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Spiritual Conquest of MexicoI. "We came for the glory of God and to get rich!" - Bernal Diaz
II. Early Missionaries
"Only men of a certain temperament are attracted to far lands.
Spirits which had chafed in the cloister and energies which under the restrictions of the Old World
could too easily sour into fretfulness found joyful fulfillment in the hardships artificially contrived in the Old World, but part of
the texture of the days of the New; the weary distances traveled, always on foot; the strange food and stranger diseases; the exhaustion of
the struggle to identify, in a flow of sound, the contours and intentions of human speech.
Those burdens became their glory." - Inga Clendinnen, Ambivalent Conquests, p. 49.
- A. Orders get the job because of dedication to Rule
- 1. Franciscans got job initially
- 2. First group numbered 12
- 3. Soon followed by 12 Dominicans
- 4. No more than 350 missionaries by 1550s
- B. What would motivate a young man to ship off to remote Mexico?
- 1. Enormously difficult
- 2. But burdens become glory
- C. Motivated by millenarian zeal
- 1. Missionaries believed they could be in the end of days
- 2. Massive death of the last people to receive the Word seen as sign of end times.
- 3. Spurred activism -- we're on a mission from God!
- D. Did important anthropological work
IV. Settler-missionary conflict
- A. Caciques compelled to convert
- 1. Sons sent to schools for training, conversion
- 2. Taught to despise the ways of their fathers
- 3. Went back to villages as schoolmasters to pass on new ways, belief
- 4. Not enough to be Catholic -- must also culturally convert to Spanish ways
- B. Initial efforts at conversion focused on outward rituals, not internal beliefs
- 1. Mass baptisms accompnied by giant story-telling images
- 2. Converts taught to sound out the syllables of prayers
- 3. Friars believed words and rituals opened a path to God
- 4. For that matter, Amerindians also believed that rituals opened spiritual doorways
- C. Friars made effort to knit practices of traditional agricultural cycles into Christian ritual
- 1. Not a new idea -- Christmas and Easter overlay earlier pagan celebrations
- 2. Also comes from the belief some friars had of a Apostle-period evangelization
- D. Conversion never complete
- 1. Polytheistic Amerindians did not see Christianity and old beliefs as inherently incompatible
- 2. Amerindians never fully converted
- 3. Old priesthood essentially annihilated
- 4. Thus a less sophisticated, popular, shamanistic version of old beliefs survived
- 5. In some cases, old beliefs associated with anti-Spanish revolts
- 6. This meant a lot of work for Inquisition
- 7. But Catholic priesthood also changed
- a. some turned a blind eye to what they could not stamp out, sometimes for bribes
- b. Others actually participated in mildly syncretic thoughts and rituals
- c. this made easier by the mixing of European and Amerindian superstition, magic
V. The Case of the Yucatan - 1562
- A. Missionaries saw themselves as protectors of the Amerindians
- 1. Many fought ferociously to relieve Indians of all Spanish demands
- 2. This results in constant conflicts
- 3. Many conflicts arose over saint's days
- 4. Most famously, Bartolome de las Casas spoke against exploitation by settlers
- B. Missionaries caught to separate Amerinidians from settler culture
- 1. Little enthusiasm for teaching Spanish
- 2. Settlers, Spanish language opened way to corruption from worldly culture
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- A. Chance discovery of idols by Franciscan friars
- 1. Led to investigations, including a great deal of torture
- 2. Investigations led to more discoveries
- 3. Missionaries faced with mounting evidence of widespread syncretism
- B. Response of Missionaries
- 1. Work in Yucatan overseen by Diego de Landa
- 2. Used savage, indiscriminate torture
- 3. 4500 Mayans tortured, of which 158 died.
- 4. 13 known suicides; many left crippled.
- 5. Friars used savage punishments - up to 200 lashes; years of forced labor.
- 6. All this against all Spanish law -- proper procedures not followed.
- 7. Spanish settlers shocked at cruelty and dismissal of legal niceties.
- C. Why?
- 1. Missionaries felt betrayed.
- 2. Shocked and horrified to learn how their teachings had been received and transformed
- 3. Rather than seeing Mayans as ill-taught, saw them as willingly deceitful.
- D. Mayan view
- 1. Missionaries failed to understand Mayan world view
- 2. Use of stones from temples to build Spanish cathedrals
- a. Seen by Maya as sign of continuity of cycles of katunes (7200 days, 19+ years)
- b. not as crushing power and permanence of Spanish and Christianity
- 3. Schools
- a. Spaniards saw it as a way of turning sons of caciques into Christians
- b. And against the traditions and beliefs of their fathers
- c. Mayan nobles saw it a means of continuing traditions
- 1) preserving their place as keepers of knowledge
- 2) and their place as intercessors with the gods
- 4. Maya followed Spanish lead and put up many crosses
- a. Missionaries saw it as a sign of Mayan piety
- b. Maya saw representations of Tree of Life, the Tree of Four Directions
- E. Result
- 1. As elsewhere, led to dissilusionment
- 2. Much of Church retreated to cities
- 3. Advent of reducciones and the wilderness missions
- 4. Specifically in Yucatan, contributes to enourmous gulf between Mayan and Spaniard.
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