Religious Chroniclers in 17c Peru


A review of Writing History to Reform the Empire: Religious Chroniclers in Seventeenth-Century Peru, by Carlos Gálvez-Peña.

As stated in the introduction, this dissertation analyzes the significance of the history writing that was produced in the context of the fiscal pressures placed on the religious Orders in the viceroyalty of Peru by the Spanish Crown in the seventeenth century. Its chapters are dedicated to discussing twenty-five works written by seventeen authors related to the Peruvian viceroyalty by birth or by long-time residence and to four religious Orders based in Lima, the capital of the viceroyalty. Gálvez-Peña argues that this seventeenth-century religious historiography had an originality based on a fusion of genres—a mix of political ideas, historical revisionism and moral and religious teachings—that fit the Peruvian viceroyal Church’s need to defend itself from the royal fiscalism of its usual sponsor (a fiscalism that should be pondered in relation to a continuous conflict between the papacy and the Spanish Crown). Actually, Gálvez-Peña considers taxation (and other policies that tried to reinforce royal patronage and downsize the Orders) as a subtext for the historiographical discourses he analyzes.

Gálvez-Peña carefully examines the use of historical narratives among these creole priests who tried to protect—with different strategies and arguments—their Orders from the interference of the Spanish Crown. For instance, Jesuits were less concerned with local claims and sometimes even contradicted them (Gálvez-Peña argues that the number of creoles within this Order was probably less important than in the other ones and that they could have been more efficiently controlled). Members of the Orders also went beyond religious issues and related to the imperial rule of the Andes: for instance, most of the religious scholars examined made an apology for the encomienda, arguing it could increase the indigenous population and expand markets and tributes. Despite this variety, the colonial Church still firmly regulated the production of knowledge. In fact, as stated in the section on “Civitas Limensis,” the religious authors considered in this dissertation were closely connected to creole elites: their social background cannot be fully understood outside of the regional Peruvian encomendero class, which sent its children to pursue a religious career in Lima.

The first part of the dissertation, “Imperial Church at Stake,” is divided into two chapters. The title of the first one is “Allies and Foes: Church and Crown in Seventeenth-Century Peru.” Here, Gálvez-Peña argues that the religious discourse that appeared in the Peruvian viceroyalty should be considered in the context of the conflicts of power detonated by the fiscal policies adopted in Europe. Later on, in “Makers of a Sacred Alliance,” the author applies this conceptual frame to the narration of the miraculous presence of the Child Jesus in Eten (a Franciscan Indian parish) by Diego de Córdova y Salinas, who claimed that the presence of Jesus in the host consecrated in an Indian town should be understood as God’s forgiveness for the theft of a silver chalice that had occurred in Quito that same year (1649). Gálvez-Peña explores how Diego de Córdova y Salinas’ symbolic and political use of this event tried to reinforce the relationship between indigenous people, the religious Orders and Habsburg rule. It is important to mention that the author also takes into account how creole scholars exercised criticism and political dissension that challenged the idea of a single narrative in the Church.

The second chapter (“Lettered and Sacred City”) explores the characteristics of the city of Lima in the seventeenth century. Having probably the largest religious population in the Americas, Lima was one of the main scenes in the continent for the training of religious cadres. Most importantly, it was a main producer of celebrations of the Church and the monarchy. The next section, “Another Rome,” shows that the historical discourse examined by this dissertation covers the apogee of Lima’s influence in South America, during which it created the narrative of its religious purity and its right to direct the project of expanding Catholicism (it is in this frame that the author understands, for instance, the canonization of Toribio Alfonso de Mogrovejo and Rosa de Lima).

Part II (“Religious Discourse and Colonial Politics”) begins by claiming that the original message of many works published by the scholars he examines has not been noticed until now because they have been considered only as a secondary colonial source. This is the case, for instance, of Alonso Ramos Gavilán’s Historia del Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Copacabana. In the following sections (“Martyrdom and Politics” and “Augustinian Blood and Imperial Politics in the Andes”), the works of Antonio de la Calancha are also mainly valued not for the information they provide (as he has usually been used) but because they produced a key change in the understanding of early viceroyal history, making a political text of the religious chronicle.

Chapter 4 considers the Franciscan Order through the works of Diego de Córdova y Salinas (who offered a new version of the capture of Inca Atahualpa and whose works were translated into Italian and German) and of his brother Buenaventura. According to this dissertation, both brothers—arguably the best Peruvian historian and probably the most important political author of their time, respectively—had a strong motivation underlying their defense of the Franciscan Order and their justification of the expansion of the Spanish monarchy to the Indies: to validate their lineage and that of the encomendero elites. In the Memorial de las Historias, Salinas asked for protection of the native population from corrupted corregidores (abolishing the corregimientos) and from mining (importing mercury from countries like Germany or China), following another Franciscan, Miguel de Agia, the first in seventeenth-century Peru to reflect on the effects of mining on indigenous people (while arguing that forcing them to work was Christian and legal). After teaching Theology in Naples and Bologna and spying on the moves of the Portuguese Franciscans in Rome, Buenaventura wrote his last Memorial (1646) in Valencia. In this combination of political claim and autobiographical account, Salinas advanced a notion of nationhood claiming that Spanish Americans had the right to occupy ruling positions because they were the perfect linkage between the Crown and their indigenous subjects.

Chapter 5 (“Jesuit Reformism”) considers Jesuit scholarship and again its focus on the relationship between the Order and the Crown using martyrdom and sainthood, and also considers other reflections on the effects of mining on native people. The first section is dedicated to the early Memoriales on the Indian Question (1599), which discussed the legitimacy of Indian labor in mines and questioned Spanish laws. This is also the case of the Memorial by Alonso Messía Venegas on the feasibility of enforcing a 1601 royal decree based on what he could observe in the Jesuit mission of Chucuito (Upper Peru), where only a few of the thousands of families taken to the mine of Potosí could return. In fact, Messía proposed the Jesuit mission town as a place of protection for the indigenous population from mining. In 1610, another group of Jesuit scholars wrote another document condemning the mining mita, but (as Messia and others did) it only argued for better administration, not for its abolition.

The next section (“An Italian Missionary in the Andes”) is devoted to Giovanni Anello Oliva, whose Historia del Reino y Provincias del Perú dealt with the end of the Inca Empire, the arrival of the Jesuits and the missionaries’ biographies. Oliva’s historical endeavors (and even his sermons) wanted both to advocate for Jesuit missionary expansion and also to secure royal funding. The following section is dedicated to Bernabé Cobo, whose exceptional studies of natural history, according to the dissertation, should be linked to his interest in Christian rule. In Cobo’s work, nature was actually the stage for the creation of a political virtue to be perfected by Spain. In contrast with other scholars, in order to defend the origins of the benémerito class, Cobo stressed the civilizing consequences of the Conquest.

Chapter 6 is devoted to Dominicans, particularly to the issues raised by Bartolomé de Las Casas’s critique of Indian compulsory labor. Peruvian Dominicans had to produce a version of early colonial history that matched the demands of benemérito elites. Therefore, before the end of the seventeenth century, Peruvian Dominicans had distanced themselves from Las Casas and stressed creole urban sainthood over missionary activities among indigenous people. For instance, in the 1660s, Father Juan Meléndez—who, as no other religious scholar had previously accomplished, published his own work in Rome—already showed a clear rejection of Las Casas and a focus on urban religiosity and sainthood, as needed by the creole leaders and their mercantile associates. In the section “Las Casas Disowned (1681-1682),” the author describes how the seventeenth-century revival of Las Casas did not happen in the Peruvian Dominican historiography because he had questioned Spanish legitimacy in the America. Nevertheless, Dominican efforts to promote Peruvian Catholic statecraft did not succeed afterwards since a reform based on an association of Orders and Crown made no sense in the new context of seventeenth-century imperial administration. Therefore, for instance, when B. Cobo died, historical revisionism, Catholic statecraft and the political doctrine followed by the Peruvian anti-Machiavellianism were not relevant anymore.

At the end, the production of historiographical texts by the creole clergy ended with the change in their political context. After the Peace of Westphalia (1648), neither the doctrines of imperial expansion nor of remarking the position of the corporate Church as a partner of the Crown against heresy were interesting anymore. Religion was no longer a driving force with political implications. The Peruvian Orders’ demands for state support weakened as did the idea of a Spanish Catholicism ruling the world. Both the problems of the indigenous population’s labor and the debates on the revival of the encomienda were replaced by an interest in local sainthood, which became a new expression of creole national identity.

In the conclusions (“The Waning of the Age of Chronicles and Memoriales”), Galvez-Peña argues that the time in which the scholars examined here produced their works is unique for its massive historiographical production and its political discussion. Nevertheless, before the paradigms of historical discourse used by these religious scholars became irrelevant, they approached an idea of nationhood that began reflecting on itself as Peruvian within the frame of a global empire. According to Galvez-Peña, this was their major accomplishment, although he admits that this first generation of Peruvian historians and political thinkers could challenge Rome and Madrid with their legal interpretations, propose reforms to viceroyal ruling and promote their own candidates to sainthood. But these ideas did not become part of a national consciousness or connect with emancipation ideologies.

Carlos Gálvez-Peña’s dissertation will surely have an important impact once it is published. The authors and the historical period he carefully explores and the perspectives he uses are certainly underrepresented in many areas. For example, although in Andean studies culture is regarded as a site where power relations can be observed (as in Gálvez-Peña’s dissertation), religion is not usually understood as a producer of culture, but rather as a mere expression of it. Another important topic in this dissertation (at least for an anthropologist concerned with contemporary Andean cultures) is the importance of European thinkers such as Justus Lipsius for understanding what has been thought and administered on issues related to indigenous peoples.

Dr. Juan Javier Rivera Andía
Department of Anthropology of America
University of Bonn

Primary Sources

Biblioteca Nacional del Perú
Archivo General de la Nación
Archivo Arzobispal de Lima
Archivo del Cabildo de la Catedral de Lima
Archivo Histórico del Convento de San Francisco
Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid
Archivo Histórico Nacional de Madrid
Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores y Cooperación de España- Archivo Histórico (MAEC)
Archivio Storico Societate Iesu
New York Public Library

Dissertation Information

Columbia University. 2012. 533 pp. Primary Advisor: Caterina Pizzigoni.


Image: Father Juan Melendez. Frontispiece. “Tesoros Verdaderos de las Indias” (Rome: Angel Tinasio, 1681).

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