Juan de Palafox у Mendoza, Bishop of Puebla de Los Angeles

How Juan de Palafox у Mendoza came to occupy Puebla de los Angeles’ Bishopric see is a compelling story. He was born in Fitero, a small town in Navarra, northern Spain, on January 24, 1600,39 the son of an Aragonese nobleman. He studied Canonical Law at the Universities of Alcala de Henares and Salamanca, graduating in 1620 and occupying a post in the Aragonese Courts or Cortes de Monzon, the regional parliament for the Kingdom of Aragon, in 1626. In 1629, he was appointed, for a brief sojourn, a jurist in the Council of the Indies and in that same year, Gaspar Guzman, the Count-Duke of Olivares (1587-1645), Philip IV’s principal minister, or valido (a term for a favorite minister in early modern Spain), appointed Palafox as Chaplain to Maria of Austria, Holy Roman Empress (1528-1603), daughter of Emperor Charles V. In July 1633, Palafox rejoined his post at the Council of the Indies as a jurist and was quickly promoted to a councilor. Palafox’s post as a jurist at the Council of the Indies served as a platform for his subsequent appointment as Bishop of Puebla de los Angeles.

In order to understand Palafox as an architectural patron of Puebla, it is vital to understand that his political philosophy regarding the reform of temporal and secular powers in his diocese hinged on one basic idea: the appropriateness of the Church’s role in establishing a political, ethical, and moral leadership and mandate in a society. For Palafox, the idea that each sector of society occupied a specific role was central to the conceptualization of political and religious normative roles and society’s shaping through them. These ideas are contained in his work Manual de estados у profesiones (A Manual of States and Professions), published in 1762. In this text, Palafox runs through a whole catalog of societal groups, both civilian and ecclesiastical, ascribing to them what he considered to be their responsibilities and duties to society at large.40 Palafox placed a great deal of responsibility on the highest society members, ecclesiastical and civil servants, and oligarchs.41 When it came to the clergy, Palafox recognized that as representatives of God on Earth, all priests carried great responsibility, but a bishop carried, consequently, even more, as the souls of all of his brethren were under his direct care.42 Palafox deemed the bishop’s role to be one of a caretaker of souls and as a leader, a “channel” for both temporal and spiritual goods.43

When discussing the role of nobility in society, the bishop believed they were “born to rule” and therefore had to be well-educated and honorific at all costs.44 Of the common people, or subditos or subjects, as he addresses them, Palafox reserves a series of somewhat paternalistic considerations and assigns to the bulk of the population the responsibility of obeying the law, because, as he states, “in adherence and fulfillment of the laws, one finds all the virtues of professions and states.”45 Palafox was fond of comparing the human body to the corpus of society. As Palafox stated:

From the head, according to the physicians, all ills come down into the body. The clerics are the spiritual head of the seculars. While the secular superiors are temporal heads of the subjects... . Now, what would happen to the body if when the head ordered the hand to bring food to the mouth, the sustenance of it all, the hand would not obey the head?46

Given the importance Palafox assigns to the Church’s governance - the “head” - it is not surprising that his most important architectural enterprise was Puebla Cathedral, given that the cathedral played the role of a city’s most loaded symbolic edification in the Hispanic world of the early modern period. The cathedral is an emblematic building that expresses and represents the city as a whole, and in the distribution of its architectural program, it encapsulated the city’s body politic in its order and hierarchy. First, the cathedral stands at the heart of the city, in clear architectural dialogue with secular power institutions - namely, the city hall - which flanks the main square, the most important public space in the city. The cathedral’s interior program provided space for all of the city’s representatives: the presbytery was reserved for the highest secular authorities, members of the city council, and other civil authorities. The choir housed the bishop’s see, together with the rest of the cathedral council. The lateral chapels were regional expressions of cultural piety, and they could even be said to concretize the city’s economic dynamics, having been sponsored by local confraternities and corporations.47 The interior architectural layout allowed processional rituals to be carried out along the length of the nave, passing by the apse and back down the nave before exiting to the atrium, which acted as a connector between the interior and exterior sacred space, and outward to the rest of the city’s urban space (see Figure 4.1, the cathedral’s aerial view).

In a pastoral letter addressed to the city, the cathedral’s Council, and the bulk of the populace, and written upon the cathedral’s consecration in 1649, Bishop Palafox adeptly traces for his brethren the original meaning of a temple, invoking the biblical passage of Jacob’s Ladder - popular and oft-cited in cases of the consecration of temples - drawn from the Book of Genesis. A seminal part of the passage relates the enabling and creation of sacred architectural space, as Jacob creates an altar by consecrating a stone.48 In that same pastoral letter, he employs the biblical passage of Jacob’s Ladder to introduce one of his most important political ideas: regionalism. Palafox thought that he could contribute and guarantee the Spanish Empire’s unification and prosperity by promoting this concept.49

Palafox communicated to his poblano (Pueblan) brethren the message of regionalism through the notion of belonging to the land, a seminal part of Jacob’s passage: “And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord,

The facade of Puebla Cathedral, latter part of the seventeenth century. Source-. Courtesy of Ruben Olvera

Figure 4.4 The facade of Puebla Cathedral, latter part of the seventeenth century. Source-. Courtesy of Ruben Olvera.

the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your offspring.’”50 In effect, Palafox’s ultimate architectural endeavor, the consecration of Puebla Cathedral, marked pob- lano society’s definitive claim to the land. The bishop’s sermon enlarged the idea of regional identification and pride, in other words, to the concept of the patria chica. Indeed, the construction and consecration of a cathedral building, particularly in the New World, signals the triumph of Christian doctrine. The consecration of the most sophisticated cathedral in New Spain at the time signaled the definitive establishment, the culmination of a veritable Christian Republic.

This Christian Republic, as a concept, is clarified in the sermon contained in Palafox’s pastoral letter in which the bishop declares to his congregation that upon the consecration of the temple, the land around it would be divinely granted to them and that their descendants would inherit that land as well.51 In this way, Palafox identified both promises that a temple can deliver to its builders: one, the linkage to heaven, the building becoming the passageway to the divine. Second, the establishing of a world, in this case, the ideal Christian Republic, in which poblano society could find its harmony and prosperity, as long as it acknowledged the rule of God, the King, its Bishops, and its ruling class.52

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