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By D. A. Brading

This booklet describes nearly all facets of spiritual existence in a Mexican diocese within the eighteenth century. It covers the Franciscan missionary schools, the hot Oratory at San Miguel, new convents and sisterhoods, confraternities and renowned faith, the composition and profits of the secular clergy, conflicts within the cathedral bankruptcy, and the involvement of the clergy within the 1810 Insurgency. A imperative factor is the conflicts among Church and nation and among the tradition of baroque Catholicism and enlightened despotism.

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Reflecting on the impressive ruins of an encomendero's mansion situated amidst the mountain peaks of Guango, Escobar exclaimed that had the first settlers possessed true curiosity about the country they had conquered then 'Guango might have been the Versailles of this America or the Florence of this New World'. As for the quiet, unassuming valley of Jacona, he acclaimed it as 'the Cyprus of this America, the Elysian Fields of this New World and the splendid paradise of these West Indies'. As in Churrigueresque architecture, which Escobar praised as 'the new style in retablos\ the deliquescence of classical vocabulary sacrificed meaning to rhetorical effect: but whereas in a retablo the sculptural detail was constrained and ordered by the soaring movement of the frame, by contrast in narrative prose the sheer hyperbole of such epithets eventually robbed the descriptions of any quality other than a bizarre, tedious charm.

Subsisting on a diet of maize tamales and vegetables, Fray Juan Bautista walked barefoot, exposing himself to both the sun and mosquitoes, and cut short his hours of sleep in order both to pray and to draw blood through self-scourging. But these practices were but the means by which he strengthened himself for his mission to the Indians, journeying across the mountains and tropical valleys in his search for native converts. Drawing on materials assembled by a contemporary friar, de la Puente also recounted a number of extraordinary incidents, as when Fray Juan Bautista slipped from a high mountain path only later to be seen climbing up the other side, his body having been sustained by the air.

At the same time, however, de la Rea confessed that the conquest had inaugurated a tragic epoch for the native peoples of Michoacan, in which they suffered both from 20 Mendicant chronicles 21 Spanish depredations and the onslaught of epidemic disease. During the great plague of 1543, five-sixths of the population had died, the survivors finding 'the kingdom desolated and without people, the cities in ruins, their haciendas in alien power and they themselves strangers in their own land'. This epidemic was followed by yet another plague in 1577, 'in which the greater part of the Indians died'.

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