10426 - Indigenous Empowerment in 16th-Century Mexico

The fall of the Mexica (Aztec) capital of Tenochtitlan in 1521 to an army of Spanish and native soldiers under the command of Hernando Cortés is well known. Vividly described by the victorious commander himself, this epic event has produced a stream of eyewitness accounts as well as secondary narratives and interpretations through the centuries. In contrast, the early years of post-conquest history, mostly devoted to the laborious demolition and rebuilding of Tenochtitlan into what would become Mexico City, is sketchy at best.  

This study focuses on the pivotal role played by two Franciscan schools in evangelizing and educating the native population during this early period. The first school of San José de los Naturales, founded in the mid 1520s taught native youths European artistic and practical skills deemed necessary to carry out the church’s functions in the new land. The second, the Colegio Imperial de Santa Cruz, an institution of high learning established in nearby Tlatelolco about 10 years later, in 1535, more ambitiously sought to produce an educated native elite and clergy. Those so trained went on to participate in building and embellishing Franciscan missions throughout Mexico and to become Indian governors, scholars, translators, and, in general, mediators between two worlds. This paper examines the ways, both seen and unforeseen, that these schools functioned as fonts of indigenous artistic, religious, and political empowerment in 16 th- century Mexico.

Keywords: Franciscans, New Spain, San José de los Naturales, Colegio Imperial de Santa Cruz, Convento Art

Author: Quiñones Keber, Eloise (City University of New York, Ud States of Am / USA)


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