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Death Comes for the Archbishop

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  18,634 ratings  ·  1,461 reviews
In the mid-nineteenth century Father Latour, eventually to become archbishop of Santa Fe, went with his friend from seminary days, Father Vaillant, to win the Southwest for Catholicism. After nearly forth years of love and service, the archbishop died "of having lived."

This unaffected narrative of a human life is perhaps Willa Cather's masterpiece. She recounts history so
Paperback, 299 pages
Published 1971 by Vintage Books (first published January 1st 1927)
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Notes from a Small Island by Bill BrysonA Walk in the Woods by Bill BrysonO Pioneers! by Willa CatherThe Basque History of the World by Mark KurlanskySalt by Mark Kurlansky
Books by Authors with December Birthdays
24th out of 24 books — 3 voters
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeThe Bell Jar Publisher by Sylvia PlathThe Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. TolkienBrave New World by Aldous HuxleyAnne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
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53rd out of 132 books — 19 voters

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Community Reviews

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Ben Winch
Oh... my... God. This is beautiful. I'm only halfway through it but I don't care how it ends; every chapter is so complete in itself, every word such unmitigated pleasure that I would be stunned – absolutely floored – if Cather somehow fumbled the ball in the next 150 pages. This is it. The work of a writer with nothing to prove. A writer so humble, her words so transparent, that she seems to disappear behind the curtain of the text, her elegant shadow barely visible in its folds. At age twenty, ...more
Diane S.
Late 1800's and The Catholic Church sends two priests to reawaken the lessening faith in New Mexico and eventually other territories. Every chapter tackles a new story, a different priest, and the lives they are living in the different missions. Some had quite an opulent lifestyle, some had children and some had amassed a great deal of money. The descriptions of the landscape are masterfully done, and the distance between them that the Bishop had to travel was awe inspiring, especially on mule. ...more
Although I have read this book before, that was long enough ago that this was essentially like reading the book for the first time.

I believe this is the fifth of Cather's books that I have read (this both the first and the most recent) and confirms my appreciation for her skills in presenting the landscapes of the American West, the developing American way of life as it pushes west, and the varying and various peoples who lived on and from the land. Cather had mentioned the canyons of the Southw
Once before he had been carried out of the body thus to a place far away. He had turned a corner and come upon an old woman with a basket of yellow flowers; sprays of yellow sending out a honey-sweet perfume. Mimosa - but before he could think of the name he was overcome by a feeling of place, was dropped, cassock and all, into a garden in the south of France where he had been sent one winter in his childhood...
It's rare these days in reading that I'll come across a childhood thought or f
Jan 24, 2009 Terence rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Terence by: Michael Dirda & GR Friends Elizabeth & Stephanie
Michael Dirda has an essay in Classics for Pleasure on Willa Cather that focuses on this book. That and the gentle prodding of two GR Friends convinced me to give this author another chance. I had been "traumatized" in a high school English class reading My Antonia and had never quite recovered. I don't blame my teacher. I wasn't forced to read the book except insofar as he gave us a list of "great American literature" and told us to choose a book and write a paper on it. As the crusader knight ...more
Mar 16, 2010 Lobstergirl rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adults
Shelves: own, fiction
I'm glad I didn't know Kit Carson would be a character in Death Comes for the Archbishop; if I had, I might never have opened the book. Indeed, a weight of glumness descended on me as I realized the entire narrative would take place in New Mexico Territory, between the years 1851-1888. I foresaw dust, and tumbleweed clumps, unrestrainedly tumbling through bleak moonlike terrain. These things hold little allure for me; they're why I don't watch westerns. And it's true, the novel is filled with de ...more

1851. Central New Mexico. Catholic priests. Indians. Mexicans. The story of the Catholic Church in this new American territory. The friendship between two priests who leave their native, beloved France to become the church leaders in the new territory with the remote Santa Fe as their destination.

It feels good to open a book that was written in the 1800s. and listen to the voices of the people who populated that part of history . Their long-forgotten tales open brand new and fresh before our ver
Dhanaraj Rajan
The Verdict:

It is an excellent piece of literature. Instantly, it has become one of my personal favourites meaning it would be read by me for many more times in the future. In short, I will carry it with me as long as I have the ability and sanity to read and understand.

An Introduction:

This book is about two ‘pioneering French missionaries’ and their missions in New Mexico. The novel is based on the true life stories of Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, the first Archbishop of Santa Fe and his com
Jennifer (aka EM)
Beautiful, scenic - my fave bits were the descriptions of the SW landscape and the hints that Cather gives us of how hard that life was for the two RC missionaries who head out to save the souls there. But what it didn't give me - which is what I like in my priestly books - is an intimate view of either their struggle with their faith or their devotion to it when challenged.

Cather teased me with the stuff that I wanted to know much more about -- the relocation and slaughter of the Navajos and th
Death Comes For the Archbishop is a book that appears to be about almost nothing but is really about a lot.

The novel addresses the lives of two French missionary priests in the American southwest. They travel, establish churches, get a little older, part, meet, part again, and talk through the nuances of their faith and expanding roles in the Catholic church among Mexicans and Native Americans with wildly different perspectives of faith but respect for good men. I like how Cather avoids what can
Early in life, a young Frenchman knows he will become a Catholic priest. He meets another man in seminary, they become fast friends and go to Paris to prepare to establish the Catholic church in the New World. The two go initially to Ohio, but ten years later are called to build a diocese in the newly acquired territory of New Mexico. It is then when they both discover where they are supposed to be and what truly they are supposed to do in life. That early decision leads to places and relationsh ...more
Andrew Schirmer
Bach almost persuades me to be a Christian, Virginia Woolf quotes the painter and art critic Roger Fry, the subject of her tender biographical work, as saying. Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop nearly did the same for me in regards to the Roman Catholic Church--an organization so bilious, corrupted, and scandal-ridden these days it would take a miracle for them to make a proselyte out of me.

Indeed, Death Comes for the Archbishop is a sort of miracle. Nine short chapters of unclutter
Mike Puma
Death Comes for the Archbishop is a beautiful story, beautifully told. Suffused with the color of the desert Southwest, unusually (or surprisingly) respectful of the indigenous populations of New Mexico in the 1800s (both Native American and Mexican), and very Roman Catholic in its sympathies. In spite of its heavily religious themes and imagery, this is a very good story and well worth the reader’s time.

The book I finished just before starting this classic was Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not
Eddie Watkins
I have heard there is a tremendously moving death scene near - as would be expected - the end of this book. Though I am of the firm conviction that one should live until one dies I cannot apply this principle, by analogy, to my own reading of this book. I doubt very seriously I can finish it. I am nearly 200 pages in and I still have no idea who Father Latour is. He is little more than a cypher on mule back who only slightly intrigues. All I know of him is that he will eventually die. It is poss ...more
Essential reading for the New Mexico devotee. Cather's exquisitely rendered tale recounts the spiritual and moral concerns of the two central characters, a bishop and vicar, but it also paints a remarkable portrait of the New Mexican landscape and its people. There's an incredible stillness to her writing that isn't inert -- it's alive and almost luminescent. Some have likened her writing to the paintings of Georgia O'Keefe, and certainly there is a resemblance. Both women drew inspiration from ...more
Aug 12, 2008 booklady rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any Christian
My favorite by Cather; read this aloud when we did our family Grand Circle trip, especially the part in New Mexico. Such a gentle, quiet story. I know that my children were not touched by it as I am/was, but I'm still glad they know about it. It is a fictionalized account of the real life of the first archbishop of the western territory, a simple, saintly man who lived his faith without fuss or fanfare. The book is actually soothing to read, but I think it takes a certain maturity to fully appre ...more
I savored near every page of Cather's look at the nineteenth century Southwest through a fictional narrative of the lives of two missionary priests.

In Commonweal when asked about the genesis of her book Cather describes how learning of the life, times and friendship of two men of the early catholic church in the Southwest:
The first Archbishop of Santa Fe, Jean Baptiste Lamy and his friend and one time vicar, Joseph Projectus Machebeuf (1812-1889), the first Bishop of Denver who would later be r
80 pages in or so and now I feel the need to say a few words.

How does one write a western about missionaries in New Mexico? I think it's foolish to assume that the conventions of the western narrative would be applied in such a story. But if you were to mix some of the familiar tropes of the western (The purifier comes to settle the land and the wild lawless society, a narrative much like Shane... or High Planes Drifter) with a biblical theme, in this case the problem presented at the Pentecost
One of my favorite things about keeping track and reviewing the books I've read is that doing so pushes me to read things out of my comfort zone. It makes me want to tackle the classics. Much more often than I used to, I pick up a work of non-fiction - a genre I used to happily skip over. In other words, I'm much more aware of what I read and a lot more choosy.

Death Comes For The Archbishop is a book I chose because it is a classic. Willa Catha's name was mentioned somewhere, and I gritted my te
Jackie "the Librarian"
Mar 16, 2010 Jackie "the Librarian" rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: historical fiction readers
Jesuit priests come to New Mexico in the 1800's to proselytise and to build a cathedral in the desert landscape. No, it doesn't sound promising, does it? But to my happy surprise (reading this as a college freshman, and one who favored SF over historical fiction) I fell in love with the two Jesuit priests in this book, and their mules.

Not only that, the way Cather writes about the New Mexican landscape made me fall in love with the desert. Here, the land is one of the characters.

Just wonderful
Jun 30, 2014 Wanda rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wanda by: Melinda Silva Harris
26 JAN 2014 -- a great recommendation from Melinda. Many thanks, Melinda. This is right up my reading alley.

30 JUN 2014 -- review soon to arrive. For right now, this is reading bliss. A new favorite!

This is a beautifully written, evocative book. While reading Death Comes for the Archbishop, all I had to do was close my eyes and I could see the mesas, pueblos, and old mission-style churches in New Mexico. I have never been to New Mexico, but through this book, I have made a journey with Fathers
I have only one word to describe this writer - genius.

I read through the novel convinced that Willa Cather was a Catholic, and a particularly deep and perceptive one. I then looked her up on Wiki and discovered she had been born a Baptist and had become an Episcopalian in 1922. I could hardly believe it. Wiki also described her as 'a resolutely private person'. I could believe that - she had a breadth and penetration of mind that put her completely out of step with the prejudices of her time: he
Genia Lukin
I think that this book goes into the small but not-insignificant department of what I call "cute" books.

"Cute" books are books that don't necessarily carry a world-shattering message, are not always elevated to the point of rocking the reader's world, or revealing some life-changing messages. Cute books are books that are a pleasure to read, whose characters are genuinely personable, the descriptions are poetic, and the atmosphere as a whole is one of hidden pleasure, rather than of angst and w
“Death Comes for the Archbishop” is a historical novel about Jean-Baptiste Lamy, a French missionary in New Mexico in the second half of the 19th century. Willa Cather, who wrote extensively about pioneers of the American West from her home in Red Cloud, Nebraska, named the character modeled after Lamy, Jean Marie Latour. Although the book has a deeply Catholic theme, the reader might be surprised to learn that Cather herself was Episcopalian.

The Roman Catholic Church initially sends Latour from
As it happens some wonderful books have escaped our reading them. Years will go by, decades, meaningful as these books would have been at any time, they finally ignite for the first time in our minds. Death Comes for the Archbishop was written in the nineteen twenties, depicting characters and events in the latter half of previous century.The setting, except the prologue, is in New Mexico, a place I love and where I lived for five years (which is one reason I am dumbfounded by my not having read ...more
Reading this book feels like spending a whole winter afternoon curled up in a squishy chair reading poetry under a big window in the warmth of afternoon sun. It is slow paced (glacial by modern day standards) and meandering (though not lost or without purpose). The language is beautiful the way looking up to see a brilliantly colored sunset might make you suck in your breath. I'm not sure that anyone is better than Cather at capturing the reverence and beauty of the natural world in language.

The Chestertonian (Sarah G)
This was an odd book for me to really love because its main strength is not in unique characters, but in vivid scene painting. And plot? There really isn't one to speak of. But who needs plot when you can bring deserts and pueblos and caves and tamarisk trees to life the way Willa Cather can?

The story deals with two French Catholic missionary priests sent to an unknown diocese spreading out around Santa Fe, and with the Mexicans and Native Americans among whom they work. But interestingly, the m
Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather
November's Book Club Read

Just quotes:

"Where there is great love there are always miracles. One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a mom
Erin Mallon
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Compelling story and writing! Two Catholic missionaries, a bishop and his vicar, friends from seminary days. are sent to New Mexico of the 1880s to reawaken the moribund Catholicism of the Spaniards, Mexicans, and Indians living there. This novel consists of 10 sections tracing their lives in the mission field, from their arrival in that forbidding territory and their labors among the various classes of people. Then it ends with the deaths of the two men. Cather painted glowing descriptions of t ...more
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Wilella Sibert Cather was born in Back Creek Valley, Virgina (Gore) in December 7, 1873. Her novels on frontier life brought her to national recognition. In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her novel, One of Ours (1922), set during World War I. She grew up in Virginia and Nebraska. She then attended the University of Nebraska, initially planning to become a physician, but after writing ...more
More about Willa Cather...
My Ántonia O Pioneers! (Great Plains Trilogy, #1) The Song of the Lark One of Ours The Professor's House

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“Men travel faster now, but I do not know if they go to better things.” 74 likes
“The old man smiled. 'I shall not die of a cold, my son. I shall die of having lived.” 61 likes
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