being ordained at Saint Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe, the first native New Mexican Franciscan priest. However, in April 1914, two young women from Nacimiento, New Mexico, Elsira Montoya and Dolores Lucero, first-cousins, entered the Franciscan order at St. Louis, Missouri. They spent the remaining 70 and 75 years of their lives as Franciscan nuns.


Chavez was assigned to the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Peña Blanca and its missions in Jémez Pueblo and Los Cerrillos. At Peña Blanca, he undertook a revitalization of the church building, painting frescoes on its walls. He was his own model for the figure of Pontius Pilate, and also used locals and three of his sisters as figure models. He also ministered to the local Indians of San Felipe Pueblo, Santo Domingo Pueblo, and the Pueblo of Cochiti.

During World War II, Chavez attended the chaplaincy school at Harvard University and was placed with the 77th Infantry Division. He was present for the beach landings of Guam and Leyte. He continued his military service during the Korean War as chaplain at Fort Bliss, Texas, and Kaiserslautern, Germany.


Upon his return from the battlefield, Chavez was appointed archivist of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and undertook the cataloging and translation of its Spanish archives. This work provided new primary sources that allowed for a reevaluation of the history of New Mexico. He wrote the definitive work on the families of New Mexico, as well as many other works of history, some of which is considered revisionist. For example, his view of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, unorthodox in its minimization of the role of Popé and its emphasis on the mestizo element, was based primarily on previously-unconsidered genealogical data.

Chavez' biography of Father Antonio José Martínez (1793–1867), But Time and Chance, was the first of a trilogy of biographies on significant native New Mexican priests. It is a scholarly and balanced treatment of the Cura de Taos whose life story had been distorted by some authors. In 1846, General Sephen W. Kearny swore Martinez as the first United States citizen of the Territory of New Mexico. Within six months, however, his political enemies wrongly alleged that Padre Martinez instigated the Taos Uprising of 1847—one of the last events of the US-Mexican War. Padre Martinez was very influential in New Mexico and beyond as a religious figure, rancher, educator, author and publisher, lawyer and politician. He was in conflict with his superior Bishop Lamy regarding the issue of tithing and other matters, and suffered ecclesiastical censure in 1858. When he died in 1867, his peers in the Territorial Assembly called him "La Honra de Su Pais," the honor of his homeland.

Among the general populace, Chavez is most known for the book entitled La Conquistadora, the Autobiography of an Ancient Statue. This work told the story, in a first person narrative, of a statue of the Virgin Mary brought from Spain over 400 years ago, through Mexico to New Mexico. The statue resides in St. Francis Cathedral to this day and is an important part of the religious history of the Spanish people of Northern New Mexico.

Chavez also wrote short stories, novels, and poetry. His poem The Virgin of Port Lligat, based on Salvador Dalí's The Madonna of Port Lligat, was selected as one of the best books of 1959 by the Catholic Library Association and was praised by T. S. Eliot as a "very commendable achievement."[2] As Chavez scholar Genaro M. Padilla notes, "despite [his] outpouring of history, poetry, and fiction, Fray Angelico Chavez has been largely overlooked as one of the pioneers of Chicano [sic] literature in century".[3]

In 1971, he left the priesthood following a "crisis of faith". He returned to the priesthood and the Franciscan Order prior to his death on March 18, 1996 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the age of 85.

Chavez was buried in Rosario Cemetery, having earlier refused burial in St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe.[citation needed] The Museum of New Mexico at the Palace of the Governors named the new history and photographic library in his honor following his death, and a bronze statue of his likeness is displayed at the entrance.[4] Judge Harry Long Bigbee was the donor of the statue.[5]

Honorary degrees

  • Master of Arts, University of New Mexico, 1947
  • Doctor of Letters, College of St. Joseph on the Rio Grande[dead link], Albuquerque, 1963
  • Doctor of Law, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, 1973
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, University of New Mexico, 1974



  • But time and chance: the story of Padre Martinez of Taos, 1793-1867. Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1981. ISBN 0-913270-95-4
  • La Conquistadora: the autobiography of an ancient statue. Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1975. ISBN 0-913270-43-1
  • Coronado’s friars. Washington: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1968.
  • My Penitente land: reflections on Spanish New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1974. ISBN 0-8263-0334-X
  • Origins of New Mexico families: a genealogy of the Spanish colonial period. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1992. ISBN 0-89013-239-9


  • When the Santos Talked; A Retablo of New Mexico Tales -- Drawings by Peter Hurd. Santa Fe: W. Gannon, 1977.
  • New Mexico Triptych: being three panels and three accounts. Santa Fe: W. Gannon, 1976.
  • From an altar screen; El Retablo: tales from New Mexico. Freeport, N.Y., Books for Libraries Press, 1969. ISBN 0-8361-3031-2
  • The Lady from Toledo. Fresno, California: Academy Guild Press, 1960.


  • The Virgin of Port Lligat.
  • Eleven Lady-lyrics, and other poems. Paterson, New Jersey: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1945.
  • Cantares: canticles and poems of youth, 1925-1932. Edited and with an introduction by Nasario García. Houston: Arte Público Press, 2000. ISBN 1-55885-311-1
  • Selected poems, with an apologia. Santa Fe: Press of the Territorian, 1969


  • Chavez, Fray Angelico, The Virgin of Port Lligat The Filmer Brothers Press, 1956
  • Chavez, Fray Angelico, My Penitente Land Museum of New Mexico, copyright, 1974 ISBN 0-89013-255-0
  • McCracken, Ellen (editor) (2000). Fray Angélico Chávez: poet, priest, and artist. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-2007-4. 
  1. Weigle, Marta. Preface to Brothers of Light, Brothers of Blood (Sunstone Press, 2007) p. xiii.
  2. Genaro M. Padilla, "Introduction," The Short Stories of Fray Angelico Chavez, U of New Mexico Press, p. viii.
  3. Padilla, "Introduction", p. x.
  4. Harrelson, Barbara. Walks in Literary Santa Fe. Gibbs Smith. 2007. 22[dead link] .
  5. "Vol 25, No. 2 Archived August 25, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.." Bulletin of the Historic Santa Fe Association. December 1998. Retrieved on August 21, 2009.

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