Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Building Colonial Cities of God. Mendicant Orders and Urban Culture in New Spain

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Building Colonial Cities of God. Mendicant Orders and Urban Culture in New Spain

Article excerpt

Latin American Building Colonial Cities of God. Mendicant Orders and Urban Culture in New Spain. By Karen Melvin. (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012. Pp. xviii, 365. $65.00. ISBN 978-0-8047-7486-4.)

Writing on the religious orders of New Spain is not an easy task. It demands solid research to examine the great variety of published and unpublished documents, books, articles, and doctoral theses. That would be reason enough to appreciate this book of Karen Melvin. But the subject of her work is what deserves special mention. The study of religious orders in New Spain customarily has focused on the evangelization of the Indian communities. Little work has been done on their activities in the cities where a significant number of churches and monasteries have been established since the second part of the sixteenth century. Melvin has dealt skillfully with this topic, studying the importance of the mendicant orders in building the religious culture in urban centers of colonial Mexico.

Given the vast range of this matter, the author has chosen an intelligent approach to deal with it. She has divided the book in two parts.The first one studies general themes pertaining to five mendicant orders: Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, Discalced Carmelites, and Mercedarians.Through a close examination of religious chronicles, manuscripts, and rare book collections, Melvin details, among other issues, the founding of religious houses in the cities, the patterns of and reasons for their urban expansion, and the impact of eighteenth-century reforms on the presence of the mendicant orders in the cities. Special attention is given to the identities of each order and to the role of their clergy as preachers, confessors, spiritual directors, alms collectors, educators, and urban missionaries. Conflicts emerging from these activities with the episcopal authorities are well exemplified with the study of the disputes between the Discalced Carmelites and Juan José de Escalona y Calatayud, bishop ofValladolid (Morelia), over his attempts to regulate the activities and internal life of the Carmelites.

The second part of the book examines the relationships between the mendicant orders and provides a comprehensive discussion of their contri- butions to the practice of urban Catholicism in colonial Mexico. …

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