In the North Chapel of the beautiful cathedral of Santa Fe, stands a little statue (scarcely three feet tall) of Our Lady holding the Child Jesus. It was skillfully carved by loving hands in Spain. Mary is clad in a richly embroidered dress, topped by a jeweled crown. Her regal countenance wears a serene, detached expression that is strangely impressive. This is Our Lady of Conquest, or La Conquistadora.
The statue of Our Lady of Conquest came to the new world in the care of the Franciscan missionary Fray Alonso da Venevides. She was installed with great ceremony in a church in Santa Fe. Over the ensuing decades, as often happens, the men living in the region did not practice their religion as they should. Mary appeared in a vision to a young girl, warning her that the colony would be overrun due to the loss of reverence for priests and the Faith.
In the year 1680 the local Indians rose up and attacked the Spanish. Twenty-one priests were killed, and the colonists completely driven out of the region. The statue was rescued from the burning church and taken back to Mexico with the colonists who escaped the wrath of the Indians.
It was not until the year 1691 that Don Diego de Vargas was sent by the King of Spain to attempt the resettlement of the city of Santa Fe. Like so many Spanish heroes who had accomplished seemingly impossible deeds during their lifetimes, he was as fervent a Catholic as he was a capable knight. Don Diego de Vargas carried with him the statue of Our Lady as he re-entered New Mexico. Although he had only a small force, he was able to peacefully negotiate a peace with the various Indian nations. He attributed his success to “the Sovereign Queen, Most Blessed Mary.” He is said to have vowed to build a chapel for her and hold a yearly procession if she would grant him a speedy and blood-less victory over the Indian, which she did.
Upon reaching his goal, however, the Indians refused to allow the Spanish colonists to return to Santa Fe. The Spanish under Don Diego were few in number, and they were forced to fight a numerically superior force.
The colonists prayed the rosary before the statue of the Blessed Virgin as the men engaged the Indians in battle. The fighting lasted all day, and it was not until evening when they reclaimed the city. Once again, Mary was credited for the victory, and to show her sovereignty, Don Diego placed an officer’s baton in her hand.
The shrine symbolizes a spirit of deep-rooted Faith and devotion which characterized the “Conquistadores” of this land. There is still a great deal of devotion shown to Mary at the Cathedral of St Francis that includes processions, fiestas and other celebrations. The statue was formally crowned by Cardinal Francis Spellman and in 1960 received a Papal Coronation.