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
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.
Articles by Marc Simmons