Free and enslaved Africans played an important role in developing a unique form of participatory Christianity in New Spain’s mining towns, especially Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi, and Parral. Afro-Mexicans founded, organized, and led religious organizations, called cofradías, shaping them to their own needs and understandings of the sacred and its connections to social ties, gatherings, and celebrations. The practical goals of cofradías included helping sick members and paying for burials and funerals. Historians observe a kind of Latin American African-influenced Baroque piety in cofradías, with embodied practices concentrating on annual flagellant processions held during Holy Week, and an evolving internal gender dynamic, which suggests assimilative goals, even as cofradías strengthened Afro-Mexican communities.
Nicole von Germeten
The history of Mexican Catholicism between 1910 and 2010 was one of successive conflict and compromise with the state, latterly coupled with increased concern about religious pluralism, secularization, and divisions of both style and theological and ecclesiological substance within Catholicism. The Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) represented a particular threat to the church, which was identified by many revolutionaries as an institution allied to the old regime, and hence persecuted. In the same period, and until 1929, the church was openly committed to implementing its own social and political project in competition with the state. Religious conflict reached a tragic peak in the 1920s and 1930s, as revolutionary anticlericals waged political and cultural campaigns against the church, provoking both passive and armed resistance by Catholics. With some exceptions, the period from the late 1930s to the late 1960s was one of comparative church–state conciliation, and a period of institutional collaboration that began when both institutions stood down their militant cadres in the 1930s. In subsequent decades, an over-clericalized and socially conservative church and a theoretically revolutionary but undemocratic state made common cause around the poles of civic and Catholic nationalism, economic stability, and anti-communism. From the later 1960s, however, the church grew increasingly vocal as a critical interlocutor of the state, in terms of both the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s failing socioeconomic model and, especially in the 1980s, its authoritarian political practices. In places, radical strains of Liberation Theology helped to guide indigenous and urban protests against the regime, while also posing an internal, ecclesial problem for the church itself. The rise of economic neoliberalism and qualified democracy from the 1980s onward, as well as the political reorientation of Catholicism under the papacy of John Paul II, saw the church assume a frankly intransigent position, but one that was significantly appeased by the 1992 constitutional reforms that restored the church’s legal personality. After 1992, the church gained in political prominence but lost social relevance. Should the church cleave to an unofficial corporatist relationship with a generally supportive state in the face of rising religious competition? Should Catholics assert their newfound freedoms more independently in a maturing lay regime? A cursory view of Catholicism’s religious landscape today reveals that the tension between more horizontal and vertical expressions of Catholicism remains unresolved. Catholics are to be found in the van of rural self-defense movements, leading transnational civic protests against judicial impunity, and decrying the abuses suffered by Central American migrants at the hands of border vigilantes. At the same time, the mainstream church seeks official preferment of Catholicism by the state and lends moral support to the PRI and PAN parties alike.
Rosalva Loreto López
The process of establishing women’s convents in Hispanic America must be understood as the result of converging expectations from the crown, the church, and important laypeople who were interested in re-creating a Catholic world in the cities of the New World. The importance of women’s convents depended on the regular clergy as well as the secular, both of whom were invested in replicating their own religious identity. The role of families was also critical in the processes of establishing and populating the fifty-eight convents, as it was the nun’s families who expanded their networks of power, pedigree, and the reproduction of their own lineage by way of these institutions. Finally, the study of convent wealth is also essential to understanding the mutual dependence between the urban growth of cities and the expansion of these women’s institutions.
Kristian J. Fabian and David T. Orique
A variety of useful digital resources provide material for enriching the study of Christianity in New Spain (colonial Mexico). Such records, covering the period from the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521 until Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821, reside in the growing digital collections in Mexico, the United States, and Europe. These repositories—such as the national archives in Mexico and Spain; specialized libraries in the United States, like the Library of Congress or the Newberry Library, university-based collections; and Mexican religious institutional sources—have searchable databases to help users in their research of Christianity in New Spain. Knowing how to navigate these databases and which keywords to use will help users find their way through the morass. Some collections also have a thematic organization around such topics as colonial art and architecture (where one can find information about churches, convents, and monasteries), indigenous pictorial manuscripts (which will illustrate the constructions of community churches, baptism activities, and the like), printed texts of all kinds (doctrine, sermons, information about indigenous religious beliefs and practices, and so on), and Inquisition records.
While several indigenous languages from the Americas have been alphabetized and written, no Native American language has such an extensive corpus of historical texts as Nahuatl, the language of the Nahuas or Aztecs of central Mexico. Writing in Nahuatl but using Latin letters, colonial Nahua scribes or tlahcuilohqueh produced an unparalleled outpouring of texts throughout the colonial period. Prior to the Conquest, the Nahuas recorded information in codices, which consisted of pictographic glyphs painted on sheets of bark paper, analogous to European books. They thus readily perceived the parallels between their pictographic codices and European alphabetic texts and quickly saw the utility and potential of the new technology. All that was needed was an introduction to European writing techniques. For the most part, this came in the form of friars, some of whom established schools for elite Nahuas, such as the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco in the latter part of the 1530s. Some Nahuas likely also learned writing from professional Spanish scribes as well. These students of the friars and lay Spaniards would soon teach other Nahuas to write, such that only a few years after the opening of the Colegio, Nahua scribes, working entirely on their own, were producing written texts. These scribes then taught others, and by the 1550s Nahuatl alphabetic writing became a self-sustaining, independent tradition that touched nearly every corner of the Nahua world. Alphabetic writing overtook indigenous glyphs, and by the 17th century most Nahuatl texts were entirely alphabetic. Last wills and testaments made up the bulk of scribal output, along with other “mundane” Nahuatl documents of financial, legal, or governmental matters, which have proven highly illuminating to historians. There were also annals; local histories stretching back to preconquest times; and plays, songs, and speeches (huehuehtlahtolli). Nahua scribal culture thrived until the 19th century, when opposition to it from both the Spanish Crown and, later, the independent Mexican nation made Nahuatl texts obsolete and superfluous.
Charlene Villaseñor Black
According to believers, the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared in 1531 to recent indigenous convert Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac, north of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán, an area in the environs of Mexico City. The series of apparitions culminated with the miraculous appearance of her image imprinted on his native cloak, or tilma. This painting, housed in the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the Villa de Guadalupe in northern Mexico City, has been venerated from the 16th century. The Virgin of Guadalupe is considered the patroness of Mexico, and special protector of its native and mestizo populations. She is perhaps the best-known symbol of Mexico, and her image is very common in the fine and popular arts. She has played a number of roles over the centuries—as object of religious devotion, emblem of national pride, symbol of peace and justice, and feminist icon. Similarly, her image has transformed over time, from the original sacred icon of 1531 to controversial contemporary images from the 1970s. Her image is also frequent in the United States, where 20th- and 21st century Chicana/o (Mexican American) artists represent her in community murals, prints, photographs, sculptures, and paintings. Chicana (Mexican American) women artists have transformed her into a feminist icon, generating controversy and provoking censorship in both the United States and Mexico. Held sacred by many Mexican, Chicana/o, and Latina/o Catholics, the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe has never been neutral, but instead, represents the mutability and political potential of Catholic sacred imagery.