Epilogue: Palafox’s vision for the Republic of Puebla

The articulation of the ideal Christian Republic was Bishop Juan de Palafox’s ambitious project of reform of the City of Puebla and its outlying sphere of influence - the diocese’s geographical boundaries. By revealing Palafox’s socioreligious philosophy as articulated in his writings, connecting it to his architectural endeavors and offering interpretations of some of his major projects, it becomes evident how every one of his architectural efforts resonated deeply with a specific aspect of his thinking. Palafox’s urban influence might be construed as a subtle one, meaning that his urban intervention was not represented by a massive number of constructions, nor did he alter Puebla’s urban design physically. Rather, his intervention operated at a symbolic level, construing an analogy of an idealized Christian order, one that effectively set a rule and compass for a society with earthly needs but still set on reaching out for spiritual guidance offered by the Church.

Central elements of Palafox’s philosophy resonate with a range of sacred philosophical traditions at the heart of Christian thinking, including the analogy of the earthly and the heavenly cities. However, the most explicit source of theological-doctrinal thinking in Juan de Palafox’s universe is post-Tridentine Catholicism. Ultimately, as an ecclesiastical hierarch and as a bishop, Palafox realized that the diocesan clergy were effective agents for the moral and political compass of the City of Puebla and its outlying territories. However, architecture was the apparatus through which Palafox was able to promote his moral and political agenda.

The diagram labeled as Figure 4.6 serves to illustrate this final point. At the heart of the City of Puebla stands Puebla Cathedral, Palafox’s major ecclesiastical, political, and architectural project; it marks the symbolic center sealing the pact between God, the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and the diverse ethnic groups that made up the city’s population. Next to the cathedral still stands the Tridentine Seminary Complex, representing the perpetuation of diocesan power through the education of their clerical ranks. The San Pedro Hospital embodies Palafox’s exercise of charitable ministry, or caritas, a central tenet of Christian philosophy, and a major political project for the diocese at the time. Finally, and perhaps even more importantly, the Indigenous parishes Palafox seized from the mendicant orders represent his efforts to indoctrinate and add the city’s largest ethnic group to his social project.

Bishop Juan de Palafox’s creation of the ideal Christian Republic was a compelling attempt at providing the city with an articulated meaning that was effective in two dimensions: the sociopolitical and the religious. During his tenure of barely nine years, Palafox managed to transform the city’s understanding of itself, departing radically from the symbolism that had been ascribed to it a hundred years previously, namely, the sacred city inspired by a celestial model, a mythology so powerful that it provided a model for the city’s urban and spiritual substance for a century. Palafox’s praxis, both modern (inclusive) and profoundly Catholic (hierarchical and controlling), revitalized the city’s understanding of itself for decades to come.

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