Death Comes for the Archbishop Additional Summary

Willa Cather


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In 1851, Father Jean Marie Latour reaches Santa Fé, where he is to become Vicar Apostolic of New Mexico. His journey from the shores of Lake Ontario is long and arduous. He loses his belongings in a shipwreck at Galveston and suffers painful injury in a wagon accident at San Antonio. When he arrives, accompanied by his good friend Father Joseph Vaillant, the Mexican priests refuse to recognize his authority. He has no choice but to ride hundreds of miles into Mexico to secure the necessary papers from the bishop of Durango.

On the road, he loses his way in an arid landscape of red hills and gaunt junipers. His thirst becomes a vertigo of mind and senses, and he can blot out his own agony only by repeating the cry of the Savior on the Cross. As he is about to give up all hope, he sees a tree growing in the shape of a cross. A short time later, he arrives in a Mexican settlement called Agua Secreta (hidden water). Stopping at the home of Benito, Father Latour first performs marriage ceremonies and then baptizes all the children.

At Durango, he receives the necessary documents and starts the long trip back to Santa Fé. Father Vaillant in the meantime wins over the inhabitants of Santa Fé and sets up the episcopal residence in an old adobe house. On the first morning after his return, Father Latour, now officially bishop, hears the unexpected sound of a bell ringing the Angelus. Father Vaillant tells him that he found the bell, bearing the date 1356, in the basement of old San Miguel Church.

On a missionary journey to Albuquerque in March, Father Vaillant acquires a handsome cream-colored mule as a gift and another just like it for Bishop Latour. These mules, Contento and Angelica, faithfully serve the men for many years. On another trip, as the two priests are riding together on their mules, they are caught in a sleet storm and stop at the rude shack of the American Buck Scales. His Mexican wife warns the travelers by gestures that their lives are in danger, so they ride on to Mora without spending the night. The next morning, the Mexican woman appears in town and tells them that her husband murdered and robbed four travelers and that he killed her three babies. As a result, Scales is brought to justice and his wife, Magdalena, is sent to the home of Kit Carson, the famous frontier scout. From that time on, Carson is a valuable friend of the two priests. Magdalena later becomes the housekeeper and manager for the kitchens of the Sisters of Loretto.

During his first year at Santa Fé, Bishop Latour is called to a meeting of the Plenary Council in Baltimore. On the return journey, he brings back with him five nuns sent to establish the school of Our Lady of Light. Attended by Jacinto, an American Indian who serves as his guide, Latour spends some time...

(The entire section is 1143 words.)


(Novels for Students)

Death Comes for the Archbishop opens in 1848 in Rome, where three cardinals and a missionary bishop from America...

(The entire section is 1301 words.)