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Jesuits and World History


"The Mission" That Wasn't: Yucatan's Jesuits, the Mayas, and El Petén, 1703–1767

Mark Lentz


     In the wake of the 1697 conquest of the last independent Maya kingdom, Petén Itzá, Spanish royal administrators attempted to open another front line in the standard second phase of Spain's subjugation of any indigenous population, the spiritual conquest. In the sixteenth century, Franciscans typically spearheaded missionary efforts in recently-conquered territories in colonial Mexico and Central America during the first wave of evangelization.1 However, by the late seventeenth century, Franciscans had lost their rigor in the eyes of royal administrators and had been supplanted in the Spanish Empire's expanding frontier regions of the Americas by other priests and friars. Many late seventeenth-century and early- to mid-eighteenth century evangelization efforts were headed by Jesuits, seen as the elite agents of conversion in frontier territories from California to Paraguay.2 Spain's first two Bourbon monarchs, who ruled from 1700 until 1759, had moved away from their early Habsburg predecessors' mistrust of the Society of Jesus and saw them as reliable partners in solidifying the allegiance of subject indigenous populations.3 In the first decade of the eighteenth century, as Spain sought to administer and acculturate the recently subjugated, decimated, and scattered Maya survivors of Petén Itzá, they turned to Jesuits to oversee the ecclesiastical administration of the province.4

     In 1703, the first Bourbon monarch of Spain, King Philip V (r. 1700–1746), still struggling to secure his position atop the throne of Castile, ordered the governor of Yucatan, don Martín de Ursúa y Arismendi, to send Jesuits from Mérida to convert the Itza Maya.5 Philip V and his successor, Ferdinand VI (r. 1746–1759), took steps toward more positive relations with the Jesuits, an order more often associated with Portuguese overseas expansion.6 Despite their distrust of the order and its highly cosmopolitan composition – exacerbated by increasing distrust of Portugal, the nation of origin of many Jesuits – the Society proved an effective source of manpower in establishing a Spanish presence in poorly demarcated territories and founding settlements among unconquered indigenous groups in Northern New Spain.7

     Petén, which had escaped previous efforts at conquest and conversion up to the eighteenth century, fell under the Audiencia of Guatemala's civil jurisdiction while ecclesiastical matters were administered from Mérida. Competing lines of authority complicated the question over who exactly was responsible for the care of the souls of the inhabitants of the recently-conquered Petén Itzá.8 Petén's location made it a better candidate for royal administration from the Guatemalan capital (modern-day Antigua), but its Maya inhabitants had closer cultural and linguistic ties to Yucatan. Clergymen of Yucatan were far more likely to speak Yucatec Maya, mutually intelligible (indistinguishable to most contemporary observers) with Itzá Maya.9 By 1700, many Jesuits, especially creoles (of European descent but born in the Americas), had managed to learn Yucatec Maya, a proficiency necessary to convert a monolingual indigenous population. Moreover, the crown had increasingly turned to Jesuits to staff remote missions in recently conquered corners its American colonial holdings. Philip V's decision to turn to the Jesuits for the conversion of the process was a logical one. However, in spite of the Jesuits' linguistic advantage and Yucatan's proximity to Petén, no action followed the first 1703 mandate to missionize. A second letter from Philip V reiterated the command to the Jesuits just two years later, in 1705.10 Like first order, the second decree went unheeded: No Jesuit mission in Petén was ever founded.11

     The first of these royal orders found in Mexico's Archivo General de la Nación inspired my (soon-abandoned) start of a trailblazing first account of the little-known Jesuit mission in the heart of the jungle built on the foundations of one of the last indigenous polities to resist conquest. Inspired by my recent viewing of Roland Joffe's magisterial film, "The Mission," for an upcoming Latin American survey course, I immediately noticed the parallels between the planned Jesuit mission in Petén and the order's missions in Guaraní territory.12 Excited at the prospect of writing the first study of a Jesuit mission complex based on the Paraguayan model, I dug deeper into the archival record of Jesuits in Petén. I was disappointed. Exploring the archives of Mexico for and secondary sources, no evidence of this mission surfaced. In spite of royal orders and a plausible setting for Jesuit activities, "'The Mission' in Petén" never came to pass, either as a historical site or as a graduate research project.

     On the surface, Petén seems to closely resemble the idyllic settlement of the Guaraní Jesuits missions depicted in the film. Beyond the obvious similarities of climate, vegetation, and remote interior location, both Petén and the Paraguayan borderlands with Brazil and Argentina were regions in which the indigenous language prevailed as the common speech of all inhabitants and a significant indigenous population which preserved many of its own traditions persisted into the early eighteenth century. Itzá and Yucatec Maya prevailed as the lingua franca of Petén and Yucatan at least through much of the nineteenth century, while Paraguay is one of a few Latin American countries where the native language, Guaraní, is still the official language spoken by most Paraguayans.13 Petén and Paraguay also shared extensive, poorly defined boundaries with imperial rivals. "The Mission" aptly portrays the threat Portuguese expansionist aims posed to Spain's dominance in the Americas. Similarly, the British foothold in Belize marked a new challenge to Spanish Bourbon rule over mainland Central America.14 At first glance, Petén and its belatedly conquered population seemed like an ideal setting for a Jesuit mission paralleling the order's Utopian project among the Guaraní.

     Other than "The Mission," one of the most widely-viewed popular cultural renditions of the eighteenth-century Jesuit enterprise of conversion, recent academic works have also highlighted the order's evangelical efforts, overshadowing their adaptable and multi-faceted work in the globalizing world of the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries.15 The evangelical aims of the Jesuits were more limited in scope than many realize, due in part to the manpower limitations of the once rapidly expanding order. Missions proliferated in the frontier regions of Northern New Spain and the unconquered interior of Paraguay, northern Argentina, and Bolivia's Chaco region. Other border zones and unconquered interiors, such the Amazonian regions of the Viceroyalty of Peru (and later of New Granada), coastal regions of Central America, Patagonia, Texas, and Chile's Araucanian hinterland, remained untouched by Jesuit conversion efforts. The Society of Jesus never had the numbers to adequately staff the missions in every location that the Bourbons might have desired. Moreover, the reliance on Jesuits for frontier expansion was short-lived. The turn of the eighteenth century was an era in which Bourbon monarchs relied upon Jesuits to shore up their sparsely inhabited frontier regions, turning indigenous inhabitants into loyal, Christian subjects. But by the 1760s, royal confidence in Loyola's order gave way to deep distrust. Scholars of Jesuits in both Portuguese and Spanish territories have identified the period from 1701 or 1704 to the suppression of the order in 1773 as a "period of stress," and pressure ratcheted up under Carlos III (r. 1759–1786) to an unprecedented degree in Spain and its American territories.16 Such limitations on a religious order have received less coverage and were far from my mind as I set off for my first major archival research project.

     Petén never proved fertile ground for Jesuit conversion efforts, but the archival search that followed the trail of the two ignored royal orders taught valuable lessons early in my graduate career: First, royal decrees were not always fulfilled, demonstrating that the reach of royal authority decreased as the distance from Madrid and viceregal capitals grew. Jesuits in particular were known among the many orders in the Americas for their independent streak that often led to conflicts with superiors, both secular and ecclesiastical.17 The order's "Fourth Vow," in which adherents professed unyielding obedience to the pope, seen as the ultimate authority regarding missions and mission fields, further undermined their allegiance to monarchs who claimed broad authority over clergymen in the Americas.18 Later, this vow brought suspicion on the Jesuits by monarchs who doubted priests' loyalty in the second half of the eighteenth century.19

     Second, while distance between Madrid and New Spain further weakened Spain's hold on its overseas territories, a deepening cultural gap and nascent regional identity undermined the allegiance of Mexican Jesuits to their monarch across the Atlantic Ocean. Historians often overlook the "creolization" of Jesuits in the Americas as a factor in their increasingly independent stance and inconsistent obedience to royal orders. Many of the Jesuit missions of the early seventeenth century were staffed by European missionaries who had crossed the ocean to convert a native population that they had never encountered.20 But by the mid-eighteenth century, most Jesuits serving in New Spain were not only creoles, but were in fact often from New Spain itself. By 1758, for example, less than a decade before their expulsion from Spanish dominions, creole Jesuits outnumbered their European counterparts by more than 3 to 1.21 While the Jesuits are all too often viewed as a unified, monolithic order, obedient to commands from Rome or Madrid, Jesuits in fact varied not only as a result of divergent aims of often rival global powers whom they served, but also as a result of the pull of their place of birth and a sense of a homeland that distanced them from both Spain and Rome.22

     Finally, Jesuits were not always the rough and ready soldiers of Christ, available for rapid deployment to the farthest reaches of the lands claimed by Spain. They did not see themselves first and foremost as missionaries. Moreover, even if the Jesuits' main focus had been evangelizing among unconverted peoples, other orders, especially the Franciscans and Dominicans, had preceded them in the Americas and usually greatly outnumbered them. These previously-established orders had often claimed most densely-populated indigenous areas as jealously-guarded mission zones. Jesuits, especially latecomers to provinces such as Yucatan, often found themselves caught up in rivalries between secular priests, Franciscans, and local administrators who benefited from neglecting to implement royal decrees that empowered Jesuits.23 Even when such animosity did not exist overtly (or possibly lurked below the surface), previously established orders often already had dominated prominent positions and parishes, leaving the Jesuits to take up as yet unfilled roles. As a result, Jesuits more often fulfilled more mundane tasks in the Americas like teaching creole youths and young adults in their colegios and universities.24 Far more Jesuits working in the Spanish-claimed Americas taught creoles, mestizos, and prominent descendants of the indigenous nobility than their more exhaustively studied missionary counterparts.25

     To the Society itself, "being Jesuit" meant a vocation as an educator much more frequently than a calling to the mission field. By 1560, education had become the primary activity of Jesuits, as succinctly expressed in a letter from Juan Alfonso Polanco, secretary to both Ignatius Loyola and his successor, Diego Lainez. Polanco wrote, "Generally speaking, there are [in the Society] two ways of helping our neighbors: one in the colleges through the education of youth in letters, learning, and Christian life, and the second in every place to help every kind of person through sermons, confessions, and the other means that accord with our customary way of proceeding."26 The society's pedagogical role, in effect, occupied a more prominent place in the Jesuits' self-image than their better-publicized missionary efforts in frontier regions. Far more Jesuits taught creoles in colegios and universities than those who proselytized among the indigenous inhabitants of frontier regions. Yet, the idea of Jesuits as spiritual conquistadors at the edges of Spain's empire in the Americas remains the most widely-held image of the order today.

     Using Jesuit activities in Yucatan and Petén as a case study, this essay contrasts the popular impression of the Jesuits as frontier missionaries with their far more commonplace work as educators. More than any other order, the Jesuits have attracted the attention of award-winning filmmakers as subject matter. Twentieth-century films such as "The Father Kino Story," (1977) and, above all, Roland Joffre's award-winning "The Mission," (1986) which opens with the martyrdom of an unnamed Jesuit who, lashed to a cross, falls to his death over the spectacular Iguazu Falls and ends with the deaths of missionaries played by Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons, appear frequently in the syllabi of college courses on World History and Latin American History.27 While set in French Canada rather than Spanish New Spain or South America, "Black Robe" (1992) reinforces the image of Jesuits as intrepid explorers, bringing the word of God to New France, albeit with a more ambiguous perspective on both the Jesuits themselves and their impact on the First Nations they encountered. Rumors of a film, the much-anticipated "Silence," based on the 1967 novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endō, promises a revisiting of the theme of Jesuits as persecuted proselytizers, this time in Japan.28

     The image of Jesuits working primarily as missionaries in jungles, deserts, and far off lands is not just a recent invention of twentieth-century directors and screenwriters. As Philip V's order demonstrates, the notion that Jesuits were at home among the unconverted in the far reaches of parched landscapes and humid rain forest frontiers is not a new one. Indeed, in the case of Yucatan, the notion that Jesuits might make the best missionaries to the Mayas began well before the conquest of Petén Itzá. In correspondence between Philip III and seventeenth-century governors of Yucatan, secular authorities had believed that the Jesuits' long-awaited arrival to the Yucatan Peninsula would provide badly needed missionaries to Indians who had resisted baptism and conquest.29 Based on the success of the Jesuits in other frontier regions, especially the northern frontier or "Interior Provinces" of New Spain and the Guaraní of Paraguay, this was not an entirely unreasonable assumption.30 Moreover, the preference for the reluctant Jesuits as missionaries to Petén did not die with their early eighteenth-century failure to fulfill the task assigned to them by the crown in 1703 and 1705. Fourteen years after the first decree ordered them into Petén, four more Jesuits prepared to depart for the interior a second time. Outmaneuvered by the bishop of Mérida and caught up in jurisdictional competition between the clergy of Yucatan and the secular authorities of Guatemala, they also failed to set up the mission in Petén.31 In 1756, in response to reports of hundreds of Maya parishioners fleeing pueblos around Petén for unsanctioned settlements in the interior, the fiscal of the Audiencia of México, acting in the name of Ferdinand VI, once again ordered the Jesuits to take control of the missions.32 However, in subsequent descriptions of parish conditions held in Guatemalan archives, no Jesuits appear in the rolls of resident clergymen.33 Ferdinand VI died in 1759 with his royal order still unfulfilled. His successor and half-brother had no inclination to turn to the Jesuits to bring stability to a frontier region; within eight years of ascending to the throne, Charles III expelled all Jesuits from Spain and its holdings. Like the Jesuits of Yucatan, priests of the Society of Jesus throughout the Americas were found much more frequently teaching in colegios and universities than in missions until their abrupt 1767 expulsion.

     One reason for the Jesuits' limited participation in missionary work, which only extended to some but not all of Spain's frontier regions, stems from their relatively late arrival to the Americas, especially when compared to their prominence elsewhere during the Age of Exploration. Jesuit influence spread rapidly as St. Ignatius's disciples were often the first religious order to evangelize in many new areas opened (often by force) for trade, conquest, colonization, and conversion. The Jesuits were often the first or second religious order to arrive in much of Africa, India, China, and Japan. As Portuguese settlements and explorations expanded southward to the tip of Africa and up the continent's east coast in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Jesuits followed in their wake, establishing a presence in West Africa, then South Africa, and finally East Africa.34 While Franciscans and secular priests typically predated the Jesuits in West Africa, Jesuits soon became the favored order of the Portuguese as its monarchs sought to convert friendly local rulers to Catholicism. In southern West Africa and much of East Africa, Jesuits were the first and most prominent order. From Kongo to Ethiopia, Jesuits dominated coastal Africa, with other orders such as the Capuchins also competing for influence.35 Franciscans established an early foothold in India, but the Jesuits soon displaced them as the most influential order in the subcontinent.36 Farther east, the Jesuits dominated Japan until the Shogunate expelled all Europeans save the Dutch. The intrepid explorer Francis Xavier had arrived in 1549, and the Jesuits had seen surprising success in Japan, especially relative to their efforts in India and China. Although other missionaries arrived, at the time of the Jesuits' expulsion in 1614, the numbers of the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Augustinians combined amounted to less than a quarter of the 115 priests of the Society of Jesus.37 China, the site of one of the best-known experiments in accommodation to indigenous traditions and beliefs, saw the Jesuits struggle for a foothold. After various attempts to establish a permanent presence in the interior in the 1550s, the Jesuits managed to maintain a stable presence only after years of limited activity at China's margins, usually in port cities.38 Although they later rose to prominence in the Ming and Qing courts, their attempts to convert among commoners moved more slowly.

     Portugal dominated sixteenth-century trade and exploration in all of the major mission fields of the Jesuits in the first twenty-five years of their existence, from Brazil to Japan. As the only Portuguese colony in the Americas, Brazil stands out for the prominent role Jesuits played there in comparison to other regions in Latin America. In 1549, less than a decade after the foundation of the order, six Jesuits first set foot in Brazil. Still in a formative period in their history, Brazil's Jesuits "experimented freely in these first years, seeking to define their mission."39 Their focus soon narrowed to proselytizing among Brazil's Indians. Perceiving the Portuguese colonies as chaotic and sinful, the Jesuits preached and eventually taught among the European settlers and their mixed-race (mameluco) offspring but dedicated most of their energies to establishing missions among the indigenous. Supported by the Portuguese crown, they did so with little competition or interference, save criticism from the occasional bishop or secular clergymen who either believed that their adaptation and tolerance of indigenous customs was too lenient or, alternately, that their moral code was too strict.40

     Elsewhere in Latin America, Jesuits arrived as latecomers with little room for innovation as they gradually found a niche in Spanish colonial society. Franciscans, Dominicans, and Augustinians had long predated the Jesuits, and the former two vied for the most densely populated and revenue-producing mission fields under the Castilian crown decades before the Jesuits set foot in Spanish territories. Franciscans and Dominicans competed for influence in the Caribbean, but Franciscans moved to the forefront of the spiritual conquest of Mexico under the patronage of Charles V in Madrid and Hernán Cortés in New Spain.41 Though the first friar in the Caribbean was a Hieronymite, fray Ramón Pané, Franciscans and Dominicans soon dominated the region by the early sixteenth century, establishing monasteries by 1502 and 1509 respectively.42 While two Dominicans of the Caribbean, fray Diego de Montesinos and fray Bartolomé de las Casas, emerged from their experiences in Hispaniola to strongly influence royal policy, Franciscans such as Gerónimo de Mendieta, fray Pedro de Gante, Motilinía, Jacobo de Testera, and other prominent followers of St. Francis held sway in the second major phase of the Spanish conquest of the Americas in New Spain. Arriving in 1524, symbolically numbering twelve, Franciscans predominated in the central areas of Mexico, including the former Aztec Empire, Michoacán, and Yucatan.43 Dominicans arrived close on their heels, beginning in 1526, and soon held sway in secondary regions that still had relatively dense indigenous populations, such as Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Guatemala.44 Augustinians first arrived in New Spain in 1533, but played a supporting role compared to the two more powerful mendicant orders that preceded them. Jesuits arrived only in 1572, at the close of the most intensive fifty-year phase of missionary activity.45

     Spanish conversion efforts in the Viceroyalty of Peru moved more slowly, in part due to Spanish civil wars and indigenous uprisings that marked the first three decades after Francisco Pizarro's initial conquest of the Andes. During the entire colonial period, fewer friars and priests were spread more thinly over more territory in Peru than in the former Aztec lands. The balance of power between the missionary orders differed from New Spain as well. Dominicans emerged from the chaos as the more influential of the two major orders in Hispanic America, while Peru's Franciscans remained fewer in number and less organized than their Mexican counterparts. Mercedarians also played a much more significant role.46 Jesuits arrived in Peru in 1568, with a shorter gap between the arrival of the first missionaries and their own appearance in the viceroyalty compared with their experience in New Spain. In Peru, Jesuits dedicated more of their efforts to conversion efforts among the indigenous descendants of the Inca Empire, but their main occupations were education and the management of large haciendas.47 Although they did work more closely with the indigenous population of Peru than their counterparts in New Spain, Peru's Jesuits also spent most of their time in urban colegios.48

     While they were missionaries under the Portuguese, Jesuits served first and foremost as educators under the Spanish crown.49 Their conversion efforts largely took place only in peripheral, belatedly conquered regions of little economic value. Even in such regions, Jesuits could not always be counted on to fill such a role, as the case of Petén demonstrates. Moreover, while Jesuits elsewhere established lucrative, innovative agricultural enterprises, the paucity of the soil of Yucatan led the members of the Society there to more closely adhere to the mendicant ideal.50 Unlike the self-sufficient haciendas that earned the Jesuits a mix of admiration and envy throughout much of Latin America, Jesuit ventures in Mérida always relied heavily on donations.51 Condemned by the climate and soil to a harder life, the Jesuit enterprise in Yucatan attracted far fewer priests, seminarians, and professors than the more firmly established and financially more stable central zones of Mexico City, Puebla, and surrounding towns in the Valley of Mexico. However, for the purposes of this article, Yucatan's Jesuits follow the broad contours of the wider Jesuit experience in terms of the educational emphasis, the urban orientation, and especially the creolization of the colegios, residences, and seminaries of the peninsula that took place on a large scale across New Spain.

     Yucatan resembled other regions of Mesoamerica and New Spain generally in the early arrival, permanence, and overbearing influence of the Franciscans. Unlike other regions, though, the persistence of Franciscan influence and their sheer numbers made the possibility of making inroads into a traditionally Franciscan project, such as the extirpation of idolatry, conversion efforts in rural, peripheral Maya parishes at the edges of the unconquered interior, linguistic studies, and direct interactions with the Maya majority, difficult to say the least.52 Franciscans also retained control of most rural parishes into the middle of the eighteenth century, an era in which secularization of parishes throughout most of New Spain had already occurred.53 The first cohort of Franciscans arrived in Yucatan in 1535, even before the conquest was completed and five years before the Society of Jesus received papal sanction as a new order. This early false start under the prominent Franciscan, fray Jacob de Testera, fell short of its aims. When Francisco de Montejo abandoned the second of three entradas, Franciscans retreated from the province as well.54 In 1544, while the Spaniards in eastern Yucatan fought to consolidate the conquest of the Mayas, eight Franciscans founded a mission on the western coast of Yucatan in Campeche.55

     After their early arrival, Franciscans operated with only minimal royal and ecclesiastical oversight, unchallenged by any other orders and asserting independence from the secular ecclesiastical hierarchy.56 Friars fanned out into the countryside, attempting to convert, educate, and fight against "idolatry" in the interior all the while tenaciously defending their unparalleled authority. They changed the landscape, leaving behind churches and monasteries that dotted the countryside as monuments to their fevered efforts to turn the Maya into devout Christians and eliminate all traces of their ancestral religion.57 Until 1563, after news of the excesses of the provincial fray Diego de Landa's extirpation campaign reached Madrid, Franciscans wielded extensive jurisdiction over a variety of prohibited practices, including idolatry, concubinage, absenteeism from masses, and witchcraft, with few limits on their authority.58 After his 1561 appointment as the provincial, fray Diego launched a violent inquisition that sought to eradicate native religious practices, burning dozens of codices and hundreds of ritual items, leaving hundreds of Mayas dead (some of suicide) and thousands suffering the effects of torture.59 Even after fray Diego's recall to Spain, Franciscans dominated the countryside in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and most of the eighteenth centuries, as the secularization of parishes proceeded more slowly in Yucatan than elsewhere in Latin America.60 With fierce competition between Franciscans and their indigenous supporters pitted against royal and local civil authorities as well as secular priests and other factions of Mayas, Jesuits arrived in Yucatan at the beginning of the seventeenth century with little room for maneuver.61 They found a space for themselves in creole education in a peninsula where the main religious competition consisted of conflict between secular clergy and Franciscans, especially over authority (and access to tithes and other sources of revenue) from indigenous, rural parishes.62 Though the Jesuits did not completely distance themselves from the Mayas of Yucatan, only a few priests from Loyola's order preached to, taught, and confessed the Maya, and they did so only late in their stay on the remote peninsula.

     Jesuits in Yucatan, like members of their order in other peripheral regions of Latin America, got off to a slow start. After a false start in 1605, in which Father Pedro P. Díaz and Father Pedro Calderón failed to establish a colegio, Jesuits finally arrived to establish the Colegio (later Universidad) de San Javier in 1618.63 Beyond the late start and the comparatively precarious financial situation Yucatan's Jesuits were beset by "diverse types of calamities," natural and otherwise.64 Four of the first five Jesuits left within seven years of the colegio's 1618 founding, returning to Mexico City, Puebla, or Oaxaca; only one, the Galician Pedro Mena, stayed until his death. In 1648, a two-year plague killed six of eight Jesuits staffing the colegio, including its rector, a setback to the already slow progress the order made in the province.65 By 1659, two confiscated encomiendas (royal concessions that authorized recipients, known as encomenderos, to exploit indigenous labor for profit) granted to the colegio for its sustenance were completely depopulated and funds had dried up.66 In such austere circumstances, New Spain's Jesuits flocked to the central areas to avoid the hardships of the periphery. Yucatan, plagued by natural disasters and undermined by scarce resources, offered little to attract large numbers the way it once had drawn fervent Franciscans of the sixteenth century. If Yucatan was remote, then Petén was perceived as a marginal settlement at the edge of New Spain's periphery. In light of such considerations, it is no wonder that no Jesuit mission ever was founded deep in the Maya rain forest.

     Even at their peak in the mid-1700s, Loyola's followers in Yucatan numbered barely more than a dozen, partly because of the extreme scarcity of material support provided by the poor peripheral land in which they lived.67 In limited numbers, they focused their energies on teaching, including instruction in "first letters" (basic reading and writing for young students), grammar, Latin, theology, "cases of conscience," scholasticism, and philosophy.68 Originally licensed by Philip III for primary and secondary education, the Colegio de San Francisco Javier soon received approval to confer the following degrees: bachillerato, licenciado, maestría, and doctorado.69 In 1624, the school received official recognition as a university, the Real y Pontifica Universidad de San Javier.70 After a difficult seventeenth century, Jesuits also established a presence in Campeche, the province's major port city, in 1716.71 Doña Maria de Ugarte willed to the colegio all of her possessions and two thousand pesos as start-up funds, underscoring the absolute reliance Jesuits in the province had upon wealthy benefactors, including some of the province's prominent women.72

     The Jesuit tendency to focus on creoles and urban centers of Yucatan stemmed from a variety of factors, including apparent reluctance to venture into the countryside, opposition from secular priests, and resistance from provincial administrators. This urban focus undermined the proposed founding of the planned Petén mission. Four Jesuits arrived in Campeche in 1706 and prepared to fulfill this apostolic mission, but were delayed in the negotiation of details for the founding of the Jesuit residence in Campeche. In 1717, four more Jesuits stood ready to proselytize among a group of Maya that were rapidly earning a reputation for their resistance to missionary efforts. They finished preparations to depart by 1717, but never left.73 Taking pains to portray their failure to carry out royal orders as anything but outright disobedience of the crown, the maestrescuela of the cathedral of Mérida, Dr. don Sancho del Puerto, and the bishop Dr. don Juan Gómez de Parada, justified their refusal to implement the handover of Petén's parishes to the Jesuits by arguing that it would disrupt the missions' stability and halt the progress in conversion under the already established secular clergy of Yucatan.74 This marked a rare moment of discord between secular clergy supported by the bishop of Yucatan with the Jesuits, who seem to have steered clear of the controversies and rivalries that plagued the Society of Jesus elsewhere.75

     At first glance, the dispute between secular clergy and the Jesuits appears to have stemmed from a broader rivalry between the two groups. However, the underlying cause of this particular conflict was a power struggle between the president of the Audiencia of Guatemala, don Toribio de Cossio, Marques de Torre Campo, who favored the Jesuits, against the bishop of Mérida, who sought to exert control over the ecclesiastical matters by siding with the secular clergy. His defense of his disobedience of the royal order, which the President of the Audiencia of Guatemala sought to enact three years after its initial promulgation in Madrid (in1713), portrayed the parishes of Petén as flourishing and argued that the priests' knowledge of the region made them better suited to run the parishes than the Jesuits.76 Employing rather tortured logic to disobey the king's orders while simultaneously portraying his actions as in line with royal will, Dr. don Sancho del Puerto stated that he understood the command to mean that the Jesuits were only to take possession of parishes that were currently without spiritual administration. Since all were currently staffed in 1717 by secular clergy under his supervision, he wrote that the Jesuits were not needed.77 Few in number, secular priests from Yucatan operated without assistance from either Dominicans from Guatemala or Jesuits from Yucatan in the early eighteenth century.78 By this time, bishops, who were rarely Franciscans, sought to secularize parishes and limit the power of the once unchallenged Order of St. Francis.

     While unnamed rivals from the ranks of the priests and other friars of Yucatan were blamed in this instance, reluctance on the part of the Jesuits to head to the frontiers and the draw of the relative comfort of colegios must have played a role, too. A growing number of Yucatan's Jesuits no longer came from Europe, but instead were creoles, more at home in the colegios, universities, and seminaries where they had come of age academically and now taught. The creolization of the Jesuits no doubt played a role in the waning fervor for the mission field. Jesuits who had crossed oceans for frontier zone evangelization already demonstrated a commitment to work in far-flung regions not evident among many of their American-born counterparts. A far greater percentage of sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Jesuits were foreign-born. Peninsulares (European-born Spaniards) and other Europeans often spearheaded the foundation of missions in the remote interior regions of New Spain and elsewhere, an experience captured well by one of the northern frontier's best-known Jesuits, the Italian Francisco Eusebio Kino.79 Yucatan's Jesuits underwent a smaller-scale version of the creolization and a parallel gravitation to more urban cities and villas. During the seventeenth century, a much greater percentage of the limited number of Jesuits had been peninsulares. In 1626, after many of the creole Jesuits abandoned Mérida, Spanish-born Jesuits outnumbered their Mexican-born counterparts in Yucatan's colegio 2:1. In 1632, the cosmopolitan composition of the Jesuits included two Spanish-born Jesuits, one American-born Jesuit from outside of New Spain, one Mexican Jesuit, a Portuguese Jesuit, and a Sicilian Jesuit.80 The 1648 plague (or yellow fever), which wiped out seventy-five percent of the resident Jesuits, seemed to have been a turning point in the increasing predominance of creoles among the province's Jesuits.81 In 1659, the recovering Jesuit colegio was staffed by four New Spanish-born Jesuits and just one Jesuit from Spain.82 By 1708, just two of twelve Jesuits in the Colegio de Mérida were born in Spain. The other ten were born in the Americas, most from New Spain. Only one, Ildefonso Zetina, was Yucatecan born. This ratio changed little for the remaining two thirds of the eighteenth century. In 1758, one of the last years for which a complete roster of Jesuits survives, a similar minority of peninsulares were outnumbered by their creole counterparts, 3:1.83

     The contrast between the missionary zeal of foreign-born Jesuits and the emphasis on education of creoles is also evident among the Jesuits who did work among the Maya. The contrast between the willingness of Jesuits from outside Yucatan to proselytize in indigenous pueblos and the evident unwillingness of locally-born Jesuits is even more striking considering the linguistic aptitude of the native-born Jesuits in Yucatec Maya. Although they were of European ancestry, creoles overwhelmingly spoke the province's indigenous language as well as Spanish, a linguistic ability that would have eased their work among the Maya.84

     The one Jesuit who did serve in Petén did not come from Yucatan. Evasive in the archival record, Antonio Valtierra evidently worked in Petén in the 1720s.85 Although Yucatec-speaking creole Jesuits based in Mérida would have been better suited to the task, Valtierra came from Chiapas.86 Though geographically well-placed for traveling to Petén, Chiapas's Maya population of highland Tzeltal, Tzotzil, and Chol speakers with whom Valtierra may have interacted had far less cultural and linguistic similarities to Petén's lowland Mayas. The Itzá, in fact, not only spoke the same language as both creoles and the indigenous population of Yucatan, but had been ruled until their 1697 conquest by a dynasty with its post-Classic origins farther north in the Yucatan Peninsula.

     One Yucatan-based Jesuit did work closely with the Yucatec Maya, but he traveled even greater distances to work among the peninsula's indigenous population. The Aragonese-born Francisco Javier Gómez traveled from Spain to serve as the "gran apóstol de los Mayas" (the great apostle of the Maya), going from town to town preaching to the Maya in their own language. He learned Maya by spending a full year in an indigenous pueblo while cut off from other Spanish speakers. According to the Jesuit historian Gerard Decorme, Father Gómez spoke as well as an "indio natural" from Yucatan after his year of immersion.87 Decorme also cited a Pragmática Sanción from Carlos III which commended the Jesuit's work in stopping idolatry and called him "nuestro santo misionero."88 A detailed roll of the 678 Jesuits expelled from the Province of Mexico 1767 compiled by the veracruzano Jesuit Rafael de Zelis listed Gómez as a "Consultor de Casas, Misionero y Confesor."89 It is no coincidence that one of the few peninsulares serving in Yucatan was the last and only missionary Jesuit at the time of the expulsion.

     Despite their demonstrated proficiency the indigenous language of the peninsula, creole Jesuits from Yucatan interacted less frequently with Mayas. Closer to their Mérida colegio, Jesuit involvement with the indigenous population remained only a secondary focus. A growing number of Yucatan-born, creole Jesuits, fluent in Yucatec Maya – the lingua franca of the province by the eighteenth century – enabled members of the Society to bridge the language gap that had long separated many priests from Yucatan's indigenous majority.90 An eighteenth-century Jesuit linguist, Lorenzo de Hervás y Panduro, wrote a grammatical treatise on the indigenous languages of the Americas in exile after the dissolution of the order.91 While Hervás y Panduro himself never traveled to the Americas, he credited Yucatan-born Jesuit Domingo Rodríguez, a Jesuit philologist uprooted from his native land after the 1767 expulsion, with possessing a remarkable understanding of the languages of Central America. (Gómez contributed as well, but at age 83, he was less helpful than Rodríguez). Rodríguez, the Yucatan-born creole, probably served as Hervás's informant regarding the Maya languages. Born in Izamal in 1742, Father Rodríguez likely acquired his knowledge of indigenous languages firsthand. With such expertise, Jesuit professors examined and certified priests as preachers and confessors in Maya in their seminary.92

     Rodríguez was far from the only Jesuit fluent in Yucatec Maya. A scant five years before their expulsion, Yucatan-born Martín del Puerto, rector of the Colegio de San Javier in Mérida, confessed eight of the hanged co-conspirators in the Jacinto Canek revolt of 1761. All but one revolt's indigenous ringleaders likely spoke only Maya. His detailed record of one of these confessions, apparently a betrayal of the confidence between the confessor and the penitent, contains provides crucial information for historians of the revolt.93

     Despite their familiarity with Yucatec Maya during the eighteenth century, creole Jesuits kept their distance from Yucatan's indigenous majority. While they might translate, author Maya grammars, and even teach Yucatec Maya in their institutions, the only Yucatecan Jesuit identified as a missionary in the eighteenth century was born in Aragon. The Jesuits' educational emphasis had always been their biggest contribution to Yucatecan society; the creole Jesuits' familiarity and roots in an educational setting led to an even greater orientation toward pedagogy. From the mid-seventeenth century onward, requests for aid highlighted their role as educators and scarcely mentioned the indigenous population, noting that all education – from the basics of reading and writing to the training of priests and administrators – took place in Jesuit institutions.94 As a result, when Yucatan's Jesuits were expelled, the sudden closure of all of the province's educational institutions was the worst and most lasting blow to the province's well-being. Creoles bore the brunt of the expulsion, not the region's indigenous majority. A scant six years after del Puerto aided royal officials in addressing one form of rebellion, King Carlos III decided that Jesuit subversion was too great a threat to the stability of his empire to tolerate the order's presence in any of his regimes. Carlos III's real cédula of 2 May 1767 went into effect in the Americas on 25 July of the same year, and the Jesuits were rounded up and forced to board ships to depart for Europe. After the expulsion, most Jesuits departed for Italy.95 While the act shocked American creoles, it came as part of a broader reaction against the order. Portugal first expelled Jesuits from its holdings in 1759, followed by France in 1764.96 In 1773, pressured by French and Spanish Bourbon kings, Pope Clement XIV suppressed the order.

Expulsion and the Suspension of Creole Education

The impact on creole education was devastating: The colegio in Campeche, a seminary and a short-lived second colegio in Mérida, as well as the only advanced degree-granting institution for miles around, the Colegio y Universidad de Mérida, were all shuttered. For a remote province, the population was quite well-educated, especially the clergy.97 The decline was evident after the Jesuits' departure. Under Jesuit teachers, the seminary had offered metaphysics, ethics, logic, and physics under the Jesuits; under the Franciscans it offered only Spanish and Latin grammar, theology, and philosophy.98 The Colegio y Universidad took longer to recovery; the confiscation of all the Jesuits' instructional materials prevented the reopening of the colegio until 1776. The re-establishment of the University took even longer.

     Best known for their missionary activities, the educational impact of the Jesuits in the Americas is a critical part of their role in the Americas. Besides their conversion efforts far afield, Jesuits played other key roles in the expanding world: mapping new terrain, circulating scientific knowledge, acting as cartographers and informal diplomats in China, managing haciendas in South America, merchants in the Pacific trade networks, and advising to monarchs in Reformation-era Catholic Europe, and of course, to educators in the Catholic world of Spain and Central Europe.99 In the Americas, however, more Jesuits were occupied in the familiar positions of educating and administering secondary and university students than in any other task. To help students grasp the extent of the impact of Jesuit teaching, it is worth asking one's class to imagine all of their professors being rounded up by armed men with no notice, loaded onto boats, and forced into exile, leaving behind empty institutions that would take decades to reopen. This, in effect, is what the creoles of the Americas experienced, one of the growing lists of grievances against Bourbon rule that eventually led to the independence movements of the early nineteenth century. Even the least enthusiastic students might sympathize with the resentful creoles and better understand the real mission of the Jesuits in the Americas.

     Although the Jesuits themselves limited their evangelization activities in frontier regions and were far more frequently found in colegios and universities than in remote missions, Father Gabriel in "The Mission" likely will remain the most familiar Jesuit for most college students. Years after its 1986 production, the film remains the go-to standard for many World History and Latin American History courses. There are many ways to provide a more nuanced teaching of the mission experience in combination with the film. Pairing the cinematic depiction of the Jesuits with an assigned article by James Schofield Saeger, "The Mission and Historical Missions: Film and the Writing of History," which sharply criticizes the perceived "insensitivity to Native Americans and ideological confusion" inherent in the movie, offers a counterpoint to the romanticized image of the Jesuits.100 Another, less polemical piece by Robert H. Jackson, "Missions on the Frontiers of Spanish America," offers a gentler historical critique of "The Mission's" "neo-utopian perspective" in its cinematic depiction of the Jesuits in Paraguay.101

     While these two articles add critical nuance to the representations of Jesuit and indigenous interactions in one of the best-known sites of missionary activity, it is also important to highlight the multifaceted roles of Jesuits in the globalizing world rather than the one-dimensional depictions of the Society of Jesus as simply a missionary order. Scientific observers, cartographers, disseminators of scientific knowledge, cultural intermediaries, diplomats, and advisors to kings and princes, Jesuits took on several critical roles in expanding Europe's presence in and knowledge of an increasingly interconnected globe. No religious order's activities or chronology – from their founding in 1540 to their suppression in 1773 – coincides so neatly with the era of explorations and transatlantic empires than the Jesuits'. Already established in the Americas, Africa, and Asia within two decades of their founding, an in-class discussion of the Jesuits' transoceanic expansion makes for a useful case study of one facet of the growth of European overseas empires in the age of exploration and conquest. In the Western Hemisphere, it is also worth considering the underappreciated role the order played in ushering the next era in world history, the Age of Revolutions. In exile, banished priests of the disbanded order wrote nostalgic elegies for the lands they left behind, defending the Americas against the derogatory depictions of the degeneracy of the Americas and its flora, fauna, and inhabitants – both indigenous and Europeans born in the Americas.102 As departed educators, Jesuits left behind well-educated creole alumni with a strong sense of regional pride. With their writings and instruction, these "Jesuit Patriots" set the stage for the independence of the Americas, an often overlooked contribution of Loyola's order to the history of the Americas and the world.

Mark Lentz is an Assistant Professor of History at Utah Valley University and co-editor of City Indians in Spain's American Empire: Urban Indigenous Society in Colonial Mesoamerica and Andean South America, 1530–1810 (Sussex, UK: Sussex Academic Press). Much of the research for this article was made possible from a fellowship to participate in a 2013 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute, Empires and Interactions across the Early Modern World, 1500–1800, at St. Louis University. A 2013 research fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History provided time and access to secondary sources for final revisions on the article. Mark Lentz can be reached at


1 Inga Clendinnen, Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517–1570 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 45–47.

2 Harry Crosby, Antigua California: Mission and Colony on the Peninsular Frontier, 1697–1768 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994); David Yetman, Conflict in Colonial Sonora: Indians, Priests, and Settlers (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2012); Susan M. Deeds, Defiance and Deference in Mexico's Colonial North: Indians under Spanish Rule in Nueva Vizcaya (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003); Robert H. Jackson, Missions and Frontiers of Spanish America: A Comparative Study of the Impact of Environmental, Economic, Political, and Socio-Cultural Variations on the Missions in the Rio de la Plata Region and on the Northern Frontier of New Spain (Scottsdale, AZ: Pentacle Press, 2005); James Schofield Saeger, The Chaco Mission Frontier: The Guaycuruan Experience, 1700–1800 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2000); and Barbara Anne Ganson, The Guaraní under Spanish Rule in the Rio de la Plata (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2005) are among recent works covering Jesuit missions along New Spain's northern frontier and the South American Interior.

3 Jesuits were also seen as more rigorous than secular clergy, or priests unaffiliated with a specific religious order. In 1756, for example, the fiscal of the Audiencia of Mexico favored the Jesuits as agents of conversion over secular priests, whom he accused of desiring to reside in curates "without discomfort and work . . . to live at ease." Archivo General de las Indias (AGI), México 1032, "Cartas y expedientes del cabildo eclesiástico de Mérida," 1756 (s/f).

4 Grant D. Jones, The Conquest of the Last Maya Kingdom (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1998) provides a thorough and meticulously researched account of the conquest of Petén and the events leading up to its subjugation.

5 Francisco Javier Alegre, Historia de la provincia de la Compañía de Jesús de Nueva España, Ernest J. Burrus y Felix Zubillaga eds., vol. 4 (Rome: Institutum Historicum, S.J., 1956), 190–191. Caught up in the War of Spanish Succession, Philip V likely paid little attention to Americans matters from 1700 to 1713.

6 For the most complete work on the close collaboration between Portugal and the Jesuits in the globalizing world, see Dauril Alden, The Making of an Enterprise: The Society of Jesus in Portugal, Its Empire, and Beyond, 1540–1750 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1996). Malyn Newitt, Portuguese Overseas Expansion, 1400–1668 (New York: Routledge, 2005), is a more recent work discussing the partnership between the Portuguese and the Jesuits.

7Daniel T. Reff, Plagues, Priests, and Demons: Sacred Narratives and the Rise of Christianity in the Old World and the New (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

8 Adriaan C. van Oss, Catholic Colonialism: A Parish History of Guatemala, 1524–1821 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 12.

9 In one proselytizing effort in 1618, frays Juan de Orbita and Bartolomé de Fuensalida were chosen to travel to Petén Itzá because the two were experts in Yucatec Maya, which was mutually intelligible with the language spoken by Petén's Indians. López de Cogolludo, Historia de Yucathan, 477. Cogolludo also wrote, "These Ytzaex (Itza) Indians are of Yucatecan origin and originally from the land of Yucatan, and speak the same Maya language...." (Cogolludo, 507).For a description of the evolution of various branches of the Yucatec Language Family, see Charles Andrew Hofling, "The Linguistic Context of the Kowoj," in The Kowoj: Identity, Migration, and Geopolitics in Late Postclassic Petén, Guatemala, eds, Prudence M. Rice and Don S. Rice (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2009). See also Mark W. Lentz, "Colonial Literacy in Yucatec Maya: An Authentic Indigenous Voice, or Regional Interethnic Lingua Franca?" in Encounter, Engagement, and Exchange: How Native Populations of the Americas Transformed the World, ed. John B. Wright (New Orleans: Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials, 2011).

10 Archivo General de la Nación (México), (AGN), Fondo Colonial, Grupo Documental 64 Jesuitas, Vol. I–11, Exp. 133, Folios 409–410, 8 Marzo 1705.

11 The term "mission" itself is a complicated one, as Luke Clossey examines in Salvation and Globalization in the Early Jesuit Missions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 13–17. Its meaning evolved over time and varied from one place to another. By the eighteenth century, the period in question for this article, "missions" referred to remote sites of Jesuit efforts to convert and congregate indigenous populations who had previously only experienced limited contact with Europeans, at least in New Spain. Other Jesuit establishments appear identified as colegios, universities, seminaries, and residences in the Vatican Film Library of St. Louis University (VFL)'s Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu (ARSI) collection.

12 Roland Joffé, Director, "The Mission" (1986).

13 For contemporary use of Guaraní in Paraguay, see Robert Andrew Nickson, "Governance and the Revitalization of the Guaraní Language in Paraguay," Latin American Research Review 44, no. 3 (2009), 3–26.

In Yucatán and Petén, contemporary accounts record widespread fluency in Yucatec and Itzá Maya, which they referred to as "el idioma maya." The governor of the presidio of Petén, don José de Gálvez, in 1801, wrote that in Petén, "mulatos [of African and Spanish ancestry] as much as Indians speak no other language but Yucatec," demonstrating that across races, Maya was the primary language. He also noted a preference for priests from Yucatan due to their mastery of the indigenous language. Archivo General de Centroámerica (AGCA), A1.11.7, Leg. 186, Exp. 3813, 1800, ff. 26v–29v.

14 For the best work to date on the foundation of Belize in Spanish-claimed territory, see O. Nigel Bolland, The Formation of a Colonial Society: Belize, from Conquest to Crown Colony (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977).

15 See, for example, Luke Clossey, Salvation and Globalization in the Early Jesuit Missions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Nicholas P. Cushner, Soldiers of God: The Jesuits in Colonial America (Buffalo, N.Y.: Language Communications, 2002); and many of the titles mentioned in footnote 2 above.

16 Clossey cited Dauril Alden's work for the Portuguese-based Jesuits as his source for the term, but applied it to the same period, an era which his work did not cover extensively. Clossey, Salvation and Globalization, 18.

17 Jeffrey Klaiber, S.J., The Jesuits in Latin America, 1549–2000: 450 Years of Inculturation, Defense of Human Rights, and Prophetic Witness (St. Louis, MO: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2009).

18 Patronato Real, or royal patronage, gave the Spanish monarchs extensive control over church matters in the Americas via a series of papal concessions of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Spanish monarchs controlled both financial and personnel affairs of clergymen in colonial Latin America. For a full treatment of the development of crown authority in the Americas, see W. Eugene Shiels, King and Church: The Rise and Fall of the Patronato Real (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1961).

19 John O'Malley, The First Jesuits (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993), 299.

20 In 1601, still early in the Jesuits' time in colonial New Spain, Spanish-born Jesuits outnumbered their American born counterparts in the remote parishes designated as missions (missio) five to one. VFL, ARSI, Provincia Mexicana Catal. trien. 8, Roll 136, 1601.

21 VFL, ARSI, Provincia Mexicana Catal. trien. 9, Roll 137, 1758.

22 Luke Clossey's critical work emphasizes the unity of the Jesuits and their near-military discipline that earned them a reputation as "Soldiers of Christ." However, the author also notes the complications entailed by the competing claims to authority of monarchs and popes, whose interests did not coincide. Clossey, Salvation and Globalization in Early Jesuit Missions, 28–30 and 51–54. Clossey's work also covers the early years of Jesuits most closely. The present work examines an era in which a growing number of Jesuits learned, taught, and administered in colegios and other educational institutions close to their birthplace. As discussed in detail below, this "creolization" of the Jesuit order in New Spain, including Yucatan, diminished the order's enthusiasm for traveling to far-flung locations for missionary work.

23 Due in part to being drastically outnumbered by Yucatan's Franciscans, whose numbers reached over one hundred at their peak, to the Jesuits, who were fewer than twenty total in the province, Yucatan was not a site of major conflict between the two orders. Conflicts between Jesuits did emerge elsewhere in the early modern world, such as Africa and China. In 1758, for example, Jesuits in the colegio and seminary of Mérida and the residence in Campeche numbered only 14. VFL, ARSI, Provincia Mexicana Catal. trien. 9, Roll 159, 1758.

24 Because of the unique nature of Jesuit-run colegios, I have not attempted to translate this term, and have left it in its Spanish spelling. According to O'Malley, students attended the schools between the ages of ten to eighteen and the courses and content included aspects of both American high schools and undergraduate colleges. O'Malley, The First Jesuits, 215.

25 Mark W. Lentz, Early Jesuits and the Educational Emphasis in Yucatan (M.A. Thesis, Tulane University, 2004).

26 Quoted in O'Malley, The First Jesuits, 200.

27 Martyrdom also figures prominently in "The Father Kino Story," but not as dramatically or as central to the plot as in "The Mission."

28 Shūsaku Endō, Silence, trans. William Johnston (London: Peter Owen, 2007). The new edition, with a "Forward" by Martin Scorcese have only added fuel to reports that this work will soon appear in a cinematic rendition. Rumors of the film project, supposedly headed by Martin Scorsese, are scattered throughout internet postings in a variety of venues, including a review on Google Books ( and a British Jesuit website ( For those less inclined to use cinematic works, the 1992 documentary "The Company: Iñigo and His Jesuits" works well in a classroom setting.

29 AGI, México 307, "Cartas y Expedientes de Personas Eclesiásticas," 1667–1670, "Real Cédula de 1626." While the majority of the documents held in México 307 date from 1666 to 1670, earlier correspondence is included in the final pages of the volume.

30 See Barbara Ganson, The Guaraní under Spanish Rule in the Río de la Plata (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), for a discussion of the Jesuits in Paraguay and Evelyn Hu-DeHart, Missionaries, Miners, and Indians: Spanish Contact with the Yaqui Nation of Northwestern New Spain, 1533–1820 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1981), for a discussion of the Jesuits in these regions.

31 AGI, México 1032, "Cartas y expedientes del cabildo eclesiástico de Mérida," 1717 (s/f).

32 AGI, México 1032, "Cartas y expedientes del cabildo eclesiástico de Mérida," 1756 (s/f). In official correspondence regarding the condition of Petén, in which the bishop of Mérida lamented the disorderly state of Spanish settlement and ecclesiastical oversight, the fiscal cited the relative success of Jesuit missions in Sinaloa as a precedent for his preference for the "Fathers of the Company" over either secular priests or Dominicans.

33 Archivo General Centroámericana (AGCA), A1(6), Leg. 185, Exp. 3799, 1754–63. Although one Jesuit apparently did work among the Maya briefly in the 1720s, no permanent mission was ever founded.

34 For a broad survey of Jesuits and their initially positive but eventually fraught relationship with the Portuguese monarchy, see Alden, The Making of an Enterprise.

35 Joseph Abraham Levi, "Portuguese and Other European Missionaries in Africa: A Look at their Linguistic Production and Attitudes (1415–1885)," Historiographia Linguistica 35: 2/3 (2009): 363–392.

36 Newitt, A History of Portuguese Overseas Expansion, 137–139.

37 J. F. Moran, The Japanese and the Jesuits: Alessandro Valignano in Sixteenth-Century Japan (New York: Routledge, 1993), 2.

38 Liam Matthew Brockey, Journey to the East: The Jesuit Mission to China, 1579–1724 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008), 4–8.

39 Alida C. Metcalf, Go-betweens and the Colonization of Brazil: 1500–1600 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005), 90.

40 Ibid., 89–118.

41 Clendinnen, Ambivalent Conquests, 45–47.

42 Pané, Ramón, An Account of the Antiquities of the Indians: A New Edition, with an Introductory Study, Notes, and Appendices by José Juan Arrom (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999); and Ennis Edmonds and Michelle A. Gónzalez, eds., Caribbean Religious History: An Introduction (New York: New York University Press, 2010), 41.

43 Robert Ricard, The Spiritual Conquest of Mexico (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), 2–7; Bernardino Verástique, Michoacán and Eden: Vasco de Quiroga and the Evangelization of Western Mexico (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000), 97–99. See Patricia Lope Don, Bonfires of Culture: Franciscans, Indigenous Leaders, and the Inquisition in Early Mexico, 1524–1540 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010), for a recent treatment of Franciscans and their forceful efforts at conversion in the early post-Conquest years.

44 Ricard, The Spiritual Conquest, 69–72; and Van Oss, Catholic Colonialism, 14.

45 Ricard, The Spiritual Conquest, 3. Ricard wrote that the arrival of the Jesuits signaled the close of the age of the mendicant orders in New Spain.

46 John F. Schwaller, The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America: From Conquest to Revolution and Beyond (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 65–67. Augustinians, trailing behind and arriving in the 1540s, figured more prominently as intermediaries in ongoing efforts to end the factional wars between conquistadors than as missionaries.

47 Nicholas P. Cushner, Lords of the Land: Sugar, Wine, and Jesuit Estates of Coastal Perú, 1600–1767 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980); and Luis Martín, The Intellectual Conquest of Peru: The Jesuit College of San Pablo, 1568–1767 (New York: Fordham University Press, 1968).

48 Nicholas P. Cushner, Why Have You Come Here? The Jesuits and the First Evangelization of Native America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

49 During the sixteenth century at least, Portuguese monarchs favored the Jesuits to a degree unmatched by Spanish Habsburg monarchs, who preferred Franciscans and Dominicans in the so-called "Spiritual Conquest."

50 The delayed founding of the Colegio de San Francisco Javier in Mérida only came to pass after only when the colegio's founders received 20,000 pesos and some houses upon the death of Captain don Martín de Palomar, who willed these possessions to the Jesuits in 1608 or 1609. Diego López Cogolludo, Historia de Yucatán, 5th ed. (México: Editorial Academia Literaria, 1957), 214. The term "mendicant," which derived from their traditional need to beg for their sustenance, typically applies to Dominicans and Franciscans and is much less frequently used to describe Jesuits.

51 Robert M. Patch, Maya and Spaniard in Yucatán, 1648–1812 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993), 111, noted that the Yucatan's Jesuits, members of an order known for their skillful acquisition and management of haciendas elsewhere in Latin America, "never owned more than a handful of estancias, and none of these were exceptionally large or important."

52 For an accessible account of the rise of Franciscan power in Yucatan, see Clendinnen, Ambivalent Conquests, 45–92. This work and especially the three chapters dealing with the Franciscans are well-researched and highly readable, suitable for undergraduates.

53 Patch, Maya and Spaniard in Yucatán, 111.

54 Philip Ainsworth Means, History of the Spanish Conquest of Yucatan and of the Itzas (Cambridge, Mass.: Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, 1917), 47–48. Jacobo de Testera was better known for his efforts to proselytize among the indigenous inhabitants of both Central Mexico and Yucatan via "picture-book catechisms that look very much like comic strips without words." Frances Karttunen, Between Worlds: Interpreters, Guides, and Survivors (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1994), 89. There were in fact three different men, a father, son, and nephew, named Francisco de Montejo. Only the father and son participated in the second conquest.

55 Clendinnen, Ambivalent Conquests, 51–52.

56 Ibid., 47, 52–60. Clendinnen provides a concise description of how the papal bull Exponi Nobis Fecisti empowered Franciscans in the Americas and gave them wide latitude to act independently of bishops. See also, Nancy M. Farris, Maya Society under Colonial Rule: The Collective Enterprise of Survival (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984), 92–96.

57 Samuel Y. Edgerton, Jr. Theaters of Conversion: Religious Architecture and Indian Artisans in Colonial Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001), 78, 78.

58 Clendinnen, Ambivalent Conquests, 79–86, gives an extensive and graphic description of the abusive treatment imposed by de Landa.

59 Matthew Restall and John F. Chuchiak, IV, "A Reevaluation of the Authenticity of Fray Diego de Landa's Relación de las cosas de Yucatán" Ethnohistory 49, no. 3 (June 2002), 652.

60 Farris, Maya Society under Colonial Rule, 92–93.

61 The arrival of the Jesuits in Yucatan generated less controversy than elsewhere and seemed not to antagonize their potential rivals in other orders. The first two Jesuits, Father Pedro P. Díaz and Father Pedro Calderón, preached in the Cathedral of Mérida and resided in the Hospital of the Order of St. John. Scarcity of resources and manpower postponed its opening, not opposition from any other religious order or secular priests. Antonio Astrain, Historia de la Compañía de Jesús en la Asistencia de España, vol. 4 Madrid: Razón y Fé, 1912–1925), 399.

62 Farris, Maya Society under Colonial Rule, 93–96, 101. Franciscans initially taught the descendants of Maya nobles in their own schools, although such schools were eventually abandoned. Jesuits, who educated indigenous nobles elsewhere, made no such efforts to found schools for elite Mayas in Yucatan.

63 Alegre, Historia de la provincia, vol. 2, 308.

64 Alegre, Historia de la provincia, vol. 2, 342.

65 Andrés Pérez de Ribas, Corónica y historia religiosa de la provincia de la Compañía de Jesús de México en Nueva España, vol. 2 (México: Sagrado Corazon de Jesús, 1896), 314–315; and Robert M. Patch, Maya and Spaniard in Yucatán, 1648–1812 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993), 43.

66 Alegre, Historia de la provincia, vol. 3, 252. "There is not, nor has there been any finca that can provide sufficient rent to support the colegio."

67 Jesuit appeals for additional material support from the crown in Yucatan refer frequently to the "poverty and scarcity" of the province. AGI, México 307, "Cartas y Expedientes de Personas Eclesiásticas," 1667–1670, "Sobre los 500 pesos. . .." 1669. In 1764, three Jesuits lived in the residencia in Campeche, and ten taught and resided at either the seminary or the colegio and university in Mérida. Anonymous, Catalogus personarun, et officiorum Provinciæ Mexicanæ Societatis Jesu, 1764, reprinted in Nicolás León, Bibliografía mexicana del siglo XVIII (México: Imprenta de la viuda de Francisco Díaz de León, 1906), 78. Even a work aimed to revise the traditional view of Yucatan as an economic backwater, Patch's Maya and Spaniard in Yucatán, recognized the poor conditions for large-scale agricultural production that led to prosperity elsewhere: "In fact, there is no truly good soil anywhere in Yucatán." (p. 9)

68 By 1669, Jesuits in Mérida offered instruction in grammar, philosophy, and moral theology. They later added additional courses, including instruction in Yucatec Maya. AGI, México 307, "Cartas y Expedientes de Personas Eclesiásticas," 1667–1670, "Sobre los 500 pesos. . .." 1669.

69 These four degrees roughly resemble a high school diploma (bachillerato), a college or university Bachelor of Arts (licenciado), a Master's of Arts (maestría), and a Doctorate of Philosophy (doctorado). Both the bachillerato and the licenciado require more time spent and the licenciado implies more professional training than its modern United States counterpart. The maestría and doctorado are closer equivalents to English cognates.

70 Universidad de Yucatán, Monografía de la Universidad de Yucatán (Mérida, México: Ediciones de la Universidad de Yucatán, 1977), 2.

71 AGI, Audiencia de México, 307, "Carta del Gobernador de Yucatán sobre la Compañía de Jesús," 1666; AGN, Fondo Colonial, Grupo Documental 64 Jesuitas, Vol. I–14, Exp. 137, Folios 859–861; Zelis, Catalogo de los sugetos; Anonymous, Catalogus Personarun, et officiorum Provinciæ Mexicanæ Societatis Jesu, 1764, reprinted in Nicolás León, Bibliografía Mexicana del Siglo XVIII (México: Imprenta de la viuda de Francisco Díaz de León, 1906). Though often referred to as a colegio in some of the sources, the official Jesuit sources such as the catalogs of the years preceding the expulsion and letters written by Campeche's rector refer to it as a "residencia."

72 AGN, Fondo Colonial, Grupo Documental 64 Jesuitas, Vol. I–12, Exp. 445, Folio 2972. Letter from María de Ugarte to Provincial of New Spain, Father Diego de Arbizu, 4 October 1706. Women were prominent supporters of Jesuit endeavors in both Europe and the Americas, though the Jesuits unlike many orders never founded a "second order" of nuns like many other religious did. An earlier female patron, doña María Tello de Aguilar, had willed an encomienda to the Jesuits in the mid-seventeenth century, a crucial source of income during a time of scarcity in Yucatan. (AGI, México 307, "Cartas y Expedientes de Personas Eclesiásticas," 1667–1670, "Prorrogación al Colegio de la Compañía de Jesús de Yucatán. . ..," 1663). See also, Olwen Hufton, "Altruism and Reciprocity: The Early Jesuits and Their Female Patrons," Renaissance Studies 15, no. 3 (September 2001): 330.

73 This second cohort of Jesuits arrived in Yucatan but acted on the request of the President of the Audiencia of Guatemala in 1716. AGI, México 1032, "Cartas y expedientes del cabildo eclesiástico de Mérida," 1717, (s/f).

74 AGI, México 1032, "Cartas y expedientes del cabildo eclesiástico de Mérida," 1717, (s/f).

75 In terms of the relative absence of rivalries with other orders, the Jesuits of Yucatan are atypical. The Society of Jesus did compete for scarce resources and royal favor in other regions of New Spain such as Sinaloa and Guatemala. AGI, México 307, "Cartas y Expedientes de Personas Eclesiásticas," 1667–1670, "Consejo," 1668. The fact that most Yucatecan Creole priests were educated by Jesuits, from basic reading and writing to seminary training, muted antagonism between secular clergy and the Society of Jesus.

76 AGI, México 1032, "Cartas y expedientes del cabildo eclesiástico de Mérida," 1717, "Despacho" and "Auto."

77 Ibid., ff. 2–3.

78 AGI, México 1032, "Cartas y expedientes del cabildo eclesiástico de Mérida," 1717. The maestrescuela, Dr. don Sancho del Puerto, did not name all eight of the secular priests working in the fourteen towns of the parish of Petén, but he did identify three who made official declarations describing the progress in the missions. They included don Marcos de Vargas, don Domingo Medrano, and don Cristóbal Santiago de la Cuesta. These three all held the degree of bachiller, most likely from the Jesuit colegio in Mérida.

79 John L. Kessell, Spain in the Southwest: A Narrative History of Colonial New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and California (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 202), 125–7.

80 VFL, ARSI, Provincia Mexicana Catal. trien. 9, Roll 136, 1624 and 1632.

81 Patch wrote that in 1648, "Yucatan embarked on a new historical era," referring to demographic trends that apply on a small scale to the Jesuits. After the majority died in the apparent outbreak of yellow fever (Patch's interpretation), creoles formed a much larger percentage of the newly reconstituted colegio as well as later institutions in Yucatan. Patch, Maya and Spaniard in Yucatán, 42.

82 VFL, ARSI, Provincia Mexicana Catal. trien. 9, Roll 136, 1659.

83 VFL, ARSI, Provincia Mexicana Catal. trien. 9, Roll 137, 1708 and 1758.

84 An especially astute observer of local conditions, the fiscal of the Audiencia of México in 1756, noted that the Dominicans of Guatemala were not as familiar as Jesuits from Yucatan with the culture of the Itzá despite years of working with the culturally and linguistically distinct highland Maya of Guatemala.

85 Grant D. Jones, The Conquest of the Last Maya Kingdom (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 413. Jones found this information in the Archivo General de las Indias in Seville, in the Audiencia of Mexico section. Francisco Zambrano, the Jesuit compiler of the Diccionario Bio-Bibliográfico de la Compañía de Jesús en México, found no information on Valtierra's activities among the Itzá in the Vatican's Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu in Rome. The microfilmed records of the same material held in St. Louis University's Vatican Film Library consulted for this article also make no mention of his activities among the Itzá, nor is a "mission" ever identified for this region. Instead, he noted Valtierra's presence at the Colegio of Chiapas, the Colegio del Espíritu Santo de Puebla, and the Colegio Noviciado of Tepotzotlan. According to Zambrano, he served as an operario, one in charge of overseeing day-to-day activities, as a professor of theology in Guatemala, and as a Rector at the Colegio de Chiapas, duties that seemingly had little connection with preaching among the Maya. Zambrano used the triennial catalogs held in the Vatican's Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu in Rome for this information. Still, an eight-year gap in the records between 1711 and 1719, and later an eleven-year gap in the record between 1719 and 1730 may allow for neither of these sources to contradict the other. Zambrano, Diccionario Bio-Bibliográfico, vol. 16, 608–609.

86 VFL, ARSI, Provincia Mexicana Catal. trien. 9, Roll 137, 1720.

87 Decorme, La obra de los jesuitas mexicanos, vol. 1, 269. Decorme's account must be taken with a grain of salt, though. His nearly hagiographic account of Gómez's life includes walking from town to town bearing an image of Our Lady of the Light and the miraculous taming of a wild bull with the aid of "la Virgen de la Luz."

88 Decorme, La obra de los jesuitas mexicanos, vol. 1, 269–270.

89 Rafael de Zelis, Catalogo de los sugetos de la Compañía de Jesús que formaban la Provincia de México el día de arresto, 25 de Junio de 1767 (México: I. Escalante y Compañía, 1871), 129.

90 See Mark W. Lentz, "Colonial Literacy in Yucatec Maya: An Authentic Indigenous Voice, or Regional Interethnic Lingua Franca?" in Encounter, Engagement, and Exchange: How Native Populations of the Americas Transformed the World, ed. John B. Wright (New Orleans: Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials, 2011).

91 Lorenzo Hervás y Panduro, Catálogo de las lenguas de las naciones conocidas, y numeración, división, y clases de estas según la diversidad de sus idiomas y dialectos, vol. I (Lenguas y Naciones Americanas), (Madrid: 1800), 288; Zelis, Catalogo de los sujetos, 36.

92 AGI, Indiferente, 214, No. 18, "Méritos: Juan de Salazar Montejo," 1701.

93 Martín del Puerto, "Relación hecha al cabildo eclesiástico por el prepósito de la Compañía de Jesús, acerca de la muerte de Jacinto Can-Ek y sócios," reprinted in El Registro Yucateco, vol. 4 (Mérida, Yucatán, México: Castillo y Compañía, 1846), 99–103. Originally written 26 December 1761.

94 AGI, México 307, "Cartas y Expedientes de Personas Eclesiásticas," 1667–1670, "Sobre los 500 pesos. . .." 1669.

95 Zelis, Catalogo de los sugetos, 90–91.

96 Mörner, The Expulsion of the Jesuits, 10–12; Victor Rico Gonzalez, "Introducción" to Documentos Sobre la Expulsión de los Jesuítas y Ocupación de sus Temporalidades en Nueva España (1772–1783) (Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico: Instituto de Historia, 1949), 4.

97 Crescencio Carrillo y Ancona, El obispado de Yucatán (Mérida de Yucatán: R. Caballero, 1895), 623, 683–683.

98 UDY, Monografía, 3.

99 Robert Bireley, The Jesuits and the Thirty Years War: Kings, Courts, and Confessors (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2003); John W. O'Malley, Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Steven J. Harris, and T. Frank Kennedy, eds., The Jesuits: Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts, 1540–1773, 2 vols. (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1999); Herman W. Konrad, Jesuit Hacienda in Colonial Mexico: Santa Lucía, 1576–1767 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1980); Luke Clossey, "Merchants, Migrants, Missionaries, and Globalization in the Early Pacific,"Journal of Global History(2006), 41–58; Simon Ditchfield, "What did Natural History have to do with Salvation? Jose de Costa SJ (1540–1600) in the Americas," inGod's Bounty? The Churches and the Natural World, Peter Clarke and Tony Claydon eds. (London: Boydell Press, 2010), 144–68; Nicholas P. Cushner, Farm and Factory: The Jesuits and the Development of Agrarian Capitalism in Colonial Quito, 1600–1767 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1982); Cushner, Jesuit Ranches and the Agrarian Development of Colonial Argentina, 1650–1767 (Albany: State of New York University Press, 1983); and Cushner, Lords of the Land: Sugar, Wine, and Jesuit Estates of Coastal Peru, 1600–1767 (Albany: State of New York University Press, 1980).

100 James Schofield Saeger, "The Mission and Historical Missions: Film and the Writing of History," The Americas 51, no. 3 (January 1995): 393–415.

101 Robert H. Jackson, "Missions on the Frontiers of Spanish America," Journal of Religious History 33, no. 2 (2009): 328–347.

102 D.A. Brading, The First America: The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots, and the Liberal State, 1492–1867 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991) , 447–465. Cornelius de Pauw wrote the most polemical of several eighteenth-century works that alleged that America's climate and landscape student grown and bred laziness. De Pauw, Recherces philosophiques sur les Américains: ou, Mémoires intérressants pour servir à l'hisoire de l'espece humaine (Berlin, 1770). For additional discussions of the Jesuit role in the creation of a creole identity, see Jorge Cañizares Esguerra, How to Write the History of the New World: Histories, Epistemologies, and Identities in the eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2001), 249–261.

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