FREE Catholic Classes
The Republic of Mexico is situated at the extreme point of the North American continent, bounded on the north by the United States, on the east by the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, British Honduras, and Guatemala, and on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean. It comprises an area of 767,005 square miles, with a population of 13,604,000, of whom 2,062,000 are white or creoles, 7,380,000 half-breeds or mestizos, 4,082,000 Indians, and about 80,000 negroes. Among the whites there are approximately 60,000 foreigners, the greater number being North Americans, Central Americans, Spaniards, French, Italians, etc. The form of government is republican; its head is a president, who is elected every six years; the legislature consists of two bodies, senate and chamber of deputies; and there is a supreme court. The republic is composed of twenty-seven states, three territories, and a federal district. The territory of Quintana Roo, created in 1902, was a part of the State of Yucatán. The names of the states, with populations, area in square miles, capitals and number of people, are given in this table:
- State — Population — Area — Capital — Population
- Jalisco — 1,153,891 — 33,496 — Guadalajara — 101,208
- Guanajuato — 1,068,724 — 10,948 — Guanajuato — 63,263
- Puebla — 1,021,133 — 12,203 — Puebla — 93,521
- Vera Cruz — 983,030 — 29,283 — Jalapa — 20,388
- Oaxaca — 948,633 — 35,382 — Oaxaca — 35,049
- Mexico — 934,643 — 8,849 — Toluca — 25,904
- Michoacan — 930,033 — 22,656 — Morelia — 37,278
- Hidalgo — 605,051 — 8,575 — Pachuca — 37,487
- S. Luis Potosí — 575,432 — 24,000 — San Luis Potosí — 61,019
- Federal District — 541,516 — 579 — Mexico — 344,721
- Guerrero — 479,205 — 24,995 — Chilpancingo — 7,497
- Zacatecas — 462,150 — 24,457 — Zacatecas — 32,856
- Durango — 370,304 — 42,265 — Durango — 31,092
- Chiapas — 360,799 — 27,222 — Tuxtla Gutierrez — 10,982
- Nuevo Leon — 327,937 — 23,678 — Monterey — 62,266
- Chihuahua — 327,784 — 89,974 — Chihuahua — 30,405
- Yucatan — 314,087 — 17,204 — Mérida — 43,630
- Coahuila — 296,938 — 63,728 — Saltillo — 23,996
- Sinaloa — 296,701 — 27,552 — Culiacan — 10,380
- Querétaro — 232,389 — 4,492 — Querétaro — 33,152
- Sonora — 221,682 — 76,619 — Hermosillo — 10,613
- Tamaulipas — 218,948 — 31,758 — Cuidad Victoria — 10,086
- Tlaxcala — 172,315 — 1,594 — Tlaxcala — 2,715
- Morelos — 160,115 — 2,733 — Cuervavaca — 9,584
- Tabasco — 159,894 — 10,072 — San Juan Bautista — 10,543
- Ter. Of Tepic — 150,098 — 10,951 — Tepic — 15,488
- Aguascalientes — 102,416 — 2,964 — Aquascalientes — 35,052
- Campeche — 86,111 — 18,086 — Campeche — 17,109
- Colima — 65,115 — 2,172 — Colima — 20,692
- Ter. of Low. Cal. 47,624 — 58,328 — La Paz — 5,046
- Ter. Quintqna Roo 40,000 — 18,000 — Santa Cruz de Bravo — 1,500
The Cordillera of the Andes which crosses the narrow isthmus that unites the Americas, branches out into two ranges when it reaches the peak of Zempoaltepec over (10,000 feet), in the State of Oaxaca ; the eastern branch terminates at the Rio Bravo (or Rio Grande), in the state of Coahuila, and the western branch extends through the State of Chihuahua and Sonora and merges into the Rocky Mountain system in the United States . In the Mexican territory the two ranges are so closely united as to form almost a compact whole, occupying nearly all the region from ocean to ocean, forming the vast tablelands that extend from Oaxaca to Chihuahua and Coahuila, and leaving the narrow strip of land along the coast line. On the eastern coast the land slopes almost imperceptibly to the Gulf, whereas on the western the descent is sharp and abrupt. This accounts for the few good ports on the Gulf side, and the abundance of harbours and sheltered bays on the Pacific shore. The highest peaks of these vast mountain ranges are: Popocatepetl (17,800 feet), Citlaltepetl, or Peak of Orizaba (17,000 feet), Ixtacihuatl (16,100 feet). To this physical configuration of the land, the absence in Mexico of any water systems of importance, is to be attributed.
The principal rivers, none of which carries a great volume of water, are the Bravo, Pánuco, and Grijalva, emptying into the Gulf of Mexico, and the Mexcala, Santiago, Mayo, and Yaqui, emptying into the Pacific. Very few islands are to be found on the eastern coast of Mexico, quite unlike the Pacific shore, which along the coast of the peninsula of Lower California is dotted with small islands.
The four seasons of the year, common to most countries, are unknown in Mexico, owing to the entirely different climatic conditions. Common usage has divided the year into two distinct seasons, the rainy and the dry season, the former extending from May to October. During this entire time there are daily showers, which not infrequently are heavy downpours. The other six months are dry, not a drop of rain falling, at least on the tablelands. The climate of the coast regions is always very warm, while that of the tablelands is temperate. The phenomenon of frost in December and January on the tablelands of Mexico, Puebla, and Toluca, situated at an altitude of more than 6000 feet above the sea level, is due not so much to extremes of climate as to the rarity of the air causing a rapid condensation of the vapours.
Many of the native races which inhabited Mexico at the time of the Conquest are still in existence ; the principal ones are: the Mexicana, Aztaca, or Nahoa, in the States of Mexico, Morelos, Jalisco; the Tarasca, or Michoacana, in the State of Michoacan ; the Otomí in San Luis Potosí , in Guanajuato and Querétaro ; the Opata-Pima, in Sonora, Chihuahua, and Durango ; the Mexteco-Tzapoteca in Oaxaca ; the Mijea, or Zoque, in parts of Oaxaca, Vera Cruz , and Chiapas ; the Maya in Yucatán.
Among the less important races are the Huaxteca in the north of Vera Cruz and Southern Tamaulipas, the Totonaca in the centre of the State of Vera Cruz, the Matlalzinca in the State of Mexico, and the Guaycures and Laimones in Lower California.
Remarkable ruins, found in many parts of the republic, bear witness to the degree of civilization to which these nations had attained. Chief among these may be mentioned the ruins of Uxmal and Chichen-Itza in Yucatán (Maya nation), those of Palenque and Mitla in Oaxaca (Tzapotec nation), the baths of Netzahua-coyotl in Texcoco (Chichimeca-Nahoa nation), and the pyramids of Teotihuacan (Toltec nation).
FREE Catholic Classes Pick a class, you can learn anything
Railroads, 14,857 miles; telegraph lines, 40,640 miles. In 1907 the product of the mines amounted to $83,078,500, $42,723,500 of this being gold, $19,048,000 silver, and $12,400,000 copper. In 1908 $12,001,000, $8,300,000 gold and $3,701,800 silver, was minted. The principal products besides minerals are corn, cotton, agave plant (henequen), wheat, sugar, coffee, cabinet woods, tobacco, petroleum, etc.
HISTORY Pre-Cortés Period
The chronology and historical documents of the Aztecs give us a more or less clear account of their history for eight centuries prior to the conquest, but these refer only to their own history and that of the tribes living in close proximity to them, little or nothing being said of the origin of the Otomies, Olenques, Cuitlatecos, and Michoacanos.
According to Clavijero the Toltecs came to Mexico about A.D. 648, the Chichimecs in 1170, and the Aztecs in 1196. That their ancestors came from other lands, is asserted by all these tribes in their traditions, and the north is generally the direction from which they claim to have come. It seems probable that these first immigrants to Mexico came from Asia, either by way of Behring Strait, or across the Pacific Ocean. The theory that these people had some close connextion with the Egyptians and other peoples of Asia and Africa has some substantiating evidence in the ruins still extant, the pyramids, the exact and complicated method of computing time, the hieroglyphics, and the costumes (almost identical with those of the ancient Egyptians ), seen in the mural paintings in the ruins of Chichen-Itza. It seems that the Otomies were one of the oldest nations of Anahuac, and the Itzaes of Yucatán. These were followed by the Mayas in Yucatán, and in Anahuac the Toltecs, the Chichimicas, and Nahoas, with their seven tribes, the Xochimilcas, Chalcas, Tecpanecs, Acolhuas, Tlahuicas, Tlaxcaltecs, and Aztecs.
The last-named founded the city of Tenochtitlan, or Mexitli, in 1325, and gradually, overpowering the other tribes, extended their empire north as far as the Kingdom of Michoacan, and the domain of the savage Otomies, east to the Gulf, west to the Pacific, and south to Nicaragua. This was the extent of the Aztec empire at the time of the Spanish invasion in 1519.Language and religion
Nahuatl, or Aztec, somewhat modified in the region of the central tableland, was the official language of the empire, but many other dialects were in use in other sections. The principal ones were: Tarascan in Michoacan, Mayan in Uycatan, Otomian in the northern limits of the empire, Mixteco-Tzapotecan and Chontal in Oaxaca, and Chiapanecan and Tzendal in Chiapus and Tabasco.
The religion of all these nations was a monstrous polytheism. Human sacrifice was a feature of the worship of nearly all the tribes, but in none did it assume the gigantic proportions that it did among the Aztecs in their great teocalli, or temple, at the capital. Father Motolinia in his letter of 2 January, 1553, to the Emperor Charles V, speaking of the human sacrifices with which the Emperor Ahuitzotl (1486-1502) celebrated the opening of the great temple in Mexico, says: "In
a sacrificial service lasting three or four days 80,400 men were sacrificed. They were brought through four streets walking single file until they reached the idols." Father Durán, speaking of this same sacrifice and of the great number of victims, adds: "Which to me seemed so incredible, that, if history and the fact that I found it recorded in many places outside of history, both in writing and pictorially represented, did not compel me to believe it, I should not dare to assert it". The Vatican and Tellerian manuscripts give the number of victims as 20,000; this number seems more probable.
Upon this occasion victims were simultaneously sacrificed in fourteen principal temples of the city. In the great teocalli, there were four groups of sacrifices, and the same was probably the case in other places; the time for the sacrifices was from sunrise to sunset, about thirteen hours, each victim required about five minutes, so that computing by this standard the number of victims might easily reach the above-mentioned number. Father Mendieta, as well as Father Motolinia and other authorities, agree in affirming that the number of victims annually sacrificed to Huitzilopozotli and other Aztec deities reached the number of 15,000 to 20,000. To the student of Aztec history this will not appear unlikely, for they kept up a continuous warfare with their neighbors, not so much to extend their empire as for the avowed purpose of securing victims for the sacrifices. In battle their idea was not so much to kill as to take their enemies prisoners. To this, in very great measure, the Kingdom of Michoacan and the Republic of Tlaxcala, situated in the very heart of the Aztec empire, only a few miles from the capital, owed their dependence, and the Spaniards many of their victories. Hernán Cortés may for this reason have escaped death at the hands of the Indians in the numerous battles of the siege of the capital.
Notwithstanding the hideous form of worship and the bloody sacrifices, the peoples of ancient Mexico preserved a series of traditions which may be classified as Biblical and Christian ; the Biblical traditions are undoubtedly the remnants of the religious beliefs of the first races who migrated to these shores; the probable origin of the Christian traditions will be explained later.Biblical Traditions
The Aztecs gave the name of Teotl to a supreme, invisible, eternal being, whom they never attempted to portray in visible form, and whom they called Tolque-Nahuaque, Creator of all things, Ipalneomani, He by whom we live. The Mayas called the same supreme being, Hunab-ku, and neither does this tribe seem to have ever attempted to give form and personality to their deity. The Michoacans adored Tucupacha, one god and creator of all things.
Among the Aztecs the idea of the creation had been preserved. They believed that Tloque-Nahuaque had created a man and a woman in a delightful garden; the woman was called Cihuacohuatl, the snake woman.
Among the Michoacans we find traditions of the Deluge. Tezpi, to escape from drowning in a terrible deluge that occurred, embarked in a boat shaped like a box, with his wife and children, many species of animals, and provisions of grain and seeds. When the rain had abated, and the flood subsided, he liberated a bird called an aura, a water bird, which did not return. The others were released, and all but the humming bird failed to return.
The illustration on the following page of an Aztec hieroglyphic taken from the Vatican manuscript represents the Deluge as conceived by the Aztecs. The symbol Calli is seen in the water, a house with the head and hand of a woman projecting to signify the submersion of all dwellings and their inhabitants. The two fish swimming in the water signify, besides the fact that they were saved, that all men were transformed into Tlacamichin, fish-people, according to the Aztec tradition. In the midst of the waters floats a hollow wooden canoe, Acalli, occupied by a man and a woman, the only privileged pair to escape the disaster. The goddess Chalchiuhtlique, as though descending from the heavens in a flash of lightning, surrounded by her symbols of rain and water, presides over the scene. The date of the Deluge is marked at the right with the sign Matlactliatl of themonth Atemoztli (3 January); the duration of the flood is marked by the sign to the left. Each major circle finished with a feathered end, equals 400, and each minor circle indicates a unit, so that together they equal 4008 years.
(4) Tower of Babel
In the commentary on the Vatican manuscript mention is made of the epoch after Atonatiuh, that is the Deluge, when giants inhabited the earth, and of the giant Xelhua, who, after the waters had subsided, went to Cholollan, where he began to build the great pyramid out of Hugh bricks of sun-baked clay (adobes), made in Tlalmanalco at the base of the Cocotl muntain, and conveyed to the site of the pyramids by hand. A line of men extended from place to place, and the bricks were passed from hand to hand. The gods, seeing that the pyramid threatened to touch the sky, were displeased and rained down fire from the heavens, destroying many and dispersing the rest.
(5) Confusion of Tongues
Teocipactli and Yochiquetzal, the man and woman who were saved from the flood, according to the Aztec tradition, landed on the mountain of Colhuacan. They had many children, but they were all dumb until a dove from the branches of a tree taught them to speak. Their tongues, however, were so diverse that they could not understand one another.
In the history of the nations of ancient Mexico the coming of Quetzalcoatl marks a distinct era. He was said to have come from the Province of Pánuco, a white man, of great stature, broad brow, large eyes, long black hair, rounded beard, and dressed in a tunic covered with black and red crosses. Chaste, intelligent, and just, a lover of peace, versed in the sciences and arts, he preached by his example and doctrine a new religion which inculcated fasting and penance, love and reverence for the Divinity, practise of virtue, and hatred of vice. He predicted that in the course of time white men with beards, like himself, would come from the East, would take possession of their country, overthrow their idols, and establish a new religion. Expelled from Tollan, he sought refuge in Cholollan, but, being pursued even here by the Tollans, he passed on to Yucatán, where, under the name of Kukulcan, he repeated the predictions he had made in Anahuac, introduced the veneration of the Cross, and preached Christian doctrine. Later he set sail from the Gulf of Mexico, going towards the east, to his own land, as he himself said. The opinion of ancient writers that this person was the Apostle Saint Thomas is now universally rejected, and the most probable explanation of the identity of Quetzalcoatl is that he was an Icelandic or Norse priest of the tenth of eleventh century, who, on one of their bold voyages of adventure, accidentally discovered this new land or, shipwrecked in the Gulf, drifted to the coast of Pánuco.
Christian traditions, above all that of the veneration of the Cross, date in Anahuac and Yucatán from the coming of Quetzalcoatl. In Yucatán the followers of Francisco Hernández de Córdoba found crosses which were the object of adoration. With regard to the Cross of Cozumel, the Indians said that a man more resplendent that the sun had died upon it. The Mayas preserved a rite suggestive of baptism and confession, and among the Totonacos an imitation of communion was practised, the bread which was called Toyolliaitlacual, i.e., food of our souls. Crosses were also found in Querétaro, Tepic, Tianguistepec, and Metztitlan.
No better authority can be cited, in connexion with the famous Cross of Palenque, which is herewith reproduced than the learned archeologist, Orozco y Berra. He says: "the civilization indicated by the ruins of Palenque and of Yucatán, differs in every respect, language, writing, architecture, dress, customs, habits, and theogony, from that of the Aztecs. If there are some points of resemblance they can be traced to the epoch of Kukulcan, when there was some intercourse between the two nations. There is also historical proof that the Cross of Palenque is of much more ancient origin than that of the Toltecs. From this it may be inferred that the Cross of Palenque does not owe its origin to the same source as the crosses of Mexico and Cozumel that is, to the coming of Kukulcan, or Quetzalcoatl, and consequently has no Christian significance such as those had. It seems to be of Buddhistic origin." Among the Tzapotecs and Mijes of the State of Oaxaca there is also a very distinct tradition about Pecocha, who came from the West, landing in Huatulco about the sixth century. He is said to have planted a cross there, and to have taught the Indians the veneration they should have for this symbol. This cross is still preserved in the cathedral of Oaxaca, the claims for its authenticity resting on the most thoroughly respectable tradition, and upon documents that have legal as well as canonical weight.
It may not be out of place here to make some mention of the songs and prophecies which existed among the Indians before the coming of the Spaniards. Quetzalcoatl had predicted the coming of a strange race, and when the Spaniards landed the natives received them as the long expected messengers whose coming had been predicted to them. In Yucatán, long before the coming of the Spaniards, the poet Patzin-Yaxun-Chan had thus addressed the people: "O Itzalanos! hate your gods, forget them for they are finite, adore the God of truth , who is omnipotent, and the creator of all things" The high priest of Tixca-cayon, Cauch, said: "There shall come the sign of a god who dwells on high, and the cross which illumined the world shall be made manifest; the worship of false gods shall cease. Your father comes, O Itzalanos! your brother comes, O Itzalanos! receive your bearded guests from the East, who come to bring the sign of God. God it is who comes to us, meek and holy."
(1) Conquerors and Conquered
When the capture of Cuahutemotzin, 13 August, 1521, the Aztec empire came to an end, and with it Nahoa civilization, if such may be called the attainments of a nation which, although preserving in some of the branches of human knowledge remnants of an ancient culture, lacked nevertheless many of the essentials of civilization, practised human sacrifice, polygamy, and slavery, and kept up an incessant warfare with their neighbours for the avowed purpose of providing victims to be sacrificed in a fruitless endeavour to satiate the thirst for blood of their false gods. Most historians attribute the victories of the Spanish conquerors to the firearms they carried, the horses they rode, the horse being entirely unknown to the Indians, the steel armour they wore, and the help of the Indian allies.
No doubt all these contributed in a measure, but not as much as is represented. Of the 500 or 600 men that composed the first expedition, only thirteen carried firearms, and these were heavy cumbersome pieces, hard to manage as were all the firearms of that time. The artillery train was primitive, and its capacity limited, and always accompanied the main column. The detachments which were sent out to subjugate or pacify the villages, and which had sharp encounters, could not hamper their movements in this way. The horsemen were but sixteen in all, and after their first astonishment, not unmixed with awe, the natives soon learned that they could be felled by a single blow. Except officers, few of the Spaniards wore armour, the majority had quilted cotton suits, and for arms the sword and buckler; the horsemen were armed with lances.
As to weapons, the Indians were quite as well provided as the Spaniards ; thick wooden helmets covered with leather protected the head, and all carried the chimalli , a strong shield large enough to almost cover the entire breast. The allies no doubt helped, but in the stubbornly fought battles with the Tlaxcaltecs, the Spaniards won singlehanded; their Indian allies in the very heat of battle thinking more of pillage than fighting, during the siege, when the Spanish cause seemed doomed, the allies forsook them. When later they returned they were such a hindrance on the narrow causeways, that in order to fight freely, the Spaniards were obliged to send them to the rear. The Spanish victories were due more to the mode of Indian warfare and in some cases, as in that of Otumba, to Cortés's indomitable courage and strategy. As has already been said, the Indians did not fight to conquer but to take their enemies prisoners, and the battles after the first assault became a series of confused hand-to-hand fights without order or harmony on the part of the Indians, whereas the Spaniards preserved their unity and fought under the direction of their leader. Valour was not wanting on either side, but the Indians yielded to the temptation of an easy fight, while the Spaniards fought with the courage of desperation; knowing well that the sacrificial stone was the fate that awaited the prisoner, with them it was to conquer or to die.
Historians have been so carried away with the military exploits of Cortés that the men who fought with him, sharing all his dangers, have been overlooked. Greed for gold was not the sole dominant motive of their actions, as has been so persistently asserted; it was a strange mixture of indomitable courage, harshness, tireless energy, cupidity, licentiousness, Spanish loyalty, and religious spirit. Some of those who had fought most valiantly and who received their share of the spoils, judging their gains ill gotten, laid aside their worldly possessions acquired at such a high price, and embraced the religious life . Later they emerged from the cloister transformed into missionaries, full of zeal and bringing to the arduous task of evangelizing the Indians, the same valour, disregard of fatigue, and untiring energy they had previously displayed in the army of discovery and conquest.
With the fall of the great Tenochtitlan, the first period may be said to close. This was followed by many expeditions of discovery and conquest, ending for the most part in the founding of colonies. Alvarado penetrated as far as Guatemala ; Cristóbal de Olid reached Honduras, Montejo, father and son, accomplished the conquest of Yucatán ; Cortés went as far as Lower California. Nuñode Guzmán, the conqueror of Michoaican (or Tarasco Kingdom) and the founder of the city of Guadalajara, whose career might have been so distinguished for glory, allowed his cruel, avaricious disposition to overrule all his actions. Fleeing from Mexico to avoid the storm that his evil deeds had brought upon him, he encountered Tangoaxan II, alias Caltzontzin, the King of Michoacan ; he seized him, plundered his train, tortured and finally put him to death. Pursuing his way he left a trail of ashed and blood through the whole Tarasco Kingdom. The saintly Vasco de Quiroga, first Bishop of Michoacan, with difficulty effaced the traces of this bloody march. Nuño penetrated beyond Sinaloa, suppressing with an iron hand the discontent in his mixed troop. Retracing his steps, he founded the city of Guadalajara. At enmity with Cortès, unrecognized by the Audiencia and the viceroy, cursed by his victims, he returned to Mexico, to be seized, imprisoned, and transported to Spain, where he died in poverty and want. Nuño was succeeded by the mild, winning Cristóbal de Oñate. By the close of the sixteenth century the conquest from Guatamala to New Mexico had been practially accomplished.
In New Spain, no Sayri Tupac nor Tupac Amaru ever arose to attempt to overthrow the Spaniards, as in Peru. The Indians conquered by Cortés and the commanders who followed him remained submissive. There were occasional uprisings among the Northern Indians, but never serious enough to affect the peace of the colony in general. Neither had the Government to contend with any disloyalty among its own subjects; the Spaniards of New Spain never belied the proverbial Spanish loyalty. The king received from the hands of Cortés and those who continued his work a vast empire almost free of expense to the royal exchequer. All that was required seemed to be to take possession of the new territories added to the Crown; but the situation was not without its difficulties. For the conquest a military commander had been sufficient; the new empire would require a Government. In the methods employed to organize this new empire, Spain has frequently been charged with cruelty; that there was cruelty, and at time extreme cruelty, cannot be denied. The execution of Cuahutemotzin and the horrible death of Tangoaxan II will ever disgrace the memory of Cortés and Nuño de Guzmán. The slavery to which the Indians were reduced during the early years of the conquest, their distribution among the plantations, the contemptuous disregard of the conquerors for the lives of Indians, looking upon them at first as irrational beings, are blots which can hardly be effaced from the history of the Spanish conquest in America. But the impartial historian may well call attention to certain facts and thus enable the reader, viewing the question from every aspect, to form a correct historical opinion.
Neither the home Government nor the Spanish nation was ever an accomplice in these deeds of cruelty of the Spaniards in New Spain. Spain, it is true, rewarded the conquerors of Mexico just as nations today honour the victorious generals who have left in their wake devastated lands and battlefields strewn with the dead. These expeditions of conquest were the natural outcome of circumstances; they were carried out under royal command, and were no more piratical expeditions then than they would be now. Spain did not fail to demand a strict account from all who, after the submission of the people, exceeded the limits of their authority, and she used every measure within her reach, though not always successfully, to obtain fair treatment for the conquered Indians. Innumerable royal decrees and laws enjoining just and equitable treatment for the Indians, were issued to the viceroys and governors of America. Through the aid of the missionaries, the Spanish Government obtained from Paul III (17 June, 1537), the Bull which gave to the Indians equal rights with the white man, and proclaimed them capable of receiving the Christian faith and its sacraments, thus destroying the pernicious opinion that they were irrational beings. Severe laws were promulgated against those who should attempt to enslave the Indians, and the Government ordered that slaves should be brought from Africa (as was the custom of the period), rather than that Spanish subjects should become slaves.
With regard to encomiendas (a system of patents involving virtual enslavement of the Indians) no one who has read the life of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas can be ignorant of the ernest effort made by the Government to do away with them, but, as this was impossible, and as the attempt was creating disorder (see MOTOLINIA), the Government tried by every means to alleviate the condition of the Indians, and to save them as much as possible from harsh treatment by their masters. If the excesses of some of the conquerors stand out in such bold relief, it is because of the unceasing protests of the many Spaniards who were not their partisans. The most vehement accusers of the Spaniards base their assertions on the writings of Spaniards themselves, particularly those of the fiery Las Casas , to whom the Government appears to have allowed free speech. The missionaries were equally vehement, often making unreasonable demands, and showing themselves more bitter towards their own countrymen than a stranger would have been. Even Philip II suffered in silence this torrent of complaint and abuse of his Government, and tolerated charges which, in similar circumstances, in the realm of the haughty Elizabeth would have been dearly paid by thos complaining. A laudable sentiment of fairness and compassion towards the vanquished race inspired these writings, and their very nature and purpose precluded all mention of any deeds of kindness and humanity. The gruesome picture that has resulted from this makes it appear that in the army of conquerors and colonizers there was not a single one who was a Christian and a man. In their zeal for justice the Spaniards have really cast dishonour on their country, and this must ever redound to their glory.
In the ranks of the Spaniards there were several priests, but little could be done during the first stormy period. When the conquest had been effected, and order restored, the Franciscans were the first to offer themselves for the work. Three Flemish Franciscans, among them the famous lay brother Peter of Ghent (Pedro de Gante), kinsman of the Emperor Charles V, had preceeded the first twelve Franciscans who formally took possession of the missions in 1524. Upon the arrival of the latter, they joined their ranks, and the superior, Fray Martín de Valencia, appointed them to various places near the City of Mexico, where they began at once, as best they could, to teach and preach. At first, especially among the adults, little could be accomplished, as they did not know the language, so they turned their attention to the children. There their zeal was rewarded with more success, the children being more docile and less imbued with the effects of idolatrous worship. By degrees they gained ground, and before long adults were asking for baptism, the number increasing daily until within a few years the greater portion of the inhabitants of the newly conquered territory had received baptism. The apparition, in 1531, of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the Indian Juan Diego had a powerful effect, the increase in conversions being very noticeable after that time.
The fact that they had found the territory conquered, and the inhabitants pacified and submissive, had greatly aided the missionaries; they could, moreover, count on the support of the Government, and the new converts on its favour and protection. It must, however, be borne in mind that there was no coercion; the Indians did not see in baptism an ægis that would protect them from cruelty and persecution, otherwise they surely would have hastened to be baptized in those early years when the unsettled state of the government exposed them to greater oppression and outrage. The motive must be sought deeper. The Aztec religion, with its human sacrifices, draining constantly the life of the mass of the people, must surely have inclined them to a religion which freed them from such a yoke. Moreover, their religion, though recognizing the immortality of the soul, assigned future happiness, not according to the merits, but according to the worldly condition, of the individual, his profession, and the fortuitous manner of death. This contrasted strongly with the Christian dogma of the immortality of the soul and the power of all, however lowly, to acquire by their merits the right to possess it.
Some have questioned whether or not the lives of the missionaries were a contributing influence in the conversion of the Indians. It is true that the ancient Aztec priests practised severe penances and austerities, but their harshness, haughtiness, and aloofness from the poor formed a sharp contrast with the conduct of the missionaries, who, on the contrary, sought, sheltered, taught, and defended them. The fact that the haughty conquerors, whom the Indians so much admired, showed the missionaries so much outward deference and respect, even kneeling at theirfeet, raised them at once to a higher level.
One of the most eminent Franciscans of this mission, Fr. Sahagún, charges the first missionaries with a lack of worldly sagacity ( prudencia serpentina ), and says that they did not see that the Indians were deceiving them, to all appearances embracing the Faith, yet holding in secret to their idolatrous practices. This accusation in a measure attacks the memory of these first holy missionaries, and it seems almost outside the range of possibilities that such a multitude could have been in accord to deceive them. The examples of virtuous lives led by several of the caciques (Indian chiefs), prominent personages, and by many of the poor plebeians, the sincere and upright manner in which they received and carried out the severe condition of abandoning their polygamous practices, bear witness to the fact that not all these conversions were feigned. Of course, it does not follow from this that every Indian without exception who embraced Christianity, did so in all sincerity. Doubtless there were not many among them who attained a perfect understanding of the new dogmas, but nearly all preferred the new religion because of the evident advantages it possessed over the ancient doctrines and worship. Their knowledge may not have extended to judging the fixed limits between what was allowed and what was forbidden, but this does not justify the statement that the conversion of the Indians was not sincere. The most notable apostasies occurred at the end of the sixteenth century, when Cosijopii, formerly King of Tehuantepec, was surprised, surrounded by his ancient courtiers and a great number of people, taking part in an idolatrous ceremony, and in the seventeenth century, when the priests of the Province of Oaxaca heard that great numbers of Indians congregated secretly at night to worship their idols. But this occurred when the influence of the missionaries over the Indians had greatly diminished, whether owing to the abandonment of some of the parishes, to disputes with the secular clergy, or because to some extent religious discipline had been relaxed.
In this connexion it may not be without interest to note the particular bias which the religion of the Indians assumed in some respects. Thus, for example, the Christianity of the Indian is essentially sad and sombre. This has been attributed to the occasion on which Christianity was introduced among them, to racial traits, to the impression indelibly imprinted upon them by their ancient rites, and to the fact that the Indian sees in the crucifix the actual evidences of insult and abuse, of suffering and dejection. The crucifixes in the Indian churches are repulsive, and only in rare instances have the priests succeeded in improving or changing the images.
Devotion to some particular saint, above all to the Apostle St. James, may also be noted. Their ancient polytheism had taught them that the favour of each god who possessed special perogatives was to be sought, which explains the many and varied propitiatory sacrifices of their religion, and the new converts probably did not at first understand the relative position of the saints, nor the distinction between the adoration due to God and the reverence due to the saints. Hearing the Spaniards speak constantly of the Apostle St. James, they became convinced that he was some sort of divine protector of the conquerors, to be justly feared by their enemies, and that it was therefore necessary to gain his favour. Hence the great devotion that the Indians had for St. James, the numerous churches dedicated to him, and the statues of him in so many churches, mounted on a white horse, with drawn sword, in the act of charging.
A much debated question at that time was whether conquest should precede conversion, or whether the efforts of the missionaries alone would suffice to subjugate and bring the Indians to a Christian and civilized mode of life. The former theory had been applied to the first nations, which the missionaries found conquered and pacified when they began their work among them. The question presented itself when expeditions against the Indians of the northern part of Mexico were being planned. The independent state of these tribes was a constant menace to the peace and progress of the colony in the south, and the rich mines known to exist there were also an inducement. The system adopted, which seems to have been enjoined by royal mandate, was to send armed expeditions, accompanied always by several missionaries, to take possession of the territory and to establish garrisons and forts to hold it. By this arrangement the cross and the sword went hand in hand, but the missionaries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially the Jesuits, were not satisfied with this method, and attempted the conversion of these tribes without the aid of arms. They left the fortified headquarters occupied by the Spaniards to visit and convert other tribes, and often found among them the martyr's crown. The Tarahumares, Tepehuanes, Papigochic, and the tribes of Sonora and Sinaloa put many Jesuit missionaries to death, but each one who fell was quickly replaced by another, even the horrible spectacle of the bloody and mutilated remains of their companions lying unburied in the smoking ruins of the mission chapel did not daunt their courage. At times formidable rebellions broke out, as in New Mexico in 1680, when, in the general massacre, twenty-one Franciscans perished, and Christianity was all but exterminated.
Towards the middle of the eighteenth century the tribes of the Eastern Coast, inhabiting what is now Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila, and Texas, were under the Franciscans ; those of the West, the present limits of Durango, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Sonora, and Lower California, were under the Jesuits. Lower California was acquired for the Spanish Government through the efforts of Father Salvatierra, and to him and the famous Father Kino is due the discovery that Lower California was a peninsula, and not an island, as had been supposed for a century and a half. When the Jesuits were expelled from all the Spanish colonies by Charles III, many of their missions were abandoned, others were taken in charge by the missionaries of the College of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Zacatecas. Towards the close of the eighteenth century the Franciscans, handicapped for so many years by disadvantages and dissensions, returned with renewed life and vigour to the work of the missions, and took charge of many of the deserted missions in California. They sent many worthy successors of the first Franciscans, among them the well-known Fray Junípero Serra, founder of the missions of Upper California.
(3) The Destruction of the Aztec Hieroglyphics
The general opinion of the ordinary student of Mexican history, after reading the works of Prescott, Bancroft, Robertson, and others, is that the first missionaries and the first Bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumárrage, were responsible for the destruction of the hieroglyphic annals of the Aztecs. Expressions such as the following, occur frequently: "Ignorance and fanaticism of the first missionaries"; "the Omar of the new continent". If we look carefully into the sources from which these opinions have been taken we shall see that these charges are entirely unfounded or, at least, greatly exaggerated. To make this point clear, we shall at the beginning set aside such writers as Prescott, H. H. Bancroft, Lucas Alamán, Humboldt, Cavo, Clavijero, Robertson, Gemelli, Sigüenza, Herrera, and others, who, although learned men, from the very circumstances of having written at a time far removed from the era of the conquest and evangelization of Mexico, perhaps never having visited the country itself, have necessarily confined themselves to repeating tales which others have written before them. Setting aside these, there still remain thirteen writers, some of them contemporary with the conquest and others practically contemporaneous, who have seen the work of the missionaries and witnessed the events immediately following the conquest. Of these thirteen, six may still be eliminated as treating purely of the destruction of idols and teocallis , or temples, not having concerned themselves with manuscripts and hieroglyphics. These are Fray Martín de Valencia, Superior of the first Franciscans, Fray Pedro de Gante, Fray Toribio de Benavante, Fray Jerónimo de Mendieta, the letter of the bishops to the Emperor Charles V (1537), and his reply. Of the seven remaining authors five wrote at the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth, such as Sahagún (1550-80), Torquemada (his works were published in 1615), Durán (1519-80), Ixtlilxochitl (1600-15), and J. B. Pomar (1582). Two authorities of the time of the conquest are the codex called "Libro de Oro" (Golden Book), 1530-34, and the letter of Bishop Zumárraga to the General Chapter of Tolosa, written at the end of the year 1531.
Before treating each of these authorities separately it may be as well to establish some important facts. According to Sahagún, in the time of the native Mexican King Itzocoatl (1427-40) a number of paintings had been burnt to keep them from falling into the hands of the vulgar, who might have treated them with disrespect. This may be called the first distruction. Ixtlilxochitl (Fernando de Alba) asserts that when the Tlaxcaltecs entered Texcoco in company with Cortés (31 December, 1520) they "set fire to everything belonging to King Netzahualpilli, and thus burnt the royal archives of all New Spain" (second destruction). Mendieta says that at the time of the coming of the Spaniards many paintings were hidden and locked up, to save them from the ravages of war ; the owners dying or moving away, these pape
- Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- The Apostles' Creed
- Unfailing Prayer to St. Anthony
- Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- Hail, Holy Queen
- Padre Nuestro - Our Father (Lord's Prayer)
Copyright 2021 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2021 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.
Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.