Death Comes for the Archbishop

Death Comes for the Archbishop Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Feelings of alienation from European culture (motif)

Just as Bishop Ferrand, in the meeting with the cardinals in the prologue, "asked himself whether he had been on the frontier so long that he had quite lost his taste for the talk of clever men" (12), so does his former parish priest Father Latour, after spending such long and formative years in his New Mexico diocese, realize upon returning to his native France at the end of his tenure as bishop: "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" (276).

"The Cruciform Tree" (symbol)

In the very first scene of Chapter 1, Father Latour, wandering lost in the New Mexico desert on his way to his diocese, comes across a juniper growing in a shape like the cross. After such a long and arduous journey across the continent and while in the midst of such hardship, this apparition comes to him as a symbol of God's protection over him and as a familiar feature to guide him through an unknown land. Important too is that the bush looks to be growing healthily in the forbidding clime, which points towards Father Latour's eventual success in transplanting himself to the New Mexican natural and cultural environment.

The story of Father Junípero (allegory)

In his late years, Bishop Latour is fond of telling the French missionaries trains stories of miraculous things he has seen or heard about during his travels over New Mexico; these tales are meant at once to report particular facts about the places while also holding deeper, more general spiritual meaning. In one of these stories, Father Junípero, a missionary priest, seeks shelter with one infant child and a pet lamb, and, after spending the night, discovers that the family has disappeared. The townspeople he reports this to realize that this family must have been the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, who have helped a traveler. For Bishop Latour, this story demonstrates the presence of the holy even among the lowest and poorest of the Mexicans.

The Bishop's cathedral (symbol)

The cathedral that Bishop Latour hopes to build for his diocese in Santa Fe represents several things of great importance to him, including his spiritual leadership and establishment of the church in New Mexico, his memories of his native France and his religious training there, and his boon friend Father Vaillant. Whereas he never writes of his experiences more than in letters to France or tells of them other than in a fragmentary way to his priest companions, the cathedral stands as his most complete and solid project of leaving a legacy.

Auspice Maria (motif)

The motto "Auspice Maria" ("Under the protection of Mary") serves as a kind of metonym for Father Vaillant, who is especially devoted to Mary. After we hear about his attempt as a young priest in France to institute special devotions for the month of May (as the month of Mary), we hear him say "Auspice, Maria" as he leaves from Father Latour for Colorado; the phrase remains with Father Latour, who recalls it when travelling the old roads with Bernard Ducrot and when looking at Father Vaillant's signet ring after Father Vaillant has died.