12003 - Art and Conversion in Colonial Mexico:

In a 1611 catechism written in Náhuatl, the Dominican friar Martín de León complained that Mexican converts in Tlaxcala feigned devotion to St. Anne, while they continued to worship Toci, the matriarch of the Pre-Columbian pantheon of deities. “Even today they say that they celebrate the fiesta of Toci, or that they're going to Toci's temple . . . ,“ he reported (Camino del Cielo en Lengua Mexicana). According to the cleric, some natives even converted the names of Catholic holy persons into their own languages, citing the famous example of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the city of Mexico: “they were adoring an idol of a goddess that they called Tonantzin, which means Our Mother, and they give the same name to Our Lady . . .” As these and other similar claims demonstrate, suspicion, tensions, and anxieties accompanied the mass religious conversion that emerged from the fall of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City) in 1521. This paper looks closely at such claims circulating around the figure of St. Anne in New Spain. What congruences came to the fore, as mendicant friars attempted to foster conversion from the Aztec religion, with its pantheon of deities, to Catholicism, with its constellation of saints? How was the cult transformed in the hands of Mexican devotees? Why were friars so preoccupied with potential covert practices centered on St. Anne and other female holy figures? Why did St. Anne’s cult develop such a vigorous following in Mexico despite Spanish Inquisition attempts to suppress it throughout the Spanish Empire?

Keywords: oruSaint Anne, Toci, conversion, Catholicism, Aztec

Author: Villaseñor Black, Charlene (UCLA Art History, Ud States of Am / USA)


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