The Catholic Historical Review 89.3 (2003) 570-572
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Spanish American Saints and the Rhetoric of Identity, 1600-1810. By Ronald J. Morgan. (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press. 2002. Pp. x, 238. $45.00.)
Spanish American Saints and the Rhetoric of Identity, 1600-1810, develops a topic favored by Latin Americanists in the last decade: How did the descendants of Spanish conquistadors develop a distinct identity in the New World? And, what was the role of the Catholic Church in this process? Known as criollos, people of pure Spanish ancestry born in the New World began to develop a group identity in the generations after the conquistadors arrived to America. Their race and their religion set them apart from indigenous populations and African slaves; their birthplace set them apart from Spaniards living in America. Christianity was one of the lynchpins for establishing both their tie to the Old World and their difference from Amerindians. Ronald J. Morgan explores the development of a "discourse of criollo identity" in the production of hagiographies about holy Christians living in Spanish America. These biographies tell the story of how the elite criollo population used an Old World religious genre to create their own history and identity in a non-European context.
Morgan draws on a rich body of existing scholarship—from Antonio Rubial's study of Mexican hagiography to the Peruvian studies of St. Rose of Lima and criollo identity. He has selected five sets of hagiographic texts representing Spanish America from Mexico to Quito and Lima. Examining the convergence of religious and socio-political discourse, Morgan argues that "each religious biographer maneuvers within the [hagiographic] genre" to define a community (p. 13). He explores the nature of this "identity rhetoric" by examining the historical [End Page 570] contexts in which a handful of holy people lived and the circumstances involved in the production of the narratives about their life stories.
Spanish American Saints traces the development of criollo hagiography in five chapters, each centered on a different holy person and the discourse of sanctity about them. Morgan focuses on the multiple functions of these holy Lives in society: the promotion of individual sanctity, the veneration of the subject, and at the same time the articulation of a collective criollo identity. Beginning with the center of criollismo in sixteenth-century Puebla, Mexico, and with the lay Franciscan Fray Sebastián de Aparicio (d. 1600), Morgan argues that biographies about Fray Sebastián demonstrate a strong continuity with Old World hagiography even as they introduce the realities of the New World setting. Because Fray Sebastián was born in Spain, he could never quite be considered a criollo saint. Conversely, America's first saint, Rose of Lima (d. 1617), was born in Peru. And yet, according to Morgan, hagiographic texts claim her for important roles in Spanish imperial politics: she became a symbol of the fight against Protestant and native American infidels. Another chapter details how a second American saint, the lay holy woman from Quito, Mariana de Jesús (d. 1645), successfully followed in Rose of Lima's footsteps. Mariana's biographers portray her as a model of America's spiritual flowering and as Quito's own version of the popular saint from Lima. A third lay holy woman, Catarina de San Juan (d. 1688), became the focus of hagiographic texts, despite her non-white, non-American origins. Born in India and sold as a slave in Mexico, Catarina posed a challenge to her biographers. In spite of having lived as a holy woman in Puebla for more than half a century, she did not fit the "white" model of sanctity. Her biographers narrowed this social and racial gap by creating a legend about her birth as a light-skinned daughter of the ruling Mughal dynasty. In doing so, they promptly incorporated her into Puebla's criollo history. Lastly, Morgan studies the complexities found in the hagiographic literature about Felipe de Jesús (d. 1597), a saint who was martyred in Japan. Although a martyr, Felipe was not canonized...