LA CONQUISTADORA / Houser
The Story of the Oldest Statue of the Virgin Mary in the United States
My first encounter with La Conquistadora was when I walked in the procession to Rosario Chapel with my friend, Mary. We joined other pilgrims, singing, chanting, and praying behind elegantly dressed caballeros shouldering a platform that held the regal-looking statue. Upon reaching the small adobe chapel, we knelt on bare tile floors and continued singing, chanting, and praying.
Until then, I did not know that La Conquistadora is the oldest statue of the Virgin Mary in the United States, that she came here with the Spanish colonists, or that she has a wardrobe suitable for a queen. I was touched by the devotion given this small wooden statue and became intrigued with her story.
My first inclination was to write about her amazing wardrobe of over 200 dresses. However, my walk in the procession was an extraordinary experience--being part of a tradition based on a promise made--and kept--for over 300 years ago. I also considered focusing on the settlement of New Mexico, but it is well documented, for which I am grateful.
I decided to weave a story highlighting the devotion to La Conquistadora¨Da devotion that has sustained people for centuries and inspired rituals and traditions. I wanted to introduce the statue to people who, like me, may not know her story.
This book briefly chronicles the discovery of the humble statue in Mexico City, her tragedies and triumphs, and her rise to the throne as Queen of New Mexico. Spanish subtitles remind readers of La Conquistadora's important relationship with early settlers and of the connection between present-day celebrations and traditions that are rooted in the Spanish Colonial Era. The book contains not only historical and contemporary photographs, but also rare color photographs taken of her wardrobe.
While working on the manuscript, I glimpsed into La Conquistadora's closet and met with sacristanas who shared their personal experiences of sewing for, and attending to her. I traced the steps of Fiesta attendees to the Cross of the Martyrs, scanned old newspapers on microfiche, attended the inaugural "Fabric of Our Faith" exhibit at the cathedral and visited the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art and El Rancho de las Golondrinas, a Spanish Colonial Living History Museum. In my frequent travels to Northern New Mexico, the La Conquistadora Chapel in Santa Fe is now a regular stop.
La Conquistadora captured my heart as she has done with many other New Mexicans and people around the world. She may capture your heart as well.