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Willa Cather: Death Comes for the Archbishop

This book may be said to be almost a hagiography of Bishop Lamy (called Bishop Latour in this book), the first bishop of New Mexico. We follow his career from his appointment as Vicar of New Mexico (including the discussion by the cardinals who appointed him) to his death, when he is, as the title makes clear, an archbishop. The portrait of him by Cather is entirely sympathetic. His well-known fight with and ultimate (but covert) excommunication of Padre Martínez of Taos is shown in a thoroughly one-sided light, though even Cather cannot hide the fact that most of the populace was on Martínez’ side.

Nevertheless, Cather tells a compelling story, whether you are Catholic or not or whether you are pro-Lamy or not. His close relationship with the tough Father Vailland, since the pair of them ran away to the seminary, his struggles in the difficult terrain of New Mexico and his love for the people of the area are all depicted with great feeling. Cather is clearly sympathetic to the pioneering spirit of Latour/Lamy and, as she shows in some of her other books, she feels that the West is what is because of men like this and is no longer what it was because the country no longer produces men of this calibre.

For more information on Father Lamy, read Paul Horgan’s biography, Lamy of Santa Fe.

Publishing history

First published 1927 by Alfred A. Knopf