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The Americas 61.4 (2005) 647-672

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"I Heard It Through the Grapevine":

Analysis of an Anti-Secularization Initiative in the Sixteenth-Century Arequipan Countryside, 1584-1600*

John Carroll University
Cleveland, Ohio


Franciscan historian Antonine Tibesar's study of the early evangelical accomplishments of the Franciscan Order in the Andes constitutes a landmark contribution to an insufficiently examined subject.1 Trying to detach his work from Joachimist debates, Tibesar did not deem the spirituality shared by peninsular friars to be relevant in explaining their poor early evangelical results.2 Although Tibesar acknowledged such shortcomings, he sustained that they were caused by an apathetic Franciscan engagement in parish work among the Indians. The inexperience of Spanish friars [End Page 647] and the turmoil of the civil wars that ravaged the Andes in the aftermath of the conquest greatly explain this situation, he sustains. Additionally, Tibesar advances the idea that the undecided approach towards Indian conversion amongst sixteenth-century Franciscan authorities was the major cause of these first evangelical failures. Troubled by the hardships of life in Indian parishes and concerned about the lack of familiarity with parish administration among the Order's ranks, the Franciscan establishment sent the friars contradictory orders, thus preventing them from bringing together a more coherent evangelical plan.3

An Indian petition produced in 1584 by the Collagua and Cabana Indians of the Colca Valley, in the Arequipan countryside (see map 1), best epitomizes the nature of the early evangelical efforts accomplished by the Franciscans, Tibesar sustains. At this time, several native chiefs (caciques), tired of suffering mistreatments at the hand of their parish priests, explicitly requested the Spanish Crown to reinstate the Franciscans in their parishes.4 According to Tibesar, the event highlights the main elements at the core of the early Franciscan evangelical efforts in the Andes: namely, the hesitant approach of the Order's authorities, the remarkable evangelical results accomplished by the friars in spite of administrative obstacles, and the eagerness of the Indians to embrace Catholicism due to natural reason. The evangelical enthusiasm displayed in this story served Franciscan propaganda, and it is not surprising that partisan historians cited the event as proof of an undeclared Franciscan success in the Andes.5

But what were Tibesar's sources? A brief examination reveals that the historian was influenced by what seems to have been a proto-national Creole feeling flourishing among the Order's ranks. Tibesar borrowed his information from the seventeenth-century official chronicler of the Order, Diego de Córdoba y Salinas.6 Córdoba y Salinas, a member of the mid-colonial Creole elite, was unquestionably fascinated by the evangelical initiative that the natives displayed in this story. In all likelihood, the missionary success depicted in this story captivated the imagination of all Franciscans of Creole origins. Historian Bernard Lavallé has documented how religious orders in Peru started to coin a Creole awareness early in the colonial period. Such a standpoint gave ground [End Page 648] to the depiction of the Indian past and the friars' evangelical efforts in the Andes in proto-national terms. It is clear that criollismo also served the friars' interests in political and ecclesiastical conflicts. Since the sixteenth century, Peruvian-born friars used Creole ideas and feelings to claim exclusive rights over their parish assignments and protect them from newly arrived European friars as well as state-sponsored secularization initiatives.7

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Map 1
Post-Toledan parishes in the Collca Valley. Adapted from: John M. Treacy, Las Chacras de Coporaque. Andenería y riego en el Valle del Collca (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 1994), p. 51.

Although the exact sources used by Córdoba y Salinas remain unidentified, we know that one of the most prominent members of the Creole Franciscan party, Fray Luis Jerónimo de Oré, was a key participant in the event.8 [End Page 649] A first generation Creole from Guamanga, Oré came from an upper class family that filled the local...


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