The Cross and the Serpent: Religious Repression and Resurgence in Colonial Peru

By Gagliano, Joseph A. | The Catholic Historical Review, July 1997 | Go to article overview

The Cross and the Serpent: Religious Repression and Resurgence in Colonial Peru


Gagliano, Joseph A., The Catholic Historical Review


The Cross and the Serpent:Religious Repression and Resurgence in Colonial Peru. By Nicholas Griffiths. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.1996. Pp. xi, 355. $37.50.)

This important revisionist study complements such recent works concerned with issues in the Christianization of Andean Indigenous populations as Sabine MacCormack's 1991 Religion in the Andes: Vision and Imagination in Early Colonial Peru and Pierre Duvoils' 1986 Cultura andina y represion: Procesos y visitas de idolatrias y hechicerias. Drawing his careful and thorough analysis from archival records in Peru, Spain, and Rome, Nicholas Griffiths argues convincingly against the standard interpretation in mission histories that repression effectively eradicated native religious practices by 1660 and firmly established Catholicism in colonial Peru. His close examination of archival sources indicates that extirpation activities persisted intermittently well into the eighteenth century. Delineating the cases of many accused hechiceros, he also challenges the theorizing of Michael Taussig's 1980 The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America and Irene Silverblatt's 1987 Moon, Sun and Witches that seventeenth-century idolatry trials in Peru represented a New World counterpart of the European witch craze.

Griffiths focuses most of his study on the ideological and institutional shortcomings of what he terms the Extirpation Campaign. He emphasizes that Eurocentric perspectives among the clergy hearing idolatry charges against shamans during most of the seventeenth century invalidated the process from its beginnings. Refusing to recognize native religious practitioners as respected and powerful leaders, the extirpators identified them as frauds who deceived their clients while enriching themselves. This mind-set proved counterproductive, for the punished shamans retained and even enhanced their prestige among the Indians as preservers of traditional beliefs.

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