Message #87:

From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG

To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 

Subject: Catholicism, Conquest and Hispanic-Indian Culture

Date: Sun, 16 Feb 1997 17:35:45 EST

From:	Maurice Brill, S.J.  

I visited the Phoenix Art Museum for the guided tour of the Art Institute

of New Mexico members through the Brooklyn Museum of Arts Collection of

Hispanic-Indian Art.  I got a whole new perspective of the Native

American and Hispanic culture. 

Apparently, the Spaniards when they first came to America were not

psychologically shaken by the Protestant Reformation or the ascent of the

British Navy of Queen Elizabeth. There was much common ground between the

Aztecs and the Spaniards. The social systems were parallel, the Aztec

language was much in structure like the Latin language. In the first ten

years of colonizations by the Spaniards, the Aztec language was clearly

defined and could be translated into Spanish. The Spanish nobility

intermarried with the Aztec nobility. During the 16th Century the

Dominicans and Franciscans were training young Aztec boys in Latin, which

the boys picked up quickly. The Aztecs were remarkably quick to learn.

They studied European philosophy, wrote poetry in Latin, and began

incorporating Spanish styles in their art work. The Spaniards were amazed

at the intelligence of the Aztecs and Mayans. The Dominicans were

preparing Aztec boys for the Catholic priesthood. Trade with China and

Japan was quickly established. The nobility of Mexico wanted the silks

and dishware of Asia. Manila became the city of shipment of Asiatic

goods. Some people from Asia came to Mexico. The Spaniards were winning

many Catholic converts in Asia. 

The Protestant Reformation and the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the

depredations of the English changed the Spanish character. There was a

marked change in colonial policies in Mexico and New Mexico. Whereas

before there was great tolerance for different cultures among the

Spanish, the Inquisition and the Council of Trent changed the way the

Indians were treated. The Spanish were depressed by the great loss of

wealth caused by the English. The free shipping communications through

the Spanish Empire were broken and the administrators became very tense.

The relations between Spaniards and Indians became more hostile. The

Pueblos drove the Spaniards out of New Mexico. Smallpox was decimating

the Indian population.  In the paintings of the Cuzco school of Indian

artists in Peru, there are pictures of Negros who were imported to do the

menial tasks which the lower class Indians had been doing before the

smallpox epidemics. 

After the Council of Trent the discipline in the Catholic Church was

tightened and all signs of religious syncretism were banned. Thus

followed a split between the faith preached by the missionaries and the

traditional religious ways of the Indians. It would have been interesting

to speculate what the growth of Catholicism would have been had not

Martin Luther started the Reformation. Something parallel to the

Christianization of Europe in the early Middle Ages would have taken


The two chief military and political advisors of Cortez when he conquered

Mexico were Jews who practised their faith freely. They were given large

tracts of land by Cortez and their families openly practiced the Jewish

faith. Not so after the Reformation and the Inquisition. The Jesuits who

were too much inclined to incorporate native culture into the their

mission life were kicked out of the colonies. 

The information discussed by the lecture tour of the art collection

provided a new perspective on the colonization of Latin America by the

Spaniards. Everything was very concrete since the art pieces demonstrated

well the minds of the artists. It was a great lesson in art history,

history, and archaeology.