Arches and Cupolas
- The apostolate of the first predicants was noble and beautiful, a
memorable moment in the history of human ethics. This is especially
true in the case of the Franciscans, among whom flourished Pedro de
Gante, Toribio de Benavente and Vasco de Quiroga. Land was held as communal
property. Evangelization was carried out with a will to sacrifice, humility
and abstinence, making the reemergence of primitive Christianity plausible.
This extraordinary tale of piety, love and devotion was a brief one.
It soon suffered a change in spirit, its original one living on only
individually, in a scattered handful of exceptional missionaries.
- Years later, in 1606, the Jesuits settled in Guatemala and founded
powerful economic organizations. With their expulsion from all Spanish
dominions in 1767, the anxiety for independence itself accelerated because
the Jesuits had piqued criollo interest in business matters,
thus forging stronger links between these Americans of Spanish descent
and the Spanish Crown. The theocratic society they founded in Paraguay,
which banned private property so as to better exploit the indigenous
population in the interests of the order, collapsed with their expulsion-the
Jesuits were always careful to not permit anything to function properly
without their direct intervention and participation.
- In America's newest society, the church set itself up, as always,
as an economic and political entity upheld by dogmas, with a totalitarian
structure and subordinated to an infallible supreme leader, in order
to develop national and international action defined on economic, political
and social levels. Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, who initially
appeared to have ceded to demands to enslave Blacks as a way of alleviating
the situation of the indigenous peoples, soon reconsidered his position.
Much has been written on the new society that was being forged in America:
an event without parallel in history, affecting an extensive area and
a huge population. The very circumstances of its growth gave it an elastic
configuration: laws and rules were circumvented even out of an imperative
demand for employment:
- So, Spanish America's new society regressed at times to medieval
forms that were already on the wane in Europe, but on the whole, it
remained in a fluid condition owing to frequent reversals of fortune
among individuals, and to their mobility and adaptation to new circumstances.
There was a constant ebb and flow between Spain and its colonies, a
general societal movement consequent to new possibilities for travel
and lucre; all this helped overturn old social conventions on both sides
of the ocean.1
- We can still observe in any contemporary society the undeniable cruelty
of conquest and colonization which, here, was such that it provoked
mass suicide when the indigenous population was no longer capable of
putting up armed resistance. Remesal relates that this is what happened
in El Sumidero Ravine, where the Chiapas River flows, following the
battles against Luis Marín between 1523 and 1524, and, four years
later, against Diego de Mazariegos in what is now the Mexican state
of Chiapas. These events and many others speak eloquently of the social
apocalypse. The breakdown produced by conquest and colonization is still
evident in our nation's peoples: it caused them to lose even the elementary
capacity of reading their own writing. The great missionaries and some
of their institutions disappeared from the face of America during the
seventeenth century. The criollo population was growing stronger
every day, both in numbers and economically. Interest in the indigenous
and mestizo population did not vanish-it took a different tack.
Instead of seeking to educate and teach indigenous people, they were
kept in a state of backwardness and in the service of their exploiters.
- Indigenous educational institutions fell into decline, never to recover
their force. How many indigenous names can we cite for their involvement
in transcendent activities in Guatemala? In the late seventeenth
century, names such as Diego Reynoso, Francisco Hernández Arana
and Francisco Díaz came to light: the dying sparks of the first
missionaries' ardor. Reynoso may have compiled the translations of the
Popol Vuh, and the latter two were possibly the authors of Title
of the Lords of Totonicapán and fragments of the Memorial
of Sololá (Annals of the Cakchiquels).
- Francisco Marroquín, the future first Bishop of Guatemala,
arrived from Spain in 1530 with Pedro de Alvarado, who named him the
parish priest of Guatemala City. Marroquín was enlightened by
the devout, paternal fervor of certain missionaries. He founded the
first schools for children of Spaniards, and later, a primary school
for orphaned children. He erected the first cathedral, inaugurating
it in 1533.
- The following year, the parish priest Francisco Marroquín,
subordinate to the bishopric of Mexico, was promoted to bishop. In Pedro
de Alvarado's absence, while Alonso de Maldonado (remembered with gratitude
by the Annals of the Cakchiquels) governed in his place, Bishop
Marroquín called on Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, who was
hated everywhere. Las Casas undertook the peaceful subjugation of Rabinal
and Tecolotlán, also known as Tezulutlán. Since that time,
these regions have borne the name of Vera Paz. In 1545, Bishop Marroquín
published a work in Mexico entitled Christian Doctrine, written
in Cakchiquel and used for evangelization. He lived through the destruction
of the second capital of Guatemala, the present-day Old City (1541),
and Pedro de Alvarado named him executor of his will. He was one of
the founders of Antigua Guatemala, the country's third capital city,
which was mapped out by Bautista Antonelli, military architect for Philip
II, builder of El Morro in Havana, and the Palace of San Juan de Ulúa
in Veracruz. The first maps of Guatemala were the work of Bautista Antonelli.
Francisco Marroquín completed the Santiago Hospital in 1548.
A year prior to his death, according to the document "Concert and Foundation,"
undersigned before the Provincial of the Santo Domingo Monastery, he
created a college for secondary education, a precursor to the university,
offering instruction in the arts, philosophy, theology and Latin grammar.
Bishop Marroquín died in Antigua on April 18, 1563.
- While the Indians swarmed over the mountains, their backs loaded
with stone and wood for walls, arches and cupolas, chroniclers and historians
were filling in the life of those centuries: Pedro de Bethancourt's
bell, which could be heard ringing in the colonial night; Bernal Díaz
del Castillo; Antonio de Remesal (Historia de la Provincia de Chiapa
y Guatemala); Francisco Vázquez (Chrónica de la
provincia del Santíssimo Nombre de Jesús de Guatemala);
Francisco Ximénez (Historia de la provincia de San Vicente
de Chiapa y Guatemala. Isagogge Histórica); Francisco de
Fuentes y Guzmán (Recordación florida); and other
testimonies of interest, including those of Fray Antonio de Molina,
Fray Felipe Cadena, and a few others. Far away, my threefold compatriot
Rafael Landívar half-closed his eyes and, mad with homesickness,
stammered, "Salve, cara parens, dulcis Guathimala, salve."
- In 1660, Fray Enrique de Rivera imported the first printing press
and the first printer, Joseph de Pineda Ybarra, to attend to Guatemala's
religious publication needs. During the colonial period, there was no
freedom of religion or expression. Everything was first subjected to
ecclesiastic censorship. Thomasiada al Sol de la Iglesia y su Doctor
Santo Tomás de Aquino, a second-rate poem by Fray Diego Sáenz
Ovecuri, was the title of the first book to roll off these presses in
- November 1, 1729 marked the publication of the first issue of the
clerical Gaceta de Guatemala-the mirror of its epoch. One might
say the university already existed in 1625, because the first higher
degrees were awarded that year by the College of Santo Tomás
de Aquino, closed in 1631 by the Royal Tribunal of Guatemala. On February
26, 1652, the municipal government of Guatemala City requested authorization
from the king to found a university using donations made to the Dominicans
in 1646 by Captain Pedro Crespo Suárez. The Dominicans conferred
doctoral degrees at their college from 1672 to 1676, the year of the
arrival of the royal letters patent for the foundation of the Royal
University of San Carlos, "in blissful memory of the King, Our Lord
Charles II." The installation of the first academic chair was celebrated
on December 18, 1680. The university was inaugurated on January 7, 1681,
in a building erected within the Santo Domingo Monastery. In 1758, it
moved into the Casa de Alcántara-now the Colonial Museum-where
it remained until 1777. In the aftermath of Antigua's destruction in
1773, it moved to the new capital of Guatemala. During the colonial
period, the university was constantly under the watchful eye of the
Holy Inquisition-the supreme institution responsible for augmenting
atrophy and idiocy. Justo Sierra called the university "a gravestone,"
reduced to "propounding and refuting through pompous exercises in mental
gymnastics overseen by archbishops and viceroys, for three hundred years."
- The printing press was exclusively an instrument of the Catholic
church until the appearance of the second Gaceta de Guatemala
in 1794. In spite of the Holy Office, its mission was memorable, opening
the door-at times with temerity, at times with daring-to the new ideas
that emerged during the great age of the French Revolution and the wars
of independence in the United States and Latin America. Novenas, catechisms,
litanies, religious poems, sermons, prayers, and indigenous vocabularies
for catechization were the only things to emerge from those presses.
The printing press was not a vehicle for cultural dissemination but
for clerical obscurantism. What is more, illiteracy rates were very
high. Very few Indians and mestizos knew how to read and write.
Sapper calculates the population of Mexico and Central America at the
time of the Conquest to have been around five or six million. Kroeber
estimates it at 3 300 000. E. G. Squier's Notes on Central America
cites the 1778 census of the General Captaincy, which places the population
of Guatemala, including Chiapas and Soconusco, at 392 272 inhabitants,
and that of Central America as a whole at under a million-805 339, to
be exact. In fact, these figures are very approximate.3
In 1808, Juan Antonio de Aqueche and Anselmo Quirós calculated
the population of the Kingdom of Guatemala to be one million inhabitants.
Forty thousand of them (four percent) were white, "Americans and Spaniards,
landowners, tradesmen, merchants of every type of goods, clerks, clergymen,
and so forth;" 646 666 (64.67 percent) were "Indians of all sexes and
ages," who "to this day, are so devoted to their ancient customs and
practices that their lives are truly identical to those of the first
inhabitants of this land;" 313 334 (31.33 percent) were comprised of
dark-skinned people, a few Blacks, and the mestizo population
- Aqueche and Quirós divided that 31.33 percent-the middle class
ladino or mestizo segment of the population-into three
groups. As a whole, they consider this the "least useful of the castes,
for its innate laziness and moral abandon." Artisans, farmers and gunsmiths,
"with a propensity to theft due to their wholly neglected breeding."
- These two members of the white four percent tell us that
- Still and all, there is a proportion of the dark-skinned people that
devotes itself to the cultivation of small country estates, self-employed,
in the provinces as well as in the Capital's outlying towns; we should
rightfully exclude this group from the ill reputation which only applies
to the species we have just described.
- And a third group, "composed of a most unsavory herd of layabouts,"
whom they describe as idlers, drunks, gamblers, horse thieves, robbers,
louts and killers. Within this curious colonial scheme, the office of
artisan, which has survived to this day, is already present in the "painters,
sculptors, silversmiths, carpenters, weavers, tailors, shoemakers, blacksmiths,
etc." These two individuals of the aforementioned four percent are scornful
of the profession, though they do recognize
- the particular skill of certain silversmiths, sculptors and carpenters,
which is as admirable as it is apparently innate, for in view of their
origins and lack of opportunity to practice their craft, they should
not possess such talent, nor the formality and honorable character of
some masters whose conduct does them credit.
- Such was our society, according to this report, which contains fundamental
information not only on the people but on its oppressors-information
that can be clearly read between the lines. During the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, the clergy continued erecting churches across
the nation. From bends in the roads leading to both small and large
towns, the colonial plaza stands out, dominated by the towers and cupola
of the cathedral which shelters the downtrodden humbleness of the dwellings.
Churches stand out from the landscape like nails holding down the skin
of the quarry hunted as it dries in the sun. Guatemala la Antigua was
the metropolis of Central America from 1543 to 1777, the year in which
the university was moved to the current capital. Only Mexico City and
Lima outclassed it in the New World. Its makers of religious icons-such
as Quirio Cataño and Alonso de la Paz, who flourished during
the seventeenth century-bequeathed us more than a few masterpieces.
Antigua's workshops produced images for Central America and much of
- In 1794, the Gaceta de Guatemala reappeared. It circulated
for twenty-three years, until 1816. Defying censorship, it became a
forum for progressive criollos who wrote bold commentaries on
topics of national interest. Its critical posture and its contribution
of a new way of thinking made it one of the continent's worthy publications,
with Ignacio Beteta; Jacobo de Villaurrutia (Santo Domingo, 1757ö1833),
founder of the Economic Society of Friends of the Nation; Simón
Bergaño y Villegas and Mateo Antonio Marure, both of whom were
imprisoned and deported. Antonio Liendo y Goicoechea carried out the
first university reform. The Fine Arts Academy was founded in 1797.
It would not be correct to judge late eighteenth-century educated criollos
and the few lettered mestizos of the time as blind followers
of colonial thought. Our finest men were familiar with European thought
and progressive, despite the General Captains and the Church with its
Inquisition. Such discontent can be perceived in pre-independence journalism-men
like the ones mentioned, along with José Cecilio del Valle, Antonio
Larrazábal, J. Florencio del Castillo-our representative in the
cortes at Cádiz-as well as Pedro Molina,
Fray Matías de Córdova, J. Francisco Córdoba, José
- Two newspapers were published in those days: El Editor Constitucional,
founded in July 1820 with Pedro Molina at the head, and El Amigo
de la Patria, founded in October of the same year and edited by
José Cecilio del Valle. These newspapers launched a new era,
though they diverged greatly on the opportuneness of independence. Del
Valle revealed himself as an opponent of the political ideology of Molina,
a leading figure in the struggle for autonomy. The knowledgeable del
Valle, judge-advocate for the Spanish government, was always vacillating,
even when he drew up the passionless and pusillanimous declaration of
Guatemala's independence on September 15, 1821-which he did not sign.
Scholasticism and theology began to be swept aside by encyclopedism.
1. Pedro Henríquez Ureña, Las corrientes literarias en la
América Hispánica, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2nd
ed. (Mexico City, 1954) Chapter II, p. 39. 2. Ramón
A. Salazar, Historia del desenvolvimiento intelectual de Guatemala. Época
colonial. Biblioteca de Cultura Popular 20 de Octubre (Guatemala City:
Ministerio de Educación Pública, 1950) Vol. III, p. 320.
Salazar cites Fray Diego Sáenz Orecuri's book as the second one
printed. Though he does not provide the title of the first, he does mention
a theological treatise of about 800 pages in length.
3. Ramón A. Salazar states that, according to the 1778
census, the General Captaincy of Guatemala had 797 214 inhabitants. Historia
del desenvolvimiento intelectual de Guatemala, Biblioteca de Cultura Popular,
20 de Octubre (Guatemala City: Ministerio de Educación Pública)
Vol. III, p. 306.