Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Framing the Sacred: The Indian Churches of Colonial Mexico

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Framing the Sacred: The Indian Churches of Colonial Mexico

Article excerpt

Framing the Sacred: The Indian Churches of Colonial Mexico. By Eleanor Wake. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. 2010. Pp. xxii, 338. $65.00. ISBN 978-0-806-14033-9.)

Eleanor Wake's impressive new book on the perennially fascinating topic of the indigenous impact on the built and visual culture of early New Spain is a welcome addition to the literature in English. Its elegant, jargon-free writing; methodical overview of the secondary literature; and deft detective work based on extensive fieldwork will make this book invaluable as a primer for the subject for undergraduates, graduates, and interested members of the general public.

The book takes us on a journey through time and space - both real and cosmic - beginning with overviews of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican beliefs and rituals centered on geography, the calendar, agriculture, and fertility, focusing on the role of plants and especially flowers, the leitmotif of this book. Chapters 2 and 3 explore familiar territory, telling the story of the implementation of Christianity by the conquerors on the existing sacred environment and the indigenous reappropriation of their own world through selective adaptation and interpretation of these alien forms and beliefs. We see again the ingenious systems of indoctrination used by the friar missionaries and the ways that the Nahua employed them to their own ends, as well as the cycles of tolerance and intolerance imposed by a Church that at times had little idea of what was going on. Chapter 4 rehearses the history of the building of the great mission churches and the ways in which their unique structures (open chapels, posas) reflect the pre-Hispanic ritual environment and its colonial inheritor and how they represented continuity as much as novelty for the indigenous populations. Her relation of indigenous depictions of churches to representations of the altepetl (Nahua community) is particularly helpful.

Much of this material is well known even to a nonscholarly audience and indebted to George Kubier, Joseph Baird, John MacAndrew, Jeanette Peterson, Samuel Edgerton, and Jaime Lara - just to name some of those writing in English. Yet there is not enough acknowledgment of the work of these pioneers and contemporaries, or even a clear statement about what is original and what is not. …

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