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Some Observations on Mission Methods and Native Reactions in Sixteenth-Century New Spain

  • Stafford Poole (a1)

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The purpose of this article is to examine some aspects of the evangelization of New Spain in the sixteenth century and the natives’ responses to it. This is a subject of tortuous complexity and one that cannot be adequately treated in a brief essay. Rather, this will be an attempt to highlight some of the more important and interesting aspects of this phenomenon. In doing so I will use some of my own researches into the Virgin of Guadalupe of Mexico to illustrate it and to show some of the pitfalls inherent in the topic.

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1 The original version of this paper was given at the Conference on Latin American History in New York, 28 December 1990.

2 Ricard, Robert, The Spiritual Conquest of Mexico: An Essay on the Apostolate and the Evangelizing Methods of the Mendicant Orders in New Spain, 1523–1572, Simpson, Leslie Byrd, trans. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966).

3 Dibble, Charles E., “The Nahuatilization of Christianity,” in Sixteenth Century-Mexico: The Work of Sahagún, Edmonson, Munro S., ed. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1974) pp. 225–33.

4 Burkhart, Louise, The Slippery Earth: Nahua-Christian Moral Dialogue in Sixteenth-Century Mexico (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1989).

5 Lockhart, James, The Nahuas after the Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992).

6 Ricard, , Spiritual Conquest, p. 243.

7 Hvei Tlamahvicoltiça [sic] . . . Libro en Lengua Mexicana, que el Br. Luis Lasso de la Vega hizo imprimir en Mexico, el año de 1649 ahora traducido y anotado por el Lic. Velazquez, Don Primo Feliciano. Lleva un prólogo del Pbro. Don Jesus Garcia Gutierrez Secretario de la Academia (Mexico, 1926), p. 34.

8 For some examples of this and the problems involved, see Burkhart, , The Slippery Earth, pp. 49, 52–54.

9 de Sahagún, Bernardino, Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España, 4 vols., Garibay K., Angel María, ed. (Mexico City, 1981), chap. 3, esp. p. 352.

10 Commentator in Santoral en Mexicano, Biblioteca Nacional de México, ms. 1475. de León, Martín, Camino del cielo en lengva mexicana, con todos los requisitos necessarios para conseguir este fin, co[n] todo lo que vn Xpiano deue creer, saber, y obrar, desde el punto que tien vso de razón, hasta que muere. Co[m]puesto, por el P.F. Martin de Leo[n], de la Orde[n] de Predicadores (Mexico, 1611).

11 Torquemada, , Monarquía indiana, 3 vols. Introducción por Miguel León-Portilla (Mexico, 1969), chap. 2, esp. pp. 245–46.

12 Vaillant, George C., Aztecs of Mexico: Origin, Rise and Fall of the Aztec Nation, revised by Vaillant, Suzannah B. (Baltimore: Penguine, 1975), p. 185 ; Weckman, Luis, La Herencia medieval de México, 2 vols. (Mexico, 1984), chap. 1, esp. p. 240.

13 This refers to the assertion made in 1556 by the Franciscan Provincial, Francisco de Bustamante, that the picture was painted by a native artist, whom he identified as Marcos.

14 Robelo, Cecilio, Diccionario de Aztequismos (Mexico City, n.d.), p. 256 n.7.

15 Candelaria, Michael R., Popular Religion and Liberation: The Dilemma of Liberation Theology (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990), p. 8.

16 Burkhart, Louise, “The Cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico,” World Spirituality, vol. 4: South and Meso-American Native Spirituality, Gossen, Gary and León-Portilla, Miguel, eds. (forthcoming), pp. 1415 in manuscript. I wish to express my thanks to Professor Burkhart for allowing me to use this manuscript.

17 Ibid.

18 Información que mandó practicar con motivo de un sermon que en la fiesta de la Natividad de Nuestra Señora (8 de Septiembre de 1556) predico en la capilla de San José de los Naturales del Convento de San Francisco de Méjico, el Provincial Fray Franciso de Bustamante acerca de la devoción y culto de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (2nd ed.; Mexico, 1891), passim.

19 Sahagún, , Historia general, I, p. 46 ; Clavigero, , Historia antigua de Mexico, edición y prólogo del Mariano Cuevas, 4 vols. (Mexico City, 1958), II, p. 82. Soustelle refers to Centeotl as a male divinity. Soustelle, Jacques, The Daily Life of the Aztecs on the Eve of the Spanish Conquest, trans. O’Brian, Patrick (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1970), p. 104. Andrews and Hassing say that in classical times Tonantzin was identified with Centeotl, who was a male deity ( de Alarcón, Hernando Ruiz, Treatise on the Heathen Superstitions That Today Live Among the Indians Native to This New Spain, 1629, trans, and eds., Andrews, J. Richard and Hassing, Ross (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1975), pp. 240, 221.

20 Schendel, Gordon, Medicine in Mexico: From Aztec Herbs to Betatrons (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968), p. 28.

21 Burkhart, , The Slippery Earth, p. 154.

22 Ibid., p. 15.

23 Christian, William A. Jr., Apparitions in Late Medieval and Renaissance Spain (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981); idem, Local Religion in Sixteenth Century Spain (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981).

24 de Florencia, Francisco, SJ, La estrella del norte de Mexico aparecida al rayar el dia de la luz Evangelica en este Nuevo Mundo, en la cumbre del cerro de Tepeyacac, orilla del mar Tezcucano, à un Natural recien convertido; pintada tres dias despues milagrosamente en su tilma ò capa de lienzo delante del Obispo y de su familia, en su casa Obispal, para luz en la fé à los Indios; para rumbo cierto à los Españoles en las virtud, para serenidad de las tempestuosas inundancias de la Laguna. En la historia de la milagrosa imagen de nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Mexico Que se apareció en la manta de Juan Diego Compusola el Padre Francisco de Florencia de la extinguida Compáñia de Jesus … (Madrid, 1785), pp. 454–62.

25 For an intriguing survey of this question, see Sweeney, Ernest S., SJ, “The Nature and Power of Religion in Latin America: Some Aspects of Popular Beliefs and Practices,” Thought, 59:233 (June 1984), 149–63.

26 Imagen de la Virgen María, Madre de Dios de Guadalupe. Milagrosamente aparecida en la ciudad de Mexico. Celebrada en su historia, con la profecia del capitulo doce del Apocalipsis (Mexico, 1648). Reprinted in Beltrán, Lauro López, La primera historia guadalupana de México impresa (Mexico City, 1981); and in Testimonios históricos guadalupanos, de la Torre Villar, Ernesto and de Ande, Ramiro Navarro, eds. (Mexico, 1982), pp. 152281.

27 Florencia, , Estrella del norte, pp. 521–24.

28 Taylor, William B., “The Virgin of Guadalupe; An Inquiry into the Social History of Marian Devotion,” American Ethnologist (1986), 933.

29 Cartas de Indias. Publícalas por primera vez el Ministerio de Fomento (Madrid, 1877), p. 55.

30 Gibson, Charles, The Aztecs under Spanish Rule: A History of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico, 1519–1810 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1964), p. 11.

31 Memorial to the bishops of the Third Mexican Council (1585) in Llaguno, José A., SJ, La personalidad jurídica del indio y el III Concilio Provincial Mexicano (1585); Ensayo histórico-jurídico de los documentos originales. Biblioteca Porrua 27 (Mexico, 1963).

32 Poole, Stafford, “The Last Years of Archbishop Pedro Moya de Contreras, 1586–1591,” The Americas (July 1990), 3133; idem, Pedro Moya de Contreras: Catholic Reform and Royal Power in New Spain, 1571–1591 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), pp. 123–24.

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Some Observations on Mission Methods and Native Reactions in Sixteenth-Century New Spain

  • Stafford Poole (a1)

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