It’s hard to believe that New Mexico’s largest city was once a tiny hamlet. Albuquerque was founded in 1706 with less than fifty families. Today, the population is over 550,000 and growing. With the surrounding communities of Rio Rancho, Bernalillo, and Las Lunas the population is more than 750,000. Because of its combined population, you only need to win Sandoval and Bernalillo counties if you’re running for state office. In the beginning Albuquerque’s first families lived, worshipped, married, raised families and died in the parish of San Felipe. But where are the cemeteries?
Following Spanish colonial tradition the dead were buried underneath the church. As the population increased a large cemetery was created around the church proper. By 1793 a new cemetery was created to accommodate the growing population. Within a few years the two cemeteries were filled to capacity. To solve the problem, a new cemetery was opened about two blocks north of the church, across from Mountain Road. That cemetery was in use until another new burial ground called Santa Barbara was created about three miles east of the San Felipe church.
The bodies that were buried near Santa Felipe church were exhumed. Their remains were carried in procession from the church to the new Santa Barbara cemetery. It was there that they were reburied without the benefit of plot markers or monuments. The remains of many were dumped into a mass grave without a proper or honorable burial. No death records, prior to 1870, have been found. Without this documentation thousands of people and their cemeteries have vanished for eternity.