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Where’s the Bell?- The Jemez Historic Site Mystery

“A bell’s not a bell ’til you ring it, A song’s not a song ’til you sing it, Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay, Love isn’t love ’til you give it away!” ― Oscar Hammerstein II

I wait outside my classroom door as I consider the importance of bells. I’ve been at my new school for just about a month and there have been problems with the class bells. Evidently this is a computer issue as the between period bells are set online. Anyhow, it is a challenge and the students feed off the little chaos. Smoking in the bathrooms and wandering who knows where is an issue for certain. All I can do is watch the hall and remind students to, “Get to where you need to be”. You do what you can.

The little mystery of Why no class bells? Is overshadowed, at least in this blog entry, by the bigger History Mystery of What Happened to the Church Bell from the Jemez Historic Site? Obviously, I’m leading into the topic for this post. I think back to the past weekend.

“Do you know what time it is? I forgot to wind up my pocket watch,” I asked the 20-something guy leaning against his gear-packed car. We’re both parked in front of the visitors’ center for the Jemez Historic Monument.

“It’s ten to nine,” he replied.

“Oh, okay. I can wait ten minutes until the Monument opens.”

We shared as we waited for the Jemez Monument to open. Josia was between archaeological survey projects. His story was very much like my own from 30-some years ago. I was also in my twenties when I started my life in the Southwest as a “shovel bum”. It seems times have changed yet remain the same.

Josia near the church corner

The drizzle of the morning casted a different light on distant mountains and valleys. When the monument ranger finally opened the door with a slightly surly tone asking us to move our vehicles to the fence. We followed his direction and entered the building.

At the front desk I paid my seven bucks then shared, “I blog on history mysteries. Are there any mysteries related to the monument?”

“Actually, there is. Nobody knows what happened to the church bell,” he said.

I smiled. “That’s a good one.”

He handed me a trail guide and I strolled into the museum beyond the front room. The displays were a mix of primarily Native pottery and Spanish church artifacts. An inlay of a map of the Gisewatowa (Tewa, I believe, for village by the sulfur which is fitting in an area rich with sulfur scented hot springs) is beautifully inlaid into the central floor. The village was established in the 1300s correlating well with the mass exodus of Ancestral Puebloans from the Four Corners area.

The Spanish first arrived in the area during the late 1500s. The Exploration Period of World History is often explained with the 3 Gs of God, Gold and Glory. The Spanish were especially focused on feverously promoting their religious beliefs and this would prompt the building of massive churches central in historic Pueblo villages along with being the primary cause of the Puebloan Revolt of 1680 (torture of traditional spiritual leaders was key in prompting the revolt). They were all about God in their own minds.

With the trail guide in hand, I ventured out the side door of the building and followed the well-marked trail. The village was established well before the Spanish arrived. The church and Christian burial grounds were centrally located making the high walls visible from far away. No doubt, the villagers literally lived in the shadow of the church!

Josia was ahead of me and scales down the massive ladder into the subterranean kiva. A sign stated No Photos. It was still drizzling, so I stepped cautiously on the wide-spaced rungs as I descended. “There’s a mouse sitting in the corner,” Josia’s voice echoed.

The kiva was deep and dark with massive beams holding up the roof. While I suspected much of the structure was reconstructed, it is still very much a sacred space. While I conversed with my new friend, it was obvious we were both softened in our tone and words.

“The great kiva in Chaco Canyon was once open to the public. Then the New Agers started to leave crystals behind in the wall niches and the Park Service decided to shut access off.  It is too bad how some inconsiderate actions can ruin things for others,” I said. Josia nodded in agreement.

I climbed out of the kiva and continued on the path. Occasionally, I’d take a peek at what the guide pamphlet shared.

The large 70s-style Catholic church across the highway was evidently built on top of a portion of the village. I’m not certain if the church was part of a local auctioning of Catholic properties. I don’t know the whole story, but evidently Jemez Springs was a location the church relocated known pedophile priests for solitude and recovery. Anyhow, the surrounding related controversies forced the church to put properties up for auction. Somewhat of a sad and gross piece of Valley history, but I digress.

So, what about the missing bell? The tower above the church ruin is massive and lends itself to an equally impressive bell. Ringing of the bell from such a high tower would have been heard far down the valley and into the surrounding mountains. No doubt the bell rang out for many church services and also acted as a kind of oppression to traditional Native beliefs. Or, at least, acted as a reminder of the power the Spanish had over the area- both in the physical and spiritual realm.

The church burnt down in 1620 and again during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. I suspect the bell might have disappeared shortly after the revolt, but wonder—Do any related records exist? I did not find any. So, I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask my students. Most are from Jemez Pueblo and descendants of the village occupants. I figured it couldn’t hurt.

The answers were the kind you might expect from a group of teenagers. One girl giggled, “I have it in the corner of my bedroom.” A group of ninth grade boys decided it had been taken by aliens. Others where more believable such as, “The village people made the Spanish take it with them.” Several felt it had been melted down and made into something else. A couple were certain it had been buried near the village.

Maybe the bell is buried under a food stand at Red Rock?

Will the mystery ever be solved? It is difficult to say. While the massive walls of the old churches still stand as a monument to valley life of several centuries ago, one can only imagine the ringing of the church bell and how it affected the lives of those in the old village. Some mysteries are never meant to be solved. As for the period bells at school, I am hopeful of being “saved by the bell” as I begin another week of teaching.

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