Creating a Legal State in Early Colonial Mexico: Franciscans and the Implementation of Catholic Normativities in 16th-Century Michoacán

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 3:30 PM
Room 201 (Colorado Convention Center)
David Rex Galindo, Max Planck Institute for European Legal History
My paper explores the expansion of ecclesiastical normativity on New Spain’s northern frontiers amidst a situation of crisis in the late 16th century. It focuses on the application of codes of conduct and modes of behavioural control that stemmed from ecclesiastical authorities in a context of confrontation. Scholars have long exposed the shear viscosities in the relationship between the diocesan and regular clergies (i.e. Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans) over the administration of sacraments to native peoples in colonial Spanish America. At a smaller scale, this paper concentrates on the role Franciscans (the largest religious order in colonial Mexico) played in the propagation of the Third Provincial Council of Mexico (1585). The Council was in charge of applying the Decrees approved by the Council of Trent (1545-1563), or in other words, of applying the Catholic reformation in Mexico. The Third Provincial Council challenged Franciscans’ exceptional powers in Mexico. While Franciscan opposition to the Council is well documented, I am interested in scrutinizing Franciscan contribution to the observance of the Council decrees and pastoral texts. At the local level, this paper investigates how Franciscan missionaries carried ecclesiastical norms over New Spain’s northern frontier communities in the aftermath of the Chichimeca Wars, a conflict that almost reversed the entire Spanish colonial project in Mexico. Moreover, in 1585, Commissary General Fray Alonso Ponce, the highest Franciscan officer in New Spain, clashed with Franciscan local authorities and was expelled from central Mexico by the Viceroy. His expulsion certainly diminished Franciscan bargaining power with other colonial authorities. Overall, this paper analyzes various layers of execution within competing actors to explore the complex process of instilling normativities in a colonial setting.
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