Bishop Palafox and the Indigenous parishes and shrines in the Puebla-Tlaxcala Diocese

Perhaps the least studied and understood aspect of Bishop Palafox’s social and cultural influence in the City of Puebla’s history and its surrounding territories (demarcated in the seventeenth century by the diocese’s administrative limits) is the relationship between the bishop and his Indigenous devotees.

As noted earlier, when Palafox challenged the regular clergy in 1640, the repercussions were varied, but the principal effect was to breach the gap between the diocese and the Indigenous parishes, both in the city proper and its surrounding territories. The mendicant missionaries were suddenly removed from their parishes because of the diocesan anxiety over exercising its authority. In this context, Palafox had to replace the mendicant friars with his diocesan priests, and in many cases, he had to have new parish churches built to replace the mendicant’s architectural complexes and temples, given that mendicant orders would never allow the secular clergy to occupy them. In the City of Puebla, he undertook the construction of new parishes in the peripheral Indigenous barrios (neighborhoods).78 An important reason why the construction of church parishes in Indigenous barrios and towns during Palafox’s Bishopric has not been studied in much detail is that the Diocesan Archive of Puebla has not been opened nor properly cataloged by researchers.74 The Diocesan Archive is presumed by some historians, such as Montserrat Gall, to hold the key to understanding Palafox’s actions regarding the construction and patronage of the many parishes and altarpieces he claimed to have built.80

Indeed, Palafox - during his nine-year tenure - claimed at some point to have been responsible for the creation of more than forty-four church buildings, various shrines, and over one hundred altarpieces in an apologetic text written after Palafox’s removal from his post.81 While it is difficult to ascertain whether Palafox was indeed responsible for the construction of fortysomething church buildings due to the lack of primary sources to clarify his claims, the presence of alternative sources of documentation, such as notarial certificates or contemporary chronicle accounts, has aided in determining his involvement in the construction of individual buildings, particularly Indigenous church parishes. These include the Parish Church of San Pedro Cholula; the urban parish of the barrio of Xonaca, an Indigenous neighborhood in the City of Puebla; and the San Miguel del Milagro Shrine, close to the town of Nativitas, in Tlaxcala, 32 km (20 miles) to the northwest of Puebla.82 All these architectural projects - sponsored or promoted by Bishop Palafox - were located in Indigenous communities, which is by no means coincidental. In the words of Alvarez de Toledo, Palafox was attempting “a successful ethnic integration of the Indigenous groups in his diocese” as a central part of his socioreligious project.83

In fact, Palafox authored a short treatise on the “nature” of the Indigenous peoples of New Spain, titled De la naturaleza у virtudes del indio (On the Nature and Virtues of the Indian).84 The treatise must have been written shortly after 1649, once he found himself back in Spain.85 One reason Palafox’s treatise stands out in the literature produced by Europeans regarding the Indigenous condition in New Spain is its optimism regarding native peoples’ evangelization. During the first years of their evangelization campaigns, the mendicant missionaries were generally optimistic regarding the natives’ potential to become exemplary Christians. Toward the midseventeenth century, however, this attitude shifted to pessimism regarding the natives’ abilities to renounce their religious beliefs.86 Juan de Palafox’s treatise runs counter to that tendency, stressing the native peoples’ acceptance of the Christian faith, and he blames the persistence of “idolatrous” beliefs on the lack of ministers and the lack of effective teaching of the Catholic faith.87 Furthermore, a crucial tenet of Palafox’s interpretation of the Indigenous communities’ role in the bishop’s ambitious socioreligious project - that is, the articulation of the ideal Christian Republic in Puebla - is linked to how Palafox believes in the Indigenous peoples’ aptitude for the intellectual arts.88

While the mendicant friars had, by the seventeenth century, conceded that Indigenous men and women should, in general, be barred from joining the ranks of the regular clergy, Palafox went to great lengths to make sure that native youths had access to education and the diocesan priesthood.89 The recognition of the natives’ suitability and superlative appropriateness for all kinds of crafts and labor was not gratuitous. It must be noted that despite the laudatory tone Palafox employed to describe the Indigenous condition in his treatise, Palafox was far from displaying the interest that the outstanding sixteenth-century Franciscan missionary-scholars, such as Toribio de Bena- vente, Geronimo de Mendieta, Diego de Valades, or Bernardino de Sahagun, showed toward native cultures. These missionaries’ interests, in the form of profound investigations into the Indigenous peoples’ cultural practices, have been passed down to us in the form of treatises and chronicles. Palafox, on the other hand, never appeared to be interested in the cultural practices of the native peoples - before the Conquest - at all. What sets his vision of the Indigenous condition apart from the sixteenth century’s great missionaries is the notion that the Indigenous peoples of his diocese and throughout New Spain were a valuable source of labor for viceregal industry, just as they were fit to be loyal servants to both the Spanish Crown and the Church.

Indeed, Palafox interprets and elaborates on the Indigenous condition only in terms of the Indigenous peoples’ status as Christian converts, while their pre-Hispanic past, in contrast, an undesirable condition, was transcended only thanks to their - successful - conversion to Christianity.90 This curious blindness to cultural difference while championing equality is, if anything, a sign of the modernity of his social and political project. Palafox considered the native peoples to be very resourceful and able in intellectual activities and the mechanical arts. However, the bishop also insisted on praising and stressing their hardworking and obedient nature. This view contrasted with the misrepresentations that had formed surrounding the figure of the native, widely disseminated in the mid-seventeenth century, which included notions of alleged pusillanimity, weakness, and cowardice.91 Palafox consistently counters these commonplaces, defending the natives’ valor, predisposition for hard work, and industriousness, but he does so to edify the figure of the Indigenous subject as a commodity of sorts and from a highly paternalistic stance. The bishop pictured the native population as an obedient, loyal, able, and hardworking subject, worthy of consideration only in direct proportionality to its value for the kingdom’s economic and social well-being.92

Palafox procured the administration of various Indigenous parishes on the periphery of the city, where the bulk of the Indigenous population began settling in a series of barrios shortly after Puebla’s foundation. The administration of pastoral activities in these barrios during the sixteenth century was similar to that of the repiiblicas de indios (majority-indigenous settlements); in other words, in the City of Puebla, as in the Indigenous towns, the peripheral parishes were initially administered by the mendicant clergy.93 As part of his general scheme regarding the procurement of the administrative and doctrinal rights over Indigenous parishes, Palafox seized various urban churches from the regular clergy. The Parish Church of the barrio of Santiago de Cholultecapan, west of the main square, fell within the administrative area assigned to the Dominican friars and was seized from them by Palafox in 1640 (see Figure 4.9).94 On the other side of the city, and across the San Francisco River, the Indian barrios of Analco and El Alto had been administered by the Franciscan priests since the early origins of the city, as their conventual complex was in the vicinity. Bishop Palafox procured the doctrinal and pastoral administration of the Analco, San Juan del Rio, Xonaca, and El Alto or Santa Cruz Churches, incorporating them into the diocese in 1640.95 An example of Palafox’s architectural patronage is the Parish Church building of the Indigenous barrio of Xonaca in the city’s northeast periphery. The facade of that building, its most appealing element, remodeled in 1642, has a central body made of dark gray basaltic stone, similar to that of the cathedral. According to Manuel Toussaint, the design’s author was Garcia Ferrer, Palafox’s preferred sculptor and painter.96 Its gate, flanked by sober Doric, fluted pilasters, displays sculpted angels in the spandrels and a frieze decorated with vegetative motifs. The upper body of the facade contains a choir window framed with Mannerist, rusticated ashlars. The atrium’s entrance gate, which is even more sober in its Classicism, is of similar craftsmanship (see Figure 4.8).

A view of Xonaca Parish Church’s gate. The Church’s gate and facade are attributed to Pedro Garcia Ferrer and sponsored by Bishop Palafox

Figure 4.8 A view of Xonaca Parish Church’s gate. The Church’s gate and facade are attributed to Pedro Garcia Ferrer and sponsored by Bishop Palafox.

Source-. Courtesy of Ruben Olvera.

Fagade of Santiago Parish Church, an Indigenous barrio, sponsored by Bishop Juan de Palafox

Figure 4.9 Fagade of Santiago Parish Church, an Indigenous barrio, sponsored by Bishop Juan de Palafox.

Source: Courtesy of Ruben Olvera.

Given his administrative and architectural actions, it is apparent that Palafox believed the way to integrate the Indigenous communities into his diocese was through the ministering of pastoral activities and by sponsoring architectural works. By deploying a small army of well-prepared clergymen to the city’s peripheral barrios and improving the physical state of the parishes, he sought to propagate the doctrines necessary to try to integrate the native communities into Puebla’s societal apparatus - under his terms. Procuring the Indigenous barrios in the city’s periphery and the parishes in repdblicas de indios in the surrounding diocesan parishes proved to be a task that was essential to the successful articulation of his ideal Christian Republic.

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