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Father Juan de Padilla (1500–1542), born in Andalusia, was a Spanish Roman Catholic missionary who spent much of his life exploring North America with Francisco Vásquez de Coronado.[1]

Juan de Padilla
Bornc. 1490
Toledo, Spain
Kansas, Current U.S.A

Padilla and three other Franciscans, together with more than 300 Spanish soldiers and workers, accompanied Coronado on his quest for the Seven Cities of Gold, a mythical land of great wealth. When Coronado abandoned his search, Padilla and others followed him to explore what is now the Southwestern United States; Padilla was one of the first Europeans to see the Grand Canyon. But, when Coronado was told by a native named the "Turk" that a great land called Quivira was in modern-day Kansas, Coronado's entire party immediately left in search of it.

After reaching the location in 1541, the Spaniards camped alongside a Wichita village for 25 days. Finding no gold, they killed the Turk in fury. Coronado returned to the Southwest and Padilla followed. One year later, the missionary priest returned to Kansas to preach to the Wichita, and establish the first Christian mission in the present-day United States. He was killed in Kansas in 1542 by Native Americans, and is considered to be one of the first Christian martyrs in the U.S.[2]


Ghost phenomenon and legendEdit

Juan de Padilla is associated with a miracle known as the "Rising of the coffin of Padre Padilla".[3] The story of seeing his coffin rise above the ground was repeated for many years, and was believed by many people in Isleta, where the Padre is believed to be buried. This is not the same Juan de Padilla as the proto-martyr of the United States.

Incorrupt by the Catholic ChurchEdit

The first time when the coffin rose, the body was as fresh when he was buried. However, since there are no witnesses to prove this, and he has a missing foot now, it has since becoming New Mexico folklore.

Anton Docher, once a priest in Isleta, investigated the miracle in the presence of several witnesses. He opened the grave of Padre Padilla. During this operation, Docher injured his arm and suffered from the then highly deadly gangrene.[4] Doctors recommended amputation for his survival. The natives inhabitants evoked the intercession of Padre Padilla. Docher made a prayer to Padre Padilla to cure and forgive him for what he did, and supposedly, the wound had disappeared.[5] cf

In popular cultureEdit

On the 1976 Leftoverture album by the American rock group Kansas, the first movement of Magnum Opus is entitled "Father Padilla Meets the Perfect Gnat."


  1. ^ "Juan de Padilla". Catholic Encyclopedia.
  2. ^ Engelhardt, p. 14: "...[in] 1542, three Friars Minor were martyred in New Mexico as victims of their zeal for the Christian Faith. They were Fr. Juan de Padilla, Fr. Juan de la Cruz, and Brother Luis de Ubeda or Escalona.
  3. ^ Samuel Gance. Anton ou la trajectoire d'un père. L'Harmattan, 2013, p.179-186.
  4. ^ Ray John de Aragón. Hidden History of Spanish New Mexico, 2012, p.81
  5. ^ Alice Bullock. Living legends of the Santa Fe country, 1985, pp.85-86


  • Engelhardt, Zephyrin, O.F.M. (1908). The Missions and Missionaries of Kansas, Alaska, Volume One. The James H. Barry Co., San Francisco, CA.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Alice Bullock (1985). Living legends of the Santa Fe country. Sunstone Press.
  • Keleher, Julia M.; Chant, Elsie Ruth (2009). The Padre of Isleta: The Story of Father Anton Docher. Sunstone press Publishing. ISBN 978-0-86534-714-4.
  • De Aragon, Ray John (2012). Hidden History of Spanish New Mexico. The History Press. ISBN 978-0-86534-506-5.
  • Samuel Gance, Anton ou la trajectoire d'un père, L'Harmattan, Paris, 2013, 208 p. ISBN 978-2-336-29016-4