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Maya Christians and Their Churches in Sixteenth-Century Belize

Elizabeth Graham

Publication Year: 2011

Based on her analysis of archaeological evidence from the excavations of Maya churches at Tipu and Lamanai, Elizabeth Graham seeks to understand why the Maya sometimes actively embraced Catholicism during the period of European conquest and continued to worship in this way even after the end of Spanish occupation.

The Maya in Belize appear to have continued to bury their dead in Christian churchyards long after the churches themselves had fallen into disuse. They also seem to have hidden pre-Hispanic objects of worship in Christian sacred spaces during times of persecution, and excavations reveal the style of the early churches to be unmistakably Franciscan. The evidence suggests that the Maya remained Christian after 1700, when Spaniards were no longer in control, which challenges the widespread assumption that because Christianity was imposed by force it was never properly assimilated by indigenous peoples.

Combining historical and archaeological data with her experience of having been raised as a Roman Catholic, Graham proposes a way of assessing the concept of religious experience and processes of conversion that takes into account the material, visual, sensual, and even olfactory manifestations of the sacred.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

Figures

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pp. ix-xii

List of Maps

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pp. xiii-xiv

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xv-xviii

I am indebted to the Institute of Archaeology in Belize, formerly the Department of Archaeology, for permission to investigate the sites of Tipu and Lamanai and for allowing me to carry out archaeological investigations in the country. My deepest...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-6

The Christianity of sixteenth-century Europe came to the Maya of Belize in two major ways. The first, and better known, comprises the efforts of Spanish friars and clergy to convert the Maya to Christianity as part of a larger plan of imperial domination...

Part 1

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pp. 7-

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1. The View from Belize and the Vision from St. Mike’s

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pp. 9-28

As someone who was raised as a Roman Catholic, I found the exploration of early Christianity to be a process of self-discovery. Despite all my academic training, I never considered critically that what I had been taught to believe as a child had a history. In any intellectual discourse I would never have denied that ideas had...

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2. Yucatan and Belize on the Eve of Conquest

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pp. 29-58

The colonial and modern Maya are normally perceived as separated or different from the Maya known to tourists as the builders of temples and palaces in the jungle. My first step, then, is to try to bridge this gap in perception in two ways. I address Maya political and economic organization just prior to the Conquest, because Maya...

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3. Cheese and Terms

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pp. 59-85

Having attempted in chapter 2 to reconstruct conditions in Yucatan and Belize on the eve of Conquest, I turn in this chapter and the next to clarifying a range of terms commonly used in research on conquest and conversion. I intended originally to include issues of terminology in my conclusions, but the terms arise so frequently...

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4. Being Christian and the Doctrine of the Church

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pp. 86-102

Undermining the work of the devil is one thing, but turning people into Christians is another. Indeed, what in fact makes a Christian? The answers to this question—provided by the second-century author of the Gospel of Thomas;1 by the third...

Part 2

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pp. 103-

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5. The Environment of Early Contact

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pp. 105-136

I ended the previous chapter with the idea that Christianity can mean different things to different people. Among the Maya, variations in meaning were partly the consequence of Christianity’s newness in a land with its own distinctive cultures, world views, and histories of growth and interaction, and partly a consequence...

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6. The Millennial Kingdom and the Belize Missions

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pp. 137-164

That Belize Maya communities operated largely beyond or outside the focus of European colonial powers worked to their advantage in terms of Spanish colonial expansion,1 but to their disadvantage in terms of the activities of buccaneers— pirates and privateers alike—who thrived in places where they had easy access to food...

Part 3

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pp. 165-

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7. How to Tell a Church

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pp. 167-188

In this chapter I remain within the remit of setting the Mendicant stage. As part of a discussion of the material culture of the mission experience, however, I consider the idea of a church. Because the excavated churches at Tipu and Lamanai...

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8. The Churches at Tipu and Lamanai

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pp. 189-238

The ruins of colonial Tipu lie on the west bank of the Macal River in central Belize. Lamanai, in northern Belize, is on the north shore of the New River Lagoon near the point where the lagoon narrows to form the upper reaches of the New River (maps...

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9. Reductions and Upheaval in the Seventeenth Century

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pp. 239-260

Ironically, the community of Lamanai—closer to Bacalar, more susceptible to monitoring, and the site of two churches—comes across as more rebellious than Tipu, the distant community. Then again, detecting irony reflects a point of view that assumes a direct relationship between Spanish energy investment and Maya compliance...

Part 4

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pp. 261-

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10. What Europe Did for Us

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pp. 263-284

Ironically, the community of Lamanai—closer to Bacalar, more susceptible to monitoring, and the site of two churches—comes across as more rebellious than Tipu, the distant community. Then again, detecting irony reflects a point of view that assumes a direct relationship between Spanish energy investment and Maya compliance...

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11. Being Pagan

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pp. 285-306

In this chapter I draw together different threads in order to construct a hypothetical Maya perspective on conversion. I do not position myself as Maya so much as I seek to envisage what it might have been like had the Franciscans or other religious attempted to see themselves as the Maya saw them. If my view is even close...

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12. Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like

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pp. 307-313

The title of this chapter is taken from a children’s book written by Jay Williams and beautifully illustrated by Mercer Mayer.1 I return to the book shortly as a device to resolve—or, more accurately, as a device to dissolve—issues that arise in claims by..

Appendix 1

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pp. 314-322

Appendix 2

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pp. 323-324

Notes

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pp. 325-374

Glossary of Terms

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pp. 375-384

References Cited

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pp. 385-414

Index

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pp. 415-435

About the Author, Further Reading

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pp. 436-


E-ISBN-13: 9780813040721
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813036663
Print-ISBN-10: 0813036666

Page Count: 450
Illustrations: 80 b&w illustrations, 19 maps, 2 tables
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Maya Studies
Series Editor Byline: Diane and Arlen Chase

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Subject Headings

  • Mayas -- Belize -- Religion.
  • Mayas -- Missions -- Belize.
  • Mayas -- Belize -- Antiquities.
  • Indian Catholics -- Belize -- History -- 16th century.
  • Franciscans -- Missions -- Belize -- History -- 16th century.
  • Christianity and other religions -- Belize -- 16th century.
  • Excavations (Archaeology) -- Belize.
  • Social archaeology -- Belize.
  • Belize -- Antiquities.
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