New Mexico in Arizona

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by Jim Griffith
This is the fourth in a series of short photo essays on occupation and ethnicity as they are revealed in Arizona grave markers. This time, Jim brings us to northern Arizona and two cemeteries honoring the legacy of old New Mexican Hispanic families:

This month I’ll be focusing on two cemeteries in northeast Arizona: The St. Johns Catholic Cemetery and the Concho cemetery. Both these communities have sizeable populations from Hispanic northern New Mexico. Old New Mexican family names such as “Baca” and “Candelaria” appear in both communities.

All photos by Jim Griffith.

St. John's Catholic Cemetery

An overview of the St. Johns Catholic Cemetery, showing its informal layout, which is typical of Arizona’s small rural cemeteries. Folklorists Meg Glazer and Carol Edison stand in the right distance. The two larger markers to the left of center are of a style that seems unique to this community.


Miniature Chapel St Johns

An example of the “miniature chapel” style of grave marker. This one is relatively elaborate, with an arched slab (boveda) over the grave, a “book of life” with the occupant’s name, and metal arches that might have supported vines or ribbons. Inside the niche is what appears to be the head of the suffering Christ. The crucifix over the niche may have come from the coffin.


"Chapel" style markers

Two simpler “chapel” style markers. I did not make a full count of these miniature chapels, but there are quite a few in this cemetery. They seem to be a purely local fashion, as I have not seen similar ones in any other community.


Atocha cross

This cemetery also has a small number of carved sandstone markers, reminding one of the strong carving traditions of northern New Mexico. This is one of four crosses carved with the image of el Santo Niño de Atocha (the Holy Child of Atocha). Devotion to this particular manifestation of the Christ Child is particularly strong in the New Mexico village of Chimayó, where He has a famous shrine. The four crosses are similar and seem to have been carved by the same hand. Most if not all of the sandstone carvings in St. Johns date from the 1940s.


Sandstone slab

Sandstone slab with a cross, floral design, and bird figures. The image to the right of the cross appears to be a hummingbird in flight. The cross is further embellished with a heart.


Sandstone slab with rose

Sandstone slab with painted roses in relief.


Cross on wood slab

Although most cemeteries have simple wooden crosses, there are a few slightly more elaborate wooden markers here, reminding us of the wood carving traditions of northern New Mexico.


Turned cross in Concho

It is in the nearby village of Concho, which was also settled by New Mexicans, that woodworking seems to come into its own. Some local craftsman had a turning lathe and made good use of it. Although the tall crosses of Concho are slowly decaying, enough remained to give a special flavor to the Concho cemetery.


Tall cross, Concho

A tall turned cross at Concho. This seems the normal size for these crosses.


St. Johns Community Cemetery

The Catholic cemetery is not the only graveyard in St. Johns. There is also the St. Johns Community Cemetery, which serves the non-Catholic (predominantly Mormon) portion of the population. Here, many families have their plots grouped together, often set off from the other plots. This emphasis on family and order seems to reflect certain values in Mormon culture.


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