Introduction and captions by David Carey, Jr., Ph.D.
Though the Spanish empire endorsed the military invasion of Latin America, its alliance with the Catholic Church initiated an even more powerful force in the New World: the spiritual conquest. Hernando Cortés certainly had a sense of the role Catholicism could play in the colonization of the Americas when upon seizing Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital, he requested twelve Franciscan friars to help expand his control. Even though many indigenous peoples maintained their own faith, Catholicism united Latin America in ways that military or political institutions could not. The documents in this collection speak to the central role of the Catholic Church in colonial Mexico. Their very existence (some with gold engravings) are evidence of the Church’s access to resources. Publishing monographs, particularly ones with images, in colonial Mexico was expensive. Two of the works were penned by Jesuits, a religious order dedicated to establishing educational centers and converting indigenous peoples. Jesuit wealth came from indigenous converts whose labor the missionaries used to build successful agricultural and mining enterprises, and affluent Creole (pure blooded Spaniards born in the New World) and mestizo (mixed indigenous and Spanish blooded individuals) patrons (see for example Juan Martínez de la Parra’s published sermon Sermon panegyrico a las virtudes, y milagros de el prodigioso apostol de la India). The Catholic Church had great economic, political, cultural, and social clout in the Americas. The ability to leave behind written records of its activities further ensconced its place in Latin American history.
In addition to the role of the Catholic Church and the emphasis on colonial Mexico, these documents remind us that Spain once held dominion over large parts of what is today the United States. Manuel Antonio Valdés’s description of the exploits of Berndardo de Gálvez in Florida, Texas, and California conjure images of Spain’s expansive colonies. Further, Gálvez may have influenced the course of the American Revolution by denying the British access to the Mississippi River.
The poetry, art, and history in these pages are emblematic of the Spanish influence that continues to permeate the U.S. Southwest.