We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Death by Effigy

A Case from the Mexican Inquisition

By Luis R. Corteguera

Publication Year: 2012

On July 21, 1578, the Mexican town of Tecamachalco awoke to news of a scandal. A doll-like effigy hung from the door of the town's church. Its two-faced head had black chicken feathers instead of hair. Each mouth had a tongue sewn onto it, one with a forked end, the other with a gag tied around it. Signs and symbols adorned the effigy, including a sambenito, the garment that the Inquisition imposed on heretics. Below the effigy lay a pile of firewood. Taken together, the effigy, signs, and symbols conveyed a deadly message: the victim of the scandal was a Jew who should burn at the stake. Over the course of four years, inquisitors conducted nine trials and interrogated dozens of witnesses, whose testimonials revealed a vivid portrait of friendship, love, hatred, and the power of rumor in a Mexican colonial town.

A story of dishonor and revenge, Death by Effigy also reveals the power of the Inquisition's symbols, their susceptibility to theft and misuse, and the terrible consequences of doing so in the New World. Recently established and anxious to assert its authority, the Mexican Inquisition relentlessly pursued the perpetrators. Lying, forgery, defamation, rape, theft, and physical aggression did not concern the Inquisition as much as the misuse of the Holy Office's name, whose political mission required defending its symbols. Drawing on inquisitorial papers from the Mexican Inquisition's archive, Luis R. Corteguera weaves a rich narrative that leads readers into a world vastly different from our own, one in which symbols were as powerful as the sword.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: The Early Modern Americas


pdf iconDownload PDF (28.2 KB)
pp. vii-viii

List of Abbreviations

pdf iconDownload PDF (36.0 KB)
pp. ix-x

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (216.4 KB)
pp. xi-xviii

This book centers on a scandal that took place on 21 July 1578 in the Mexican town of Tecamachalco (in the present state of Puebla), the four-year investigation that followed, and nine trials conducted by the Inquisition. For more than two centuries, the documentation for these events belonged to the secret archive of the Mexican Inquisition, located inside the large building that served as the tribunal’s headquarters, now a museum on the Plaza de Santo ...

PART I. 1578

read more

Prologue: The Crime of Tecamachalco

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.8 MB)
pp. 3-27

In the early hours of Monday, 21 July 1578, an effigy hung from an iron rod nailed to the door of the church of the Franciscan monastery of Tecamachalco, located about eighty miles southeast of Mexico City (see Figure 2). The effigy has not survived, but eyewitness testimonies provide detailed descriptions of its strange features. The “statue,” or effigy, looked like a small man or a doll. It was made of ...

read more

Chapter 1. False Start

pdf iconDownload PDF (42.8 KB)
pp. 29-31

On 27 July 1578, the alcalde mayor of Tepeaca, Jorge Cerón Carvajal, requested the prompt intervention of Fray Rodrigo de Seguera, the Inquisition’s commissioner for the Franciscan Order in Mexico, to resolve a crime in Tecamachalco.1 The alcalde mayor told Fray Rodrigo that on 21 July, Fray Jaime Navarro, a Franciscan, found two sambenitos, two signs, and a “statue” ...

read more

Chapter 2. Trial and Failure

pdf iconDownload PDF (97.6 KB)
pp. 32-41

On 28 August 1578, the inquisitors began to review the information collected as part of the investigation launched by the alcalde mayor of Tepeaca into the effigy and the sambenitos discovered on 21 July. The documentation amounted to twenty-one folios, or forty-two pages, of testimony from eleven witnesses and suspects interrogated after the incident. ...

PART II. 1581

read more

Chapter 3. Surprise Witness

pdf iconDownload PDF (44.6 KB)
pp. 45-48

In Mexico City, before the Señores Inquisitors Licenciados Bonilla and Santos García, during the morning audience on 27 October 1581, a man came without being called, and swore to tell the truth. His testimony read: ...

read more

Chapter 4. The Mother, the Son, and the Stepson

pdf iconDownload PDF (139.0 KB)
pp. 49-76

On the evening of Thursday, 2 November 1581, the Inquisition’s notary (notario del juzgado), the Valencia native Jerónimo de Euguí, arrived in the city of Puebla carrying the inquisitors’ order to the Inquisition’s commissioner general of Puebla, whose jurisdiction included the town of Tecamachalco. The trip from Mexico City to Puebla took the notary the usual three days, and ...

read more

Chapter 5. Mistrial

pdf iconDownload PDF (351.1 KB)
pp. 77-89

On Thursday morning, 7 December 1581, Juan Pérez entered the Inquisition’s prison. Licenciados Bonilla and Santos García wanted to question him regarding the accusation that Pérez had put up the effigy and the sambenitos in Tecamachalco. His name had come up before the inquisitors only six weeks earlier, on 27 October, when the farmer Diego de Trujillo offered his surprise testimony. ...

PART III. 1582

read more

Chapter 6. New and Old Leads

pdf iconDownload PDF (71.8 KB)
pp. 93-101

In early January 1582, six weeks after his last interrogation, the Inquisition’s commissioner Canon Santiago resumed his investigation in Puebla. The last three witnesses he interrogated in November led to important discoveries that shifted attention away from Juan Pérez and toward the royal scribe Juan de Molina’s role in the scandal in Tecamachalco. ...

read more

Chapter 7. The Scribe

pdf iconDownload PDF (62.2 KB)
pp. 102-107

In early February 1582, the Inquisition’s jailer informed Licenciados Bonilla and Santos García of the arrival of a shackled prisoner from Veracruz.1 He was Juan de Molina, the royal scribe whom the inquisitors wanted to question in relation to the incident in Tecamachalco. Surviving documents do not indicate the date on which the inquisitors ordered Molina’s arrest. ...

read more

Chapter 8. The Interpreter

pdf iconDownload PDF (59.1 KB)
pp. 108-113

On 6 March 1582, the guardian priest of the Franciscan monastery in Carrión del Valle de Atlixco, south of Puebla, informed Juan López that the inquisitors required him to come to Mexico City, along with his ladino Indian servant Francisco. On the morning of 12 March, López appeared before the inquisitors to answer questions. ...

read more

Chapter 9. The Farmer

pdf iconDownload PDF (61.7 KB)
pp. 114-119

Between 17 March and 5 May 1582, Licenciados Bonilla and Santos García took a break from Francisco Yáñez’s trial, coinciding with Lent and Holy Week. After nearly four years, the inquisitors must have hoped that they were at last close to resolving the scandal in Tecamachalco. Their strategy continued to focus on a plot first outlined in 1578 by the cochineal collector Juan López de ...

read more

Chapter 10. Under Torment

pdf iconDownload PDF (64.9 KB)
pp. 120-127

The jailer brought Juan de Molina to the torture chamber, where Licenciados Bonilla and Santos García awaited him.1 Before the actual torture began, the inquisitors asked Molina if he had anything to declare. He refused to admit any guilt. Guards stripped Molina of his clothes and tied cords (cordeles) around his arms for the first torture. ...

read more

Chapter 11. Conspiracy

pdf iconDownload PDF (98.0 KB)
pp. 128-144

Licenciados Bonilla and Santos García were quick to interrogate the five men whom Juan de Molina had accused during his torture session of participating in the crime to humiliate Hernando Rubio Naranjo. All along, the inquisitors had suspected that the elaborate plot required the participation of several individuals. ...

read more

Chapter 12. More Torment

pdf iconDownload PDF (56.9 KB)
pp. 145-151

On the afternoon of 22 June 1582, Licenciados Bonilla and Santos García convened the archbishop of Mexico City and former inquisitor general of New Spain, Pedro Moya de Contreras, and four judges of the Audiencia of Mexico: Drs. Pedro Farfán, Lope de Miranda, Francisco de Sande, and Diego García de Palacio. They reviewed the evidence presented in the cases against ...

read more

Chapter 13. The Wife

pdf iconDownload PDF (62.3 KB)
pp. 152-160

Licenciados Bonilla and Santos García quickly summoned the newly discovered “wife of Ferro” to appear before them. Yáñez first mentioned her on the morning of 22 June during his torture session. He did not know her name but only that she had lived in Tepeaca and now lived in Mexico City. On the morning of 25 June, she appeared before the inquisitors. Her name was Ana ...

read more

Chapter 14. Reconciliation

pdf iconDownload PDF (37.7 KB)
pp. 161-162

On Sunday, 22 July 1582, four years and one day to the day after the scandalous San Benito appeared in Tecamachalco, the inquisitors and the four conspirators attended a solemn ceremony in Mexico City’s cathedral. Also present during these services were the Inquisition’s prosecuting attorney, Dr. Lobo Guerrero; the corregidor (equivalent to the governor) of Mexico City, ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (96.2 KB)
pp. 163-178

In 1583, the Mexican Inquisition sent a report (relación de causa) to the Council of the Supreme and General Inquisition—the Suprema—in Madrid, summarizing the cases recently dispatched. In a paragraph, the document described the Tecamachalco scandal and the sentences meted out to the three men and one woman found guilty of the crimes. The difficulty of resolving the ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (170.2 KB)
pp. 179-203

Key Names

pdf iconDownload PDF (68.0 KB)
pp. 205-207


pdf iconDownload PDF (37.9 KB)
pp. 209-210


pdf iconDownload PDF (672.0 KB)
pp. 211-220


pdf iconDownload PDF (24.5 KB)
pp. 221-222

E-ISBN-13: 9780812207057
E-ISBN-10: 081220705X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812244397
Print-ISBN-10: 0812244397

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: The Early Modern Americas

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Inquisition -- Mexico -- Tecamachalco (Puebla) -- History -- 16th century.
  • Executions in effigy -- Mexico -- Tecamachalco (Puebla) -- History -- 16th century.
  • Trials (Libel) -- Mexico -- Tecamachalco (Puebla) -- History -- 16th century.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access