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Death Comes for the Archbishop

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  29,646 ratings  ·  2,693 reviews
Willa Cather's best known novel is an epic--almost mythic--story of a single human life lived simply in the silence of the southwestern desert. In 1851 Father Jean Marie Latour comes to serve as the Apostolic Vicar to New Mexico. What he finds is a vast territory of red hills and tortuous arroyos, American by law but Mexican and Indian in custom and belief. In the almost f ...more
Paperback, Vintage Classics, 297 pages
Published June 16th 1990 by Vintage (first published 1927)
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LadyCalico I enjoyed reading the Wikipedia pages on Jean-Baptiste Lamy and Joseph Projectus Machebeuf, on whose lives this book was based. In reality Machebeuf (…moreI enjoyed reading the Wikipedia pages on Jean-Baptiste Lamy and Joseph Projectus Machebeuf, on whose lives this book was based. In reality Machebeuf (Vaillant) outlived Lamy by a year, and personally I didn't think he was all that ugly. It is worthwhile googling both St. Francis Cathedral of Santa Fe and Loretto Chapel, the other church Lamy had built, and click images to enjoy some beautiful photos and art.(less)

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Average rating 3.91  · 
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Ben Winch
Oct 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anglo, 5-stars, american
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
But in the Old World he found himself homesick for the New. It was a feeling he could not explain; a feeling that old age did not weigh so heavily upon a man in New Mexico as in the Puy-de Dome. ...In New Mexico he always awoke a young man; not until he rose and began to shave did he realize that he was growing older. His first consciousness was a sense of the light dry wind blowing in through the windows, with the fragrance of hot sun and sage-brush and sweet clover; a wind that made one's body ...more
Henry Avila
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two young French priests newly out of the seminary in France, where they first met, ( destined to become bishops of the Catholic Church, in the New World , one an Archbishop ) became close friends until death struck. Jean Marie Latour ( Jean -Baptiste Lamy the original Archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico ) and Joseph Vaillant ( Joseph Projectus Machebeuf, Denver, Colorado's, first bishop) recruited by the Irish born bishop from Cincinnati, Ohio, for missionary work in America where only a relativ ...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather
Death Comes for the Archbishop is a 1927 novel by American author Willa Cather. It concerns the attempts of a Catholic bishop and a priest to establish a diocese in New Mexico Territory.
The narrative is based on two historical figures, Jean-Baptiste Lamy and Joseph Projectus Machebeuf and rather than any one singular plot, is the stylized re-telling of their lives serving as Roman Catholic clergy in New Mexico. The narrative has frequent digressions,
Reading Road Trip 2020

Current location: New Mexico

Ah, he thought—the Image, the physical form of Love!

As I arrived at the last chapter of this book (also titled “Death Comes for the Archbishop”), I was struck with a melancholia worthy of a Brontë sister.

No spoiler alerts here. The title, after all, is Death Comes for the Archbishop. It was coming for him all along, just like it's coming for you and it's coming for me.

I had to take a mental break before I tackled the ending of this stunning litt
Jul 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is a real monument, we are not talking only of Faith, but of friendship, of love for people, for a land, that is the New Mexico. I read this book deliberately slowly, because in parallel I have turned to research the history of Old Mexico and the new Mexico... every historical event reported or references to precise geographical areas, was for me a real and historical discovery that Willa Cather makes us to know.
The story of these two priests, Father Latour and Father Valillant, who li
Jun 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
Highlight here is the incredible depiction of two missionaries who undertake the megaharsh task of converting the Navajos of New Mexico to Catholicism. It describes what happens when a new policy, or way of life, is instilled into people who are far away from the Old World. There are little vignettes of savagery, of holy manifestation (including a very succinct telling of San Diego and his visitation from the Virgin Mary), of hypocrites (of course!!!), etc. It is a vivid book, full of life & ima ...more
Jul 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My only previous experience of reading Cather was last year, when I enjoyed My Ántonia. This book is very different, but shares the same frontier spirit and once again allows Cather the space to indulge her descriptive talents.

This one is largely a factual story, although she changed the names of her leading characters. The Archbishop of the title Jean Latour can only be Jean-Baptiste Lamy, the first Bishop of New Mexico, and his vicar (and later Bishop in Colorado) Joseph Vaillant can only be
Aug 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: xx2017-completed
Coming to the end of this book was like a sad farewell to some very good friends. Father Joseph, Father Letour, their many friends and acquaintances who built solid and strong relationships with them over the years, and their country. Oh my. Their beautiful country.

Father Joseph and Father Letour, both originally from France, were sent to the land of New Mexico shortly after it had been annexed. They were young men whose mission was to bring spiritual counsel and comfort to the people of this Ne
Mar 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Diane S ☔
May 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
As an adolescent, I took this book off the library shelf (I was looking through the C’s after already having made my way through the A’s and B’s), read the inner flap, thought it sounded boring and didn’t read any Cather until about five years ago. It’s a good thing I reshelved the book then, as my younger self absolutely would’ve found this boring and maybe I would never have read any Cather after that. That would’ve been a pity. For some reason, though, I still remember the look and feel of th ...more
Diane Barnes
Jan 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
What can I say about this book? It was beautiful, it was peaceful, it was perfect. A book I will re-read periodically, when I need to leave the world behind.
There is no real plot other than the lives of two French priests who come to Santa Fe in 1850 to create a Catholic mission to serve the Indians and Mexicans. Father LaTour and Father Vaillant will be riding their mules in my head forever, spreading kindness.

Beautiful, peaceful, perfect.
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
Oct 12, 2020 rated it liked it
[2.9] A plotless, meandering novel with stunning descriptions of the New Mexican landscape in the mid 1800s. Cather punctuates her lavish verbal paintings with anecdotes about two well intentioned French priests who attempt to root out the corruption practiced by fellow clergy and civilize the "natives." Considered by many to be Cather's masterpiece, it is my least favorite novel of hers and I was mostly bored.
Willa Cather captures the atmosphere and beauty of the American Southwest. It is for this reason alone one should read this book.

It is a book of historical fiction about Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy (1814-1888), the first Archbishop of Santa Fe, and his vicar, Joseph Projectus Machebeuf (1815-1889), who would become the first Bishop of Denver. The missionaries were both from France and both Roman Catholic. Different in personality, yet they worked well together and came to have a deep affectio
Richard Derus
Nov 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Rating: 5* of five

This book is a survivor. Closing in on 90 years after its initial appearance, it's still on must-read lists. For a good reason: It's a neither-fish-not-fowl book. As a history, it's a good novel; as a novel, it's fascinating history. Enough fiction was larded onto the flesh of New Mexico's post-annexation history to make this a tasty roast.

Like a roast, it's served in slices, as the stories of Latour/Lamy's progress in creating the Archdiocese of New Mexico are too numerous to
Daniel Chaikin
Mar 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this in 2019 and wrote the first review below. Then just re-read it - see appended 2020 review at the end. I've increased the rating from 4 to 5 stars.

14. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
published: 1927
format: 300 page Vintage paperback from 1971
acquired: from my in-laws, who probably bought it in 1971
read: Feb 19-26, 2019
time reading: 6 hr 51 min, 1.4 min/page
rating: 4

My Listy review: My first Cather hits all sorts of uncomfortable spots - missionaries, superiority of the re
Jan 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  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
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
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
Cathrine ☯️
Aug 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: popsugar2020
Prose as lovely as a sunset over the Rio Grande Gorge telling an affecting story of two most admirable men and their lifelong friendship.
I can picture Georgia O'Keeffe reading this while taking a break from her studio work in Abiquiú.
Why have I waited so long to read Cather? What a treat.
Lynne King
Beautiful surroundings, the society of learned men, the charm of noble women, the graces of art, could not make up to him for the loss of those light-hearted mornings of the desert, for that wind that made one a boy again.

These are the thoughts of a man who is deciding upon whether to retire to live in the country of his birth, France, or remain in New Mexico.

This is the most perfect and exquisite book that I have ever read. I actually don’t know however why I purchased it in the first place. Th
Julie  Durnell
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was so amazing well written-Willa Cather is at her best here. Each chapter was more like a painting than just words on a page. Beautiful and evocative setting of the southwest. The relationship between Bishop Latour and Father Vaillant, beginning when they were young men headed to seminary, slowly evolves along with their faith in God (Catholicism is beside the point here) until death comes for them both. The Mexican peoples and native American tribes are wonderfully portrayed, one ach ...more
Aug 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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

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
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Read my review here, another edition:
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
Daniel Villines
Feb 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Death Comes for the Archbishop came to my attention while searching for what I would call a serious western. I wanted to find a western that treated life realistically and treated the environment of the old west with respect for the suffering that it inflicts upon those that enter its desolate landscapes. As it turns out, Death Comes for the Archbishop is a serious western.

The story captures the New Mexico territory at the time of its annex by the United States in the 1850s and follows the life
May 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
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Wilella Sibert Cather was born in Back Creek Valley (Gore), Virginia, in December 7, 1873.

She grew up in Virginia and Nebraska. She then attended the University of Nebraska, initially planning to become a physician, but after writing an article for the Nebraska State Journal, she became a regular contributor to this journal. Because of this, she changed her major and graduated with a bachelor's d

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