Death Comes for the Archbishop By Willa Cather Summary and Analysis Book 5: Chapter 1

Summary

Latour and Jacinto visit Padre Martinez in Taos. Kit Carson has warned Latour that Martinez holds a dictatorial power over the native priests of New Mexico and is a powerful, hostile man who is more than likely implicated in the Bent massacre. Through deceit, Martinez convinces the seven Indians awaiting execution for the massacre to bequeath them all of their land.

Martinez greets Latour with a large group of horsemen to accompany him to Rancho de Taos. When they arrive, the women kiss Martinez's ring and throw down shawls for him to walk on. Although Latour does not like the displays of exuberance, he knows that, for the Mexican, religion must be theatrical.

When the party reaches Taos, a boy at Martinez's house fails to remove his cap and is punished by Martinez. Latour protests, but Martinez tells him that the boy is his son and that he will treat him as he pleases. Inside the house, another young man sleeps on the floor. Martinez kicks him in the ribs and routes him. The young man is identified as his student, Trinidad, a nephew of Father Lucero at Arroyo Hondo.

The disorder in Martinez's house annoys Latour. Dust and cats seem to cover everything. Latour believes Trinidad to be stupid and sensual in appearance. Martinez proceeds to bait Latour on Catholic doctrine. He asks Latour his beliefs on celibacy for priests. Latour responds that the issue had been settled years before. Martinez wishes to argue and says a priest must know sin to understand it in order to rise to a state of grace.

Latour responds that the priests in his diocese will be celibate. Martinez scoffs and declares that he'll establish his own church if Latour challenges him. He threatens Latour that he will die an early death if he persists in enforcing the celibacy rule. Trinidad leaves, and Latour reproaches Martinez for loose talk. He also negatively criticizes the caliber of the young man. Martinez responds that Trinidad will be curate to his uncle and can be very devout when he wishes.

Latour dislikes the atmosphere of the house, with giggling women and the hedonistic snores of Martinez. When he rises to close Martinez's door to shut out his snoring, Latour discovers the hair of a woman discarded from a brush in the corner of the room, which disgusts him even more.

Latour sees another side of Martinez the next day when the latter conducts High Mass. The church is well-kept, and Martinez sings Mass beautifully. After Mass, Martinez takes the Bishop to see his land holdings. He warns Latour that all trouble in New Mexico begins in Taos, including the revolt of 1680, when all Europeans were killed or driven from the area.

Martinez was born under Taos mountain, in Abiquiu, a somber, solitary settlement. He grew up without learning how to read or write. He married, but his wife and child died. After marrying, he learned to read and, when widowed, he entered the priesthood and studied in Mexico. He became well-educated in the Latin and Spanish classics and the Church Fathers. He returned to Abiquiu and later became a priest. He hates Americans, who threaten his power and his way of life.

Latour leaves Taos and visits Kit Carson's home to thank Mrs. Carson for her kindness to Magdalena, and to report on her new happiness. Although Mrs. Carson is an uneducated Mexican housewife, she is genuine and the Bishop admires her. She explains that Trinidad is rumored to be the son of Martinez. A foolish young man, Trinidad tried to have himself crucified during Holy Week, but he was so heavy that his weight caused the cross to fall over. This humiliation was compounded when he asked to be whipped, but fainted before a hundred lashes could be administered. The whipping caused his back to become infected, forcing him to be bedridden for a long time. According to Mrs. Carson, the parish asked him to not return the following Holy Week.

When he returns to Santa Fe, Latour learns his vicarate has been raised officially to a diocese, and that his presence is requested in Rome. Vaillant tells Latour that Martinez's conduct is scandalous, and that the Mexican is rumored to have debauched a pious girl rescued from the Indians. The Bishop has heard the story, but he says Martinez is getting too old to repeat such acts, and there is no alternative strong priest to replace Martinez in Taos. He does not want to risk losing devout Catholics by punishing their priest.

It is decided that Vaillant will stay in Santa Fe while Latour visits Rome. The Bishop hopes to bring back some French priests to assist, and expresses his desire to keep Vaillant with him in Santa Fe.

Analysis

The Catholic Church is more than its traditions. The depiction of Martinez's charismatic presentation of High Mass notwithstanding, it is not observing the traditions alone that makes a Catholic devout. Despite the beauty of Martinez's voice in singing the Mass, it is his greed and hedonistic behavior by which Latour judges him negatively. The same is true of Trinidad; although it might be thought that the young man's theatrical displays of faith are to be admired, they are hollow and shallow acts used to draw attention to his actions, rather than actions used to glorify God.

Glossary

profligates immoral and shameless; dissolute individuals.

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