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  • La disputa por las almas. Las órdenes religiosas en Campeche, siglo XVIII by Adriana Rocher Salas
  • Robert W. Patch
La disputa por las almas. Las órdenes religiosas en Campeche, siglo XVIII. By Adriana Rocher Salas. México: CONACULTA, 2010. Pp. 435. Tables. Bibliography.

This book studies the three religious orders (the Franciscans, the Jesuits, and Saint John of God) in Campeche and Yucatán in the eighteenth century. Of these the Franciscans were by far the most important. The title is a bit misleading, because the book in fact contains a great deal not only about what is now Campeche but also about what is now Yucatán. In the colonial period both belonged to the Diocese of Mérida, and in fact the documentation does not always permit the author to separate the information about Campeche from that of Yucatán.

Rocher Salas divides the subject into four very long chapters, each one almost a short monograph by itself. After a long introduction to the history of Campeche and Yucatán, she studies the following themes: the economic structure of the orders and the links between the priests and local society; the struggle for power within each order, and the impact of the Bourbon reforms. Since the Franciscans did not acquire landed estates or much urban real estate, the real economic power of the order was in its control of the parishes ministering to the indigenous population. The favored position of the Franciscans, who had been given a virtual monopoly on evangelization since the very founding of the colony, meant that the friars were well entrenched in the countryside and gave up control only after bitter and prolonged struggle with the secular clergy. However, the latter usually won out, albeit gradually, leading to the gradual secularization of the majority of the parishes by the end of the eighteenth century. The royal governors’ support of the secular clergy was usually essential for the eventual defeat of the Franciscans. Most conflicts were over appointments to the parishes, although corruption involving the handling of finances—which inevitably dragged the Franciscans into economic relations with the larger society—was also involved. Internal conflicts sometimes pitted creoles against Europeans, but the American-born frequently fought vigorously against other.

The Jesuits came to Yucatán to establish seminaries in Merida and Campeche. Their experience with trying to run both business activities and a hacienda did not work out, and therefore they did not become owners of much property. Their expulsion in 1767 was less disruptive in this region than in others. Internal conflicts were less important in the Society of Jesus than for Franciscans because appointments were made by officials elsewhere rather than by local elections. Even less important economically was the Order of Saint John of God, which founded and administered the first hospitals. These were devoted to providing medical aid to the poor, and in Campeche this frequently included sailors who fell ill while in port. The major source of revenue for the hospitals was a per capita tax levied on the crews of ships in port.

One minor criticism: Rocher Salas argues that creoles entered the Franciscan order primarily in search of good incomes from benefices, an outcome of inheritance practices [End Page 776] that left everyone but the eldest son with nothing (p. 100). This is certainly not true, for the law insured, and surviving wills prove, that usually all children inherited, although one child could be somewhat more favored than others. In fact, there is no evidence of the motivations of those who entered the ecclesiastical establishment, and in any case most of those who did so to get a good income were more likely to join the secular clergy, not the Franciscans. The Bourbon reforms eliminated the Jesuit presence, furthered the process of the secularization of parishes, and deprived the hospitals of their major source of revenue. The Franciscans and secular clergy, however, frequently became allies in the struggle to resist royal encroachment on their power and position.

Overall, this is a fine study that contributes significantly to our understanding of three important ecclesiastical (and medical) institutions in the late colonial period and during the era of...


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