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Identity, Ritual, and Power in Colonial Puebla

Frances L. Ramos

Publication Year: 2012

Located between Mexico City and Veracruz, Puebla has been a political hub since its founding as Puebla de los Ángeles in 1531. Frances L. Ramos’s dynamic and meticulously researched study exposes and explains the many (and often surprising) ways that politics and political culture were forged, tested, and demonstrated through public ceremonies in eighteenth-century Puebla, colonial Mexico’s “second city.”

With Ramos as a guide, we are not only dazzled by the trappings of power—the silk canopies, brocaded robes, and exploding fireworks—but are also witnesses to the public spectacles through which municipal councilmen consolidated local and imperial rule. By sponsoring a wide variety of carefully choreographed rituals, the municipal council made locals into audience, participants, and judges of the city’s tumultuous political life. Public rituals encouraged residents to identify with the Roman Catholic Church, their respective corporations, the Spanish Empire, and their city, but also provided arenas where individuals and groups could vie for power.

As Ramos portrays the royal oath ceremonies, funerary rites, feast-day celebrations, viceregal entrance ceremonies, and Holy Week processions, we have to wonder who paid for these elaborate rituals—and why. Ramos discovers and decodes the intense debates over expenditures for public rituals and finds them to be a central part of ongoing efforts of councilmen to negotiate political relationships. Even with the Spanish Crown’s increasing disapproval of costly public ritual and a worsening economy, Puebla’s councilmen consistently defied all attempts to diminish their importance.

Ramos innovatively employs a wealth of source materials, including council minutes, judicial cases, official correspondence, and printed sermons, to illustrate how public rituals became pivotal in the shaping of Puebla’s complex political culture.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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p. vii-vii

List of Illustrations

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p. ix-ix

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pp. xi-xii

I arrived in Puebla for the first time in the summer of 1998 and quickly fell in love with the city. The layout of its streets in the pleasing Renaissance-style grid pattern, its numerous eighteenth-century homes with charming inner courtyards, and its seemingly endless number of colonial churches ...

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pp. xv-xxxiii

In 1769, Antonio Basilio de Arteaga y Solórzano, Puebla de los Ángeles’ most senior councilman, unveiled a massive history of the municipal government’s ceremonial obligations. At more than a thousand handwritten pages, the volume contained invaluable information on the responsibilities ...

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1. New Spain’s “Second City”

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pp. 1-22

In 1746, Dominican friar Juan Villa Sánchez described the “second city of the kingdom of New Spain” as “second in dignity, in greatness, in extension, in [the] opulence of [its] factories, in the number of citizens, in nobility, in letters, in governance, and in everything that constitutes the body ...

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2. Explaining Monarchy in Early Modern Puebla

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pp. 23-43

Between 1695 and 1775, poblanos knew of the crowning of four monarchs: Philip V, Luis I (1724), Ferdinand VI (1747 – 59), and Charles III. Puebla’s oath ceremonies, or juras del rey, resembled those held throughout the empire and began with councilmen, indigenous leaders, musicians, and ...

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3. A Reception for a Prince

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pp. 44-65

On August 2, 1766, Visitor General José de Gálvez announced that the incoming viceroy, the Marquis of Croix, would not make the customary stop in Puebla on his way to Mexico City. Since the sixteenth century, Tlaxcala, Puebla, and Mexico City had all sponsored inaugural entrances of ...

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4. Universal Religion in a Local Context

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pp. 66-90

From July 30, 1752, to January 30, 1753, Puebla, along with other cities of the Spanish Empire, celebrated a “holy year of jubilee,” during which the faithful received a plenary indulgence for confessing and receiving the sacrament for six months, for visiting specific churches, and for praying for the ...

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5. Power, Solidarity, and Diversity in the City of the Angels

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pp. 91-110

On September 29, Puebla’s councilmen attended an annual mass in honor of Saint Michael the Archangel, and afterward four aldermen participated in a procession featuring the city’s official effigy of the saint. Councilmen had first commissioned the statue in 1617, and throughout most of the year ...

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6. The Industry of Spectacle

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pp. 111-131

In 1771, the visitor general informed the cabildo of Puebla that from hereafter councilmen would have to send all estimates for public spectacle exceeding 40 pesos to the general treasury for prior approval. Specifically, Gálvez referred to ceremonies that commemorated special occasions, such ...

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7. Ritual and Conflict: The Political Implications of Ceremonial Disputes, circa 1700 – 1750

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pp. 132-152

Good Friday, the anniversary of Christ’s crucifixion, constitutes the most solemn day of the Catholic calendar and in eighteenth-century Puebla, municipal councilmen marked the occasion with the ceremony known as the Adoration of the Holy Cross. For this ritual, councilmen and other ...

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8. The Ceremonial Expression of Jurisdictional Tension, 1750 – 1775

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pp. 153-174

Almost five decades after the dispute during the Adoration of the Holy Cross, Puebla’s cathedral witnessed another dramatic display of disunity. Puebla’s cabildo never subsidized the feast day of Santiago (July 25), but it did have an obligation to attend the cathedral’s yearly mass. Because ...

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pp. 175-190

Public ritual shaped the political culture of eighteenth-century Puebla in a myriad of ways. In early modern cities, people expressed understandings regarding power ritualistically, but ritual did not only reflect power relationships. It also helped to reaffirm hierarchy and strengthen people’s affiliations ...


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pp. 191-225


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pp. 227-240


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pp. 241-247

About the Author

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p. 249-249

E-ISBN-13: 9780816599349
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816521173

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2012