Converting the Capital: Mexico Tenochtitlan, Its Doctrina, and Its Indigenous Parishioners

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 11:30 AM
Chicago Ballroom B (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Jonathan G. Truitt, Central Michigan University
Following the fall of the Aztec capital Mexico Tenochtitlan in 1521, Spaniards and Nahuas (Aztecs) started establishing indigenous doctrinas (or doctrines) to evangelize the Native populations of New Spain. Doctrinas were established around pre-existing city structures known as altepetl. One of the first to be established was in Mexico Tenochtitlan. However, by the 1550s debate developed between the Franciscans and Archbishop Montúfar as to whether or not the doctrina of Mexico Tenochtitlan should remain a doctrina or instead be established as a parish system; the implication being that the indigenous of Mexico Tenochtitlan were as Christian as they were going to become. While the debate rides between the Franciscans (under the direction of fray Pedro de Gante) and the secular church under the leadership of Montúfar, there was a third group that was by no means quiet in the expression of their desires – that of the native peoples of Mexico Tenochtitlan. This paper looks at the very Spanish doctrina-parish debate and the organization of the city’s neighborhoods as a consequence of that debate. Though it is difficult to know if the Spaniards understood what was going on at the local level it is very clear that the indigenous people wanted specific structures in certain places. Thus it quickly becomes understandable why Spanish men could not purchase property in an area known as Cihuatlan, place of the women, yet nuns were given land for their convent and Spanish widows were welcomed, seemingly without question. To the Franciscans the establishment of a place for religious women of their order was welcomed and they failed to question the underlying association of the place with its pre-Hispanic past.
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