Death Comes For The Archbishop
By Willa Cather
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Death Comes For The Archbishop by Willa Cather ranked # 61 on The Modern Library's Top 100 Novels list as selected by its Board Members.
Death Comes for the Archbishop is a 1927 novel by Willa Cather.
It concerns the attempts of a Catholic bishop and a priest to establish a diocese in New Mexico Territory.
It is based on the careers of Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy and Father Joseph Machebeuf.
The primary character is Bishop Jean Marie Latour, who travels alone from Cincinnati to New Mexico to take charge of the newly established diocese of New Mexico, which has only just become a territory of the United States. He is later assisted by his childhood friend Father Joseph Vaillant. At the time of his departure, Cincinnati is the end of the railway line west, so Latour must travel by riverboat to the Gulf of Mexico, and thence overland to New Mexico, a journey which takes an entire year. He spends the rest of his life establishing the Roman Catholic church in New Mexico, where he dies in old age.
The novel is notable for its portrayal of two well-meaning and devout French priests who encounter a well-entrenched Spanish-Mexican clergy they are sent to supplant when the United States acquired New Mexico and the Vatican, in turn, remapped its dioceses. Several of these entrenched priests are depicted in classic manner as exempla of greed, avarice and gluttony, while others live simple, abstemious lives among the Indians. Cather portrays the Hopi and Arapaho sympathetically, and her characters express the near futility of overlaying their religion on a millennia-old Native culture. Cather's vivid landscape descriptions are also memorable.
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