Local Religion in Colonial Mexico

By Schwaller, John F. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2007 | Go to article overview
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Local Religion in Colonial Mexico


Schwaller, John F., The Catholic Historical Review


Local Religion in Colonial Mexico. Edited by Martin Austin Nesvig. [Diálogos.] (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 2006. Pp. xxvii, 289. $24.95 paperback.)

This collection of essays seeks to fill a void in the historiography of the Catholic Church in Mexico in a manner similar to what William Christian did for Spain in his landmark book, Local Religion in Sixteenth-Century Spain (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981). While Christian used a singular database, the relaciones geograficas of the 1570's, to produce a tightly structured monograph, this collection of essays take a broader view, although each author focuses on specific details of the larger theme. Consequently, each of the ten authors represented here looks at some discrete aspect of local religion within the 300-year colonial history of Mexico. Nesvig outlines his goals as seeking to show that the Church in Mexico is not the monolithic institution of the popular myth nor that history need follow the path of northern Europe and the United States in embracing an increasingly secular state. In effect, the antidote is to show that religion, like politics, is local. Although the Catholic Church might be universal in title, it has many different manifestations in the popular culture.

In the first essay of the ten, Carlos M. N. Eire explores the concept of popular religion in the Hispanic world. In the second essay Antonio Rubial Garcia explores the use of saints in colonial New Spain. At the same time that the missionary friars attempted to suppress the pre-Columbian religions, they were also importing to New Spain the existing cult of saints from Europe. Eventually even local saints entered the panoply, thus de-demonizing the region and incorporating it into the salvation history of Europe. Martin Nesvig tackles the issue of the purpose behind the creation of Holy Cross College (Colegio de Santa Cruz) atTlatelolco.The school was an outgrowth of humanist thinking that never reached its full potential, and even the literature on the topic remained largely hidden to the present day. William Taylor looks at the fascinating figure of Francisco de la Rosa Figueroa, a Franciscan who served in both Mexico City and the nearby Nativitas Tepetlatcingo.

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