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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Converting a Sacred City: Franciscan Re-Imagining of Sixteenth-Century San Pedro Cholula

  • Author(s): Gutierrez, Veronica A.
  • Advisor(s): Terraciano, Kevin
  • et al.

This dissertation examines the political and spiritual implications of the Franciscan presence in sixteenth-century Cholollan, renamed San Pedro Cholula by the Spaniards, reading the friars' evangelizing project in light of the Order's foundational missionary mandate, its millenarian tendencies, its 1517 Reform, and its desire to replenish the numbers of faithful leaving the Church with the advent of Protestantism. Based on printed Franciscan chronicles and materials from municipal, judicial, notarial, state, and national archives in Mexico and Spain, this project provides the first detailed study of the Franciscan appropriation of this Mesoamerican sacred site. Because the Sons of St. Francis were the only Order in colonial Cholula, their efforts resulted in a very particular Franciscan charism more than a general early modern Mediterranean Catholicism.

The Franciscan establishment in Cholollan officially began in late 1528 or early 1529 with the arrival of guardian fray Alonso Xu�rez. Given its centuries-old sacred legacy, its identity as a site of spiritual and thus political legitimation, and its numerous teocalli, or indigenous temples, the polity would prove irresistible to the Franciscans. Because of the elaborate daily and seasonal rituals performed by the native Cholulteca, as well as the similarities between certain Nahua rites and Catholic sacraments, the friars believed they had discovered a people perfectly poised to receive and internalize Christianity. Re-naming the altepetl San Pedro Cholula after St. Peter, the first Pope, the mendicants harkened back to Rome and the days of the Primitive Church, when Christianity existed in its purest form. Indeed, the friars believed that Cholula would become a "new Rome" in New Spain, a spiritual center across the Atlantic from which they would launch their evangelization of central Mexico. Ironically, Franciscan efforts to re-imagine Cholula's past into a Catholic present ensured the continuity of its centuries-old spiritual and political dominance in the region - rivaling even the recently-founded Spanish city of Puebla - albeit as a Nahua-Christian city.

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