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  • Franciscanos eminentes en territorios de fronteras ed. by Amaya Cabranes and Thomas Calvo
  • Asunción Lavrin
Franciscanos eminentes en territorios de fronteras. Edited by Amaya Cabranes and Thomas Calvo. ( Michoacán: El Colegio de Michoacán and El Colegio de San Luis. 2014. Pp. 235. $12.00 paperback. ISBN 978-607-8257-78-2.)

By the mid-seventeenth century, the enthusiasm and energy that characterized the first generation of mendicant friars who arrived in Mexico to Christianize the indigenous population had declined for many reasons. Although the central and southern areas proved to be more amenable to Spanish settlement and Christianization, in the far north and west the various nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes proved a challenge for evangelizers. The swell of Christianization that seemed so inevitable in the sixteenth century slowed down, and the missionaries had to fight inch by inch to gain converts as well as territory. The personal recollections of two Franciscans engaged in that process form the core of this work.

The documents transcribed and edited by the very capable team of Amaya Cabranes and Thomas Calvo belonged to two men who had little in common except [End Page 694] the desire to add numbers to the meager crop of converts to Christianity in lands still in the hands of “apostates” and “gentiles.” Newly arrived missionary Juan Caballero Carranco narrates a frustrating trip to the coast of Baja California in 1669 led by a man whose main interest was to find pearls. The Franciscan longed to assess the potential for conversion among the scattered population but turned out to be better at registering the incidents of the voyage, its men, and the geography of the area than at proselytizing. He was also a frustrated policy maker. His description of the spiritual and material needs of the Cora tribes in the Sonora and Nayarit area reveal a well-thought plan to supplant the Jesuits and carry out a broad sweep to attract and retain the resilient Indians into the fold of the Church. He represents the idealistic men traveling from Spain to fulfill a personal as well as a religious mission in the belief that all they needed was a well-planned policy to conquer all obstacles.

The second friar, Juan González Cordero, tended to his flock on the northwest frontiers of central Mexico (Queretaro, San Miguel, Celaya) from the 1630s to the 1660s. He personified the established parish missionary who performed his duties for years among people who, although official Christian converts, were still engaged in what he called “superstitious” practices. His detailed description of how he proselytized and attempted to guard the purity of Christian beliefs records the practices of the indigenous flock and the endeavors of their guardian. It was an unsettled situation that gave shamans the opportunity to continue practicing their arts and made the missionary’s life one of constant struggle among presumed Christians and non-Christians. González Cordero, almost unaware of his role, left a rich source of information for future ethnologists.

The careful introductory comments of the editors underline the importance of preconceived ideas among the evangelizers and the strong pull of the land on the process of evangelization. Calvo and Cabranes define the work of the missionaries as carving physical and spiritual frontiers. They have rendered a great service to historians of the evangelization of northern and central Mexico with the publication of these rich and previously unknown sources. Calvo has made a specialty of unearthing documents about the northwest region of Mexico, which he has published in previous works on the history of that region. Calvo and Cambranes call our attention to the fact that these two narratives are as much mirrors of the missionaries as pictures of the fragility of Catholicism. Still challenged by native “men-gods” attracting subversive practices, the religious landscape of the area, 150 years after the conquest, was still in a state of flux between acceptance and rejection, and between still-active old autochthonous traditions and the stubborn determination of men of the cloth to eradicate them, as they believed their faith required. It was a confrontation that had not yet reached a resolution. As the editors point out...


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