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Death and Dying in Colonial Spanish America

Martina Will de Chaparro

Publication Year: 2011

When the Spanish colonized the Americas, they brought many cultural beliefs and practices with them, not the least of which involved death and dying. The essays in this volume explore the resulting intersections of cultures through recent scholarship related to death and dying in colonial Spanish America between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. The authors address such important questions as: What were the relationships between the worlds of the living and the dead? How were these relationships sustained not just through religious dog-ma and rituals but also through everyday practices? How was unnatural death defined within different population strata? How did demo-graphic and cultural changes affect mourning?

The variety of sources uncovered in the authors’ original archival research suggests the wide diversity of topics and approaches they employ: Nahua annals, Spanish chronicles, Inquisition case records, documents on land disputes, sermons, images, and death registers. Geographically, the range of research focuses on the viceroyalties of New Spain, Peru, and New Granada.

The resulting records—both documentary and archaeological—offer us a variety of vantage points from which to view each of these cultural groups as they came into contact with others. Much less tied to modern national boundaries or old imperial ones, the many facets of the new historical research exploring the topic of death demonstrate that no attitudes or practices can be considered either “Western” or universal.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-viii

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From the Here to the Hereafter: An Introduction to Death and Dying

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pp. 1-27

in 1955, social anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer published a short essay titled “The Pornography of Death,” in which he likened Victorian sexual taboos to the modern western attitude toward death.1 Death behind closed doors, unexamined and undiscussed, had created a new set of sanctions concerning what could and could...

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1. Noble Nahuas, Faith, and Death: How the Indigenous Elite of the Colonial Puebla-Tlaxcala Valley Prepared to Perish

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pp. 28-52

Many decades prior to the arrival of Spanish soldiers to Mesoamerica, the disgruntled indigenous nobles of Ocotelulco-Tlaxcala beat their despised ruler, Acatentehua, to death.1 Considered one of the most violent and corrupt lords in Tlaxcala’s history, Acatentehua had ruled with an iron fist, subjugating and exploiting his subjects...

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2. Reading the (Dead) Body: Histories of Suicide in New Spain

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pp. 53-77

tucked away in the files of the Mexican Inquisition is a mid-seventeenth- century case of priestly suicide from the northern frontiers of New Spain that speaks to the conditions under which the clergy was working on the edges of the colony. In the early 1660s, a priest known only as fray Miguel, then serving in a New Mexican...

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3. The Autopsy of Fray García Guerra: Corporal Meanings in Seventeenth-Century Mexico

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pp. 78-99

Fray García Guerra, archbishop and viceroy of New Spain between 1608 and 1612, is the first of a cortege of characters that parade through Irving A. Leonard’s classic Baroque Times in Old Mexico.1 Oscillating between fortune, glory, and abjection, and marked by heavenly and earthly catastrophes of all kinds, García Guerra’s short...

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4. The Death of the Monarch as Colonial Sacrament

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pp. 100-120

In 1647, Mexico City’s elite Spanish subjects and urban confraternities performed the royal funerary honors, las exequias reales, for the recent and unexpected death of Prince don Baltasar Carlos of Spain, aged seventeen. Prince Baltasar Carlos never reigned or managed the affairs of the empire, nor did he become part of the Spanish regal pantheon. Yet, as loyal subjects of the Crown, the Spanish...

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5. Exemplary Punishment in Colonial Lima: The 1639 Auto de Fe

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pp. 121-141

As with the broader picture of Spanish colonial expansion, the literature devoted to the study of the Spanish Inquisition has, on many occasions, emphasized the violence and terror exerted by this repressive institution. As it emerges in depictions that can be labeled part of the so-called Black Legend,1 the Tribunal of the Holy Office...

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6. Angelic Death and Sacrifice in Early Modern Hispanic America

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pp. 142-169

by beginning his chapter on the Sacraments with this adaptation of a citation from Isaiah 12, the sixteenth-century Andean missionary fray Jerónimo de Ore located the central tenets of the Catholic faith within the framework of an Andean sacred landscape.3 Once illustrated in a language evocative of springs and water sources, the...

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7. Medicine and the Dead: Conflicts over Burial Reform and Piety in Lima, 1808–1850

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pp. 170-202

In late May of 1808 Creole doctors, ecclesiastical authorities, and government officials intruded in unprecedented ways into the ritual life and religious practices of Lima’s ethnically and culturally diverse population in the name of public health. Citing a series of royal decrees and a growing body of literature on the risks of residing and...


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pp. 203-254

Select Bibliography

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pp. 255-262

About the Contributors

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pp. 263-266

Illustration Credits

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pp. 267-268


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pp. 269-286

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780816521081
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816529759

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2011