Short History of Mexico - Arthur H. Noll

Military Governors and Ecclesiastics

Upon the capitulation of Tenochtitlan, Cortes took up his residence in Cuyuacan. A house built for him and La Marina shortly afterwards still exists on the north side of the plaza in that town (now called Coyoacan), and is used as the municipal building. From his new headquarters the Captain-General commanded the cleansing of the pueblo he had just captured and despoiled, employing fires to burn the dead bodies lying in heaps in all parts of it. He sought also to relieve the necessities of the famished survivors of the terrible siege. It is hazarded as a guess that 100,000 of the Aztecs had died either in battle or of hunger during the siege.

At once there began a clamor among the Spanish soldiers for the treasures of the Aztecs which had been held out before their imaginations throughout their hardships as the rewards of their perseverance. The amount actually divided among them could not have given them more than one hundred pesos per capita  according to Bernal Diaz, and that was, even if pesos de oro  or gold, were meant, but $1,200, and was disappointing; while if $100 silver were intended, it was a mere pittance as compensation for their two years and a half of risks and toils, of wounds and sickness. To appease their clamoring, Cuauhtemoc and one of the war-chiefs of Tlacopan were put to torture, that they might be made to divulge what disposition had been made of the wealth of the Aztecs. Their feet were covered with oil and roasted before a slow fire. But the torture was heroically borne (by Cuauhtemoc at least, who turned to his companion and in reply to his groans said, "Do not suppose that I am as comfortable as I would be in my bath") and the only admission that could be extorted was that the treasures had been thrown into Lake Texcoco. Search in the lake, however, revealed but a few objects, and those of small value.

The next subject to which attention was given by the great Conqueror was the government of the newly acquired territory. Naturally he established, tentatively, a military government, assuming for himself the titles of Governor, Captain-General, and Chief Justice. He was subsequently confirmed in these titles by the King of Spain, to whom he had diligently reported all his proceedings in the new country, and in whose name he had taken possession of the territory, naming it New Spain.

The building of a city, to be the capital of New Spain, was ordered upon the captured site, against the judgment of several who saw many more desirable locations for a city within the Mexican Valley. It was upon a plan intended to vie with the cities of Spain in splendor that Cortes set out upon the work of reconstruction. The canals were to a great extent filled up. The names of many of the streets in the modern city are our clue to the size of the Spanish city immediately succeeding the overthrow of Tenochtitlan. An irregular circle of streets each named Puente  (bridge) would indicate the limits of the island city. The southern limits must have been in the neighborhood of Puente de San Antonio Abad; the western limits may be traced through the streets named Puente de Mariscala, Puente de San Francisco, and several others on a line therewith; the eastern boundary must have been considerably within the line of the puentes  in the vicinity of San Lazaro; while the narrow dividing line between Mexico and Tlatelolco (though the latter was included within the new city, and reserved for occupancy by the natives) is likewise indicated by a line of streets deriving their names from ancient bridges over a canal.

The lines of the causeways were partially retained within the city. The tourist may now trace the southern causeway from the southeast corner of the Zocalo, or main plaza, through the Calle de los Flamencos, and in a direct line past the Hospital de Jesus to San Antonio Abad (the street, though straight, changing its name with every block,—a characteristic of Mexican streets), near which point stood Xoloc, and the fork occurred in the ancient causeway. If the northern causeway was, as has been said, in direct continuation of the southern, its line within the city has been obliterated, and corresponds to no existing street. Beyond the city limits, it is that highway by which the street-cars now run to the city of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. The western causeway has been already identified. It was the first to be widened, and, in order to make it a sure way of retreat, no sluices were left open in it. That a series of defenses might be obtained, house-building was especially encouraged along its line. The growth of the city in that direction has been the consequence. Along the north side of the Alameda this causeway bears the name of La Avenida de Hombres Ilustres  ("Avenue of Illustrious Men"), in token of its historic memories.

The great teocalli  had been completely destroyed, and its site was permanently set apart for a Christian temple. Prior to the year 1524 a small church was built there. It was intended as a temporary structure merely, and was replaced in a few years by another small edifice. The latter building was, however, of the dignity of a cathedral, Mexico having been erected into a diocese by Pope Clement VII., in 1527, and Fray Juan de Zumarraga having been made its first Bishop.

In the partition of the city by lot among the conquerors, the site of the tecpan  of Moteczuma II fell to the Captain-General, and upon it Cortes built a large, low house, with towers at the corners, intending to use the same as the gubernatorial palace. It was confirmed to him by royal order, and continued in his own and his heirs' possession until 1562, when it was bought by the Spanish government to be used as the vice-regal palace. The present National Palace, occupying the same site, was begun thirty years later, after the original building had been destroyed by fire in a riot. There was also assigned to Cortes a palace built upon the site of the present Monte de Piedad, or national pawnshop.

In the work of reconstruction the Governor employed the services of the Tlaxcalan allies, thus fulfilling the predictions of the Aztecs, as during the siege they beheld their hereditary enemies engaged in the work of destruction under the commands of the Spaniards. "Ay, go on and destroy," they had said; "you will only have to rebuild as the slaves of the white men."

The adventurous spirit of Cortes was ill-suited to the quiet pursuits of government, and he was well pleased when the opportunity came for him to lead an army into Hibueros, as Central America was then called, in 1525. The occasion was an insurrection headed by Olid, who had been appointed governor of that region. It was on the way thither that in Izanca (now called Tabasco) final disposition was made of the brave Cuauhtemoc. He was accused, probably unjustly, of conspiring with others to overthrow Cortes, and was summarily hanged to a cypress- tree; and thus died the last Tlaca-tecuhtli of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, in the twenty-seventh or twenty-eighth year of his age.

Cortes found Olid already dead when he reached Hibueros, and the land at peace; but on his return to Mexico he found that his enemies had supplanted him in his absence, and his life was henceforth principally spent in defending his character from the charges brought against him by those who were envious of his fame. Many false charges were undoubtedly brought against him, and in addition to these his whole career was made the subject of investigation. It was probably from no very good motives that he was made to defend many acts for which we would ourselves condemn him,—the massacre of the Cholulans, the capture of Moteczuma, the torture and finally the death of Cuauhtemoc. Journeys to Spain were made to arrange his affairs and defend himself from the machinations of his enemies. In the intervals of these journeys he made expeditions of discovery and conquest in the neighborhood of Jalisco and the Pacific coast as far as California. In 1529 the Emperor Charles V. bestowed upon him the title of Marques del Valle de Oaxaca, and with it an immense estate comprising the Valley of Quauhnahuac (Cuernavaca), a beautiful and fertile valley a day's ride southwest of the Mexican capital. A cross set up by the great Conquistador to mark the eastern boundary of his vast estate may still be seen at Cruz del Marques. At Cuernavaca, in buildings which still stand, the last three years of his life in Mexico were spent A church which he built also exists there.

The declining years of Cortes were not happy. He gave up Marina to her people on one of his journeys into her native country. His own wife arrived from Cuba, but died soon after her arrival, and his enemies hesitated not to say that he caused her death. Tradition points out a well in Coyoacan in which he is said to have drowned her, but this is clearly a mistake. In addition to the malicious stories proclaimed by his envious enemies, the ingratitude of his sovereign, whose territories and riches he had vastly increased, served to magnify the difficulties of his old age. He finally went to Spain, and was taken seriously ill at Sevilla. Removing to a neighboring village called Castilleja de la Cuesta, he died there the 2nd of December, 1547, in the sixty-third year of his age. He was but thirty-five when he set out upon his career of conquest in Mexico.

His body was first buried in the tomb of the Dukes of Medina Sidonia in the Chapel of San Isidro; but subsequently, in partial fulfillment of his expressed wishes, his bones were taken to Mexico and placed in the Church of San Francisco, Texcoco. In 1629, upon the death of his grandson Pedro, son of the Martin who was born to the Conqueror by La Marina, decided to bury the bones of the Captain-General with the body of his grandson in the Monastery of San Francisco in the City of Mexico. With great solemnity this was done in February that year. In 1794 the bones of the Conqueror were again removed, this time to the Church of Jesus Nazareno, which, with the adjoining hospital, he himself had founded and amply endowed sometime prior to 1524. There a marble sarcophagus had been prepared to receive them. The sarcophagus remains and may be seen by visitors, but in the revolutionary times, the second and third decades of the present century, when everything Spanish was the object of hatred and liable to mob violation, the bones of Cortes were removed for greater safety (on the night of the 15th of September, 1823), and hidden in another part of the church. They were finally removed by Don Lucas Alaman, the famous historian and publicist, and Mexican agent of the Duke of Monteleone, the heir of Cortes, and sent to Italy, where they are now at rest in the tomb of the Monteleones.

The form of government, established by Cortes in Vera Cruz under the name of ayuntamiento  was a very wise provision, and many of its ordinances have been in force in Mexico since the year 1522. In addition to this there was a board of Royal Officials (Officiales Reales)  having charge of the government of New Spain ad interim, in the absence of Cortes. When Cortes fell under the suspicion of the Spanish sovereign there were appointed by the crown Visitors and Resident judges (Jos Visitadores y Jueces de Residencia)  to examine and report upon the charges made against him, and to assume the government in cases of necessity. Finally there were Royal Audiences (Oidores Reales), boards composed of jurists, usually five in number, whose duties were to administer justice and to act as a check upon the military governors; and in case of a vacancy in the head of the colonial government, the President of the Audience filled the post ad interim. There were at first two such audiences, one in the City of Mexico, the other at some distance therefrom, and intended to have jurisdiction along the Pacific coast.

Don Luis Ponce de Leon succeeded Cortes as military governor of New Spain in 1526, but he lived only a few months and was succeeded by a jurist named Marcos Aguilar. The next year Alonzo Estrada and Gonzalo Sandoval were military governors. In 1528 the first Audience was sent out to Mexico, virtually for the purpose of persecuting Cortes. Its president, Nuno de Guzman, was a man of great cruelty and dishonesty, and left an unsavory record behind him on account of his unprovoked murder of the Tarascan chief in Michoacan. In 1529 a second Audience came to Mexico. Its president was Sebastian Rameres de Fuenleal, and this Audience retained the governing power, without accomplishing much of historic interest, until the year 1535, when the first of a long line of Viceroys begun to rule in New Spain.

Meanwhile another important governing power had been established in the land, demanding our attention. As has been mentioned, Pope Clement VII in 1527 erected Mexico into a bishopric and appointed, upon the nomination of Emperor Charles V., Fray Juan de Zumarraga, as Bishop. He received the title of Bishop and Protector of the Indians. When other dioceses were created in New Spain, and the original diocese was advanced to an archbishopric, its first Bishop was correspondingly advanced in dignity. This was by act of Pope Paul II in 1545. From the very first the prelates of New Spain exercised a great influence in the civil affairs of the country. They early won the good-will of the natives. They were empowered to exercise the vice-regal functions ad interim  in certain cases, upon the death of the Viceroy. So that we have the names of no less than ten prelates in the long list of Spanish Viceroys.

In the period now under our notice, from the Conquest to the time of the Viceroys, the ecclesiastical power was taking a deep root in the fertile soil of New Spain, to have there a most astonishing growth for three centuries and more. The most prominent monuments to greet the eyes of the tourists in Mexico at the present day are those relating to the ecclesiastical history of that country. It is necessary, therefore, that some attention be given to that subject.

In point of fact, one of the terms of the contract by which the Spanish kings acquired right to the countries of the New World under the bull of Pope Alexander VI. (May 4, 1493) was the advancement of the Church in those countries. And there can be no doubt that one of the actuating motives of the expedition for the conquest of Mexico was a zeal for Holy Church, and each one of the rough old warriors belonging to the army of Cortes had a desire, along with his love of gold and of adventure, to bring other nations under the sway of the Holy Faith. They were not accomplished missionaries, it must be confessed, and failed most ingloriously in all their attempts to bring the natives of Mexico to a knowledge of the Christian religion. But belonging to the expedition of Cortes was Father Olmedo, a fit type of the soldier priest of the sixteenth century. He not only shrived the soldiers, and said masses for them before going into battle, and gave Christian burial to the slain, but he baptized such of the natives as desired to adopt the new faith, and judiciously instructed all who expressed a desire to learn anything concerning the religion of the Europeans. The destruction of heathen temples, furthermore, was quickly followed by the building of Christian churches. In the case of the great teocalli  of Tenochtitlan, we have already seen the pro-cathedral erected and rebuilt. The Sagrario (adjoining the cathedral) was built in 1524 as the first parish church, for the use of the European residents of New Spain. The present structure is of much more recent date (circa  1749).

Missionaries were among the first colonizers in New Spain. Every ship from the old country brought some of them. They were for the most part members of one or another of the various religious orders. Fray Pedro Gante (Peter of Ghent in Flanders) and five missionaries were among the earliest of these, and they established themselves in Texcoco. And in 1524 the "twelve Apostles of Mexico," as they were called, being twelve Franciscans, appeared in the country. To the most prominent of these, Fray Martin de Valencia, the Superior of the Province, has been given the name "The Father of the Mexican Church." Finding Pedro Gante at his work in Texcoco, they took him with them to the City of Mexico.

It was by the Franciscans, who at once assumed control of the missions to the Indians, that the new city was divided into four sections or parishes, coterminous with the former divisions of Tenochtitlan, and the names of the churches erected in these four divisions supplanted the Indian names formerly given to them. San Juan Bautista, now San Juan de la Penitencia (no longer a parish church), in the market-place of San Juan, gave its name to what was formerly known as Moyotlan, in the southwest; the church of San Pablo on the Plaza San Pablo in the southeast gave its name to what was formerly Teapan; Nuestra Senora de la Ascunsion (now known as Santa Maria la Redonda), on a block bounded by various streets having Santa Maria in their names, in the northwest, gave its name to what was formerly known as Cuepapan; and in the northeast the church of San Sebastian, on the street of that name, gave its name to what had been known as Aztacalco. These four churches were designed for the use of the natives, and were all subordinate to the church of San Jose de los Naturales, near San Juan de la Penitencia. The buildings which first bore the names above-mentioned no longer exist in Mexico, as will hereafter more clearly appear; but the names themselves are historic monuments, and mark sites of deep interest to the tourist. Tlatelolco became the seat of the church of Santiago and of a "college" for the natives, in 1536.

The very year of his arrival, Fray Valencia founded Franciscan monasteries in Huexotzinco, Texcoco, Tlaxcala, and the City of Mexico. The site occupied in the City of Mexico was that said to have formerly contained the natural- history museum of Tenochtitlan,—a tract bounded by the present streets of Zuleta, San Juan de Letran, Coliseo, Colegio de las Ninas, and First San Francisco. The tract is now intersected by the Calle de la Independencia (a monument of an historical event of a later century) and a short street very appropriately named Calle Gante. Upon this tract was erected a magnificent monastery, of which detached portions still exist, and cannot fail to attract the attention of the visitor. The building, however, belongs to a later period. The school of San Juan de Letran was founded in 1529.

The development of the work undertaken by the Franciscans was so encouraging that by 1565 three other provinces had been erected: San Jose de Yucatan, Santo Nombre de Jesus de Guatemala, and San Pedro y San Pablo de Michoacan; and in 1606 two others were added: Santiago de Jalisco, and Nuestro Padre de San Francisco de Zacatecas.

In 1526 missionary monks of the Dominican order arrived in Mexico. Their career was so intimately connected with the history of the country that we shall have occasion to see more of them. In 1533 seven Augustinian monks arrived and took possession of a tract of land in a part of the City of Mexico called Zoquiapan, where now stands the Bibliotheca Nacional on the Calle de San Agustin. Other and less important orders arrived subsequently from time to time.

The tourist will find in the sacred names given to streets in the City of Mexico, and in other cities of the country, lasting monuments to the number of edifices once existing there. The religious nomenclature observable throughout the country likewise testifies to the untiring zeal of the missionaries who followed up the conquest of the country and kept in the front rank of all the schemes for colonization.

To this period belongs the founding of the city of Puebla. Among the twelve Franciscan "apostles" was one named Fray Torribio Benevente, to whom the Indians gave the name of Motolinia ("the poor and miserable"), a name he humbly accepted. He conceived the idea of building a religious city, to be a resting-place for travellers between Vera Cruz and the City of Mexico. Hence, on the 16th of April, 1530, the town was begun on a site "revealed to the Motolinia in a dream,"—he and Juan Salmeron (a member of the Second Audience) being the founders. It was called La Puebla de los Angeles  ("the town of the Angels.") Eight thousand Tlaxcalans were employed in the building, and in a short time and "as though by enchantment" nearly four thousand houses (probably mere huts) were erected.

Precisely how much or how little of sober history enters into the traditions regarding the great Patron Saint of the Indians of Mexico, it would be difficult to say. But as the year 1531 is fixed as the date of the alleged apparition of the Blessed Virgin in Guadalupe, and as the influence of the traditions has been widespread and cannot fail to reach the attention of the tourist, it is proper to relate here what is told concerning Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.

Prior to the Conquest the Aztecs used the hill of Tepeyacac, at the terminus of the northern causeway from Tenochtitlan, as a military outpost, and had also erected there a teocalli  for the especial worship of Tenantzin, "the mother of the gods." On the 9th of December in the year named above, Juan Diego, an Indian of Cuauhtitlan, was on his way to mass in Santiago-Tlatelolco, where there was one of the numerous Franciscan chapels built through the instrumentality of Padre Gante. Passing the hill of Tepeyacac he heard music, and looking up saw the Blessed Virgin, who directed him to go forthwith to Bishop Zumarraga and tell him, in her name, to build a church upon that hill for the accommodation of all those Indians who lived at such a great distance from Tlatelolco.

The Bishop was gracious but incredulous, and demanded proofs of the apparition which Juan described. Juan went back to report, and was told by the Blessed Virgin to come the next day, when she would furnish the required proofs. Sickness in his house prevented Juan from keeping his appointment the next day, and when the sickness increased and Juan was sent for a priest early on the morning of the 12th of December, he was afraid to cross the hill of Tepeyacac. But as he skirted the eastern side of the hill the Blessed Virgin came down to meet him, told him to feel no anxiety about the sick at his house, but to cut some flowers from the rock at his feet, wrap them in his serape, and show them to no one until he stood before the Bishop. Lo, flowers were actually growing upon the rock whereon Juan stood, and he did as he was told. And when he unwrapped his serape in the presence of the Bishop, a greater wonder was beheld than the flowers gathered from the rock. A beautiful portrait of the Virgin appeared, as though painted upon the serape.

The Bishop could no longer remain incredulous. He forthwith built a chapel where the miraculous flowers had been plucked, and where now stands the Collegiate Church of Guadalupe. The chapel thus built was afterwards enlarged and is now the sacristy of the present edifice. The handsome Collegiate Church itself is the second structure covering the entire site. It was built about the beginning of the eighteenth century, replacing one built about a century previously. The serape  of Juan Diego, with its miraculous image of the Blessed Virgin, is enclosed behind plate glass in a frame over the high altar.

Of the other two chapels at Guadalupe, the Capilla del Cerrito marks the spot of the first appearance of the Blessed Virgin; the Capilla del Pocito encloses the well or spring which first gushed forth during the last interview between Juan and the Blessed Virgin.

The 12th of December was generally observed by the Indians of Mexico as a religious feast almost from the time of the alleged apparition, but it did not receive papal sanction until 1754. Then by papal bull the festival was instituted, and the Virgin of Guadalupe was declared the Patroness and Protectress of New Spain. She became the champion of the Mexicans in the revolt of New Spain in the last century, while the Virgin of the Remedies became the champion of the Spanish troops. The 12th of December was made a national holiday upon the establishment of the Republic in 1824, and Guadalupe has been made a religious center ever since.