BISHOP LAMY'S GARDEN

By Marc Simmons

Other Articles by Marc Simmons 

When the Catholic Church created the Diocese of Santa Fe in 1853, the pious Frenchman John B. Lamy became New Mexico's first bishop. In 1875 he was made archbishop.

Two famous books keep Lamy's memory alive today. One is Willa Cather's historical novel "Death Comes for the Archbishop," first published in 1927. The other is Paul Horgan's 1975 Pulitzer Prize-winning "Lamy of Santa Fe."

The archbishop had an eventful and sometimes stormy career, especially when he pushed church reforms and defrocked local priests. But by nature, he was a quiet individual who sought solitude.

One of his famous retreats was a few miles north of the Plaza on the road to Tesuque, at the place still called Bishop's Lodge, which today is a resort. Another, more distant getaway was located above the little railroad community that is today known as Lamy.

For immediate and daily use, however, the archbishop had his personal garden alongside his adobe residence between St. Francis Cathedral and Alameda Street. By the late 1860s it had become a showplace, and visitors to Santa Fe often mentioned being given a tour.

The layout of the garden had been designed by the same architects Lamy brought from France to create the huge stone cathedral whose construction remained the chief work of his life.

A total of four acres bordering alameda were enclosed by an adobe wall and transformed into a bountiful oasis. On several trips east, Lamy brought back flowering shrubs and fruit trees, transporting them in cans of water inside ox-drawn wagons.

In the summer of 1867, following a journey to Rome and a stopover in his native France, he started over the Santa Fe Trail to return to New Mexico. In his supply wagon were precious cuttings of French lilacs.

At the Arkansas Crossing in western Kansas, Comanches attacked the bishop's caravan, and first reports indicated that all within it had been massacred. But both Lamy and his lilacs survived and reached Santa Fe safely.

The churchman's garden was shaded by large ornamental trees such as locust, maple, cottonwood and willow. Then there were fruit trees of several varieties-peach, pear, apple and cherry-plus almond trees.

In strolling with a visitor through his tiny paradise, Lamy enjoyed plucking the fruit and presenting it as a gift. His thrifty apples were said to reach 16 ounces, and his prize cherry tree (which he called the Belle of Santa Fe) produced two crops a year.

Most famous were the strawberries, huge and plump. Lamy sold them for $1 a box and donated the profits to charity. On one occasion, he exhibited three turnips that weighed a total of 25 pounds.

Another time, the mischievous young Sister Blandina Segale slipped into the garden and stole a dozen fat cabbages. After delivering them to the nearby hospital for the patients' supper, she went to Lamy's residence and confessed the theft. The bishop merely laughed and told her next time to see his gardener, who would harvest anything she needed.

The streets of Santa Fe were bare and dusty in those days, so the archbishop handed out surplus cuttings from his garden and encouraged local citizens to join in beautifying yards and public places. One morning Mrs. Flora Spiegelberg, wife of a prominent Jewish merchant, glanced out her living-room window on Palace Avenue and observed Lamy, spade in hand, busily planting two willow saplings near her front entrance.

It was probably owing to the archbishop's generosity that lilacs became distributed throughout Santa Fe and to this day are one of the most pleasant features in the city.

At the upper edge of the bishop's garden bubbled a natural spring whose flow fed a half-acre pond. Small bridges connected two artificial islands in the water. Lamy stocked the pond with trout, pike and American carp. The Daily New Mexican in 1875 reported that "the fish breed very fast and provide more than is required at the archbishop's own table." In fact, he sent surplus trout to Michael's College to be served to the students.

After Lamy's death in 1888, his beloved garden gradually was allowed to deteriorate. Anita Gonzales Thomas remembers as a child in 1915 walking by the little lake and watching ducks swim there. In the late 1920s a new dam was built on the upper Santa Fe River, causing lowering of the water table in town, and the drying up of the archbishop's spring. That spelled the end of what remained of Lamy's garden, Mrs. Thomas believes.

Now that St. Francis School and a large parking lot occupy the site, the only reminder of what once was is a half-dead almond tree and a couple of pear trees on the edge of the property. The garden, a colorful part of old Santa Fe, is gone forever.

For a listing of Marc Simmons's many books, and to order any of them, visit Amazon.com. Visit the same site to order "Death Comes for the Archbishop" or "Lamy of Santa Fe," mentioned in the article above. To consider reserving a room at the Bishop's Lodge resort, visit www.bishopslodge.com.

Other Articles by Marc Simmons

Mark Simmons Biography


Copyright © 2000-2013 Santa Fe Always Online, Inc.
Email: sfaolweb@gmail.com