The key players

Puebla de los Angeles, as an urban and social project, was planned by a tripartite committee. The first party was the Real Audiencia, the official interim tribunal that represented the Crown of Spain until the arrival of the first appointed Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza (1495-1552). Juan de Salmeron, an oidor, represented the Audiencia as a member of that tribunal. The second protagonist was the Franciscan Order, the guardianes or designated evangelizers of the province of Tlaxcala, represented in the founding of the city by Friar Toribio de Benavente Motolinia. The third was the Bishopric of Tlaxcala, represented by Bishop Julian Garces, who had the ecclesiastical control of Puebla’s future founding site.16

All three characters involved in the project were intriguing. Salmeron was a renowned jurist who participated in the famous trial against Pedro Arias Davila, the infamous Governor of Castilla de Oro (Central America).17 Upon Salmeron’s arrival in New Spain as a second Real Audiencia member, the judge would also prove a crucial protagonist in Puebla’s foundation. Toribio de Benavente Motolinia, as mentioned earlier, was the author of a collection of writings known as Memoriales, which proved crucial as a source of information on the first years of the colonization of New Spain, the native peoples of the early post-conquest period, as well as a first-person account on the founding of Puebla.18 Friar Julian Garces (1452-1541) was a Dominican priest and later bishop of Tlaxcala’s province. Garces was a notable theologian, a former student of the famed humanist Antonio de Nebrija, and a Sorbonne University alumnus.19 He arrived in New Spain in 1526 to occupy the see of the Tlaxcala Bishopric. The history surrounding the creation and establishment of bishoprics and their respective concilios catedralicios - which were the councils that administered the ecclesiastical rents or prebends of each bishopric - is critical in the Mexican viceregal context, as they oversaw the establishment and development of ecclesiastical rule in the territory. By extension, bishoprics informed the development of political-geographical delimitations in New Spain.

To this effect, the creation of the Bishopric of Tlaxcala is intimately linked to Puebla de los Angeles’ founding and its later economic and political development. As early as 1519, Garces was appointed to the see of what was then called the Carolense Diocese by order of Pope Leo X in Rome. This was the first diocese in New Spain, planned well in advance of the military conquest led by the Spaniards against the Mexica in 1521. The geographical delimitation of the Carolense Diocese initially encompassed most of the vaguely known territory of Central Mexico and the Gulf Coast. It would later be redrafted due to the creation of the Mexico City Diocese in 1530. However, in 1526, the Cathedral Chapter decided to have Garces’ episcopal see transferred to the City of Tlaxcala.20 This decision was bound to trigger a sensitive situation given that the Tlaxcalan people had benefited from the allegiance they celebrated with the Spaniards, as they rallied against, and eventually defeated, the political consortium headed by the Mexica. As a reward, Tlaxcalans enjoyed certain privileges, such as restricting Spanish settlements on their lands.21

Tlaxcala’s privileges were thus indirectly responsible, at least in part, for the idea of establishing the City of Puebla as the seat of the bishopric for this region. Garces was troubled by having to establish his see in the mostly Indigenous town of Tlaxcala, as he felt the bishopric should be in a Spanish administrative center. Therefore, the establishment of a Spanish city represented a possible solution. Still, Garces was also unconvinced of establishing the bishopric in a newly created town, as it would pose the challenge of raising sufficient prebends to sustain a bishopric from a sparse population. Garces sought a middle route - to introduce Spanish settlers into Tlaxcala, a highly complicated situation given Tlaxcala’s privilege of being spared European colonists.22 In the end, the diocesan see was eventually transferred to the City of Puebla, but only because the concilio catedralicio, the Cathedral Chapter, pressured Garces into making a decision. Garces only agreed to move the bishopric around 1539, eight years after the city’s establishment.23

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