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Hispanic American Historical Review 84.2 (2004) 357-358

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Of Wonders and Wise Men: Religion and Popular Cultures in Southeast Mexico, 1800-1876. By Terry Rugeley. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001. Photographs. Plates. Illustrations. Maps. Notes. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. xxvii, 335 pp. Cloth, $55.00. Paper, $26.95.

The separate chapters in this book, according to the author's avowal, are fugitive pieces from the research that led to his earlier Yucatán's Maya Peasantry and the Origins of the Caste War (Univ. of Texas Press, 1996). Presented as a composite sketch of salient aspects of Yucatecan popular culture during a 75-year time span, the discussions often arrive, in one way or another, at the Caste War, although the book by no means completely orbits around that major historical spasm of nineteenth-century Yucatán. Neither, on the other hand, is it a unified exposition of religion. Rather, it is a more dispersed exhibition of nineteenth-century Yucatecan manners.

Sources include a substantial number of archives, but also local ethnographies, secondary accounts, and more theoretical treatments of Latin American and European history. Stories are everywhere, as specific cases punctuate more generalized discussions. Treatments of religious beliefs and practices abound, their intertwined Spanish and Mayan elements forming what is described as "an unwritten almanac of folk knowledge" (chap. 1), but with its various elements multiple and not infrequently in opposition.

Nor are these beliefs and practices confined to rural folk: a broad survey chapter includes a sketch of urban piety, fraught with social display and public consumption, with conservatism, elitism, fiestas, processions, bullfights, bailes, lotteries, and rowdiness. In this case, the discussion is carried briefly through the Porfirian period to the revolution and the impacts of mass communication. The chapter that follows provides the folk contrast; the convergence of Spanish and Indian notions there leads to a discussion of the importance and cults of religious images. This climaxes with the fetching story of the Virgin of Tabi—stolen from Tabi by Caste War rebels and then recovered, but still coveted by nearby Sotuta—and ends with references to the Speaking Cross of the Caste War rebels and their relative lack of destruction of churches.

Both urban and rural cofradías come in for attention (the latter covered in their relation to local prelates, for whom they were financial assets), culminating with a brief history of the hacienda cult of San Antonio de Padua de Xocneceh. This painting of the saint, which was held by the hacienda of Xocneceh and supported by a cofradía in the beeswax business, was coveted by the nearby town of Oxkutzkab, kidnapped at one point by a band of women, and involved with a rebellion against the cult's mayordomo. The painting finally does end up at Oxkutzkab as the hacienda deteriorates.

The relationship of people to priests involves a discussion of anticlericalism in Yucatán, where local individualism was fueled by economic growth and demographic realignments and exacerbated by an alleged decline in the caliber of the [End Page 357] priesthood during the century. In rural areas especially, resentment against the priesthood was related to taxes and money.

Perhaps the most attractive sections of the book are those that hang most fully on strong narratives. Padre Doctor Don Raymundo Pérez was born in outlying Bacalar in the eighteenth century. Through brains and luck, he managed to receive an education in Mérida and then became a priest, first in Tabasco and then at Hoctún, near Mérida. He parlayed remunerative curacies into a fortune, and his native shrewdness brought him high standing in the eyes of both the church and the state. A conservative representative of an age that was ceding to an onslaught of liberalism, he survived strains of the Caste War as it came briefly to the west. Like many other churchmen of the time and place, he left two well-educated sons (carrying their mother's name) and evidently a fortune. Yet he died in 1856, virtually forgotten.



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