Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 29.djvu/31

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21
AN ECONOMIC STUDY OF MEXICO.

who, producing nothing and consuming everything, virtually lived on the superstitions and fears of their countrymen—which they at the same time did their best to create and perpetuate—he no longer wonders that Mexico and her people are poor and degraded, but rather that they are not poorer and more degraded than they are.

What amount of property was owned by the Mexican Church and clergy previous to its secularization is not certainly known (at least by the public). It is agreed that they at one time held the titles to all the best property of the republic, both in city and country; and there is said to have been an admission by the clerical authorities to the ownership of eight hundred and sixty-one estates in the country, valued at $71,000,000; and of twenty-two thousand lots of city property, valued at 8113,000,000; making a total of $184,000,000. Other estimates, more general in their character, are to the effect that the former aggregate wealth of the Mexican Church can not have been less than $300,000,000; and, according to Mr. Strother, it is not improbable that even this large estimate falls short of the truth; "inasmuch as it is admitted that the Mexican ecclesiastical body well understood the value of money as an element of power, and, as bankers and money-lenders for the nation, possessed vast assets which could not be publicly known or estimated." Notwithstanding also the great losses which the Church had undoubtedly experienced prior to the accession of Juarez in 1857, and his control of the state, the annual revenue of the Mexican clergy at that time, from tithes, gifts, charities, and parochial dues, is believed to have been not less than $22,000,000, or more than the entire aggregate revenues of the state derived from all its customs and internal taxes. Some of the property that thus came into the possession of the Government was quickly sold by it, and at very low prices; and, very curiously, was bought, in some notable instances, by other religious (Protestant) denominations, which, previous to 1857, had not been allowed to obtain even so much as tolerance or a foothold in the country. Thus, the former spacious headquarters of the order of the Franciscans, with one of the most elegant and beautifully proportioned chapels in the world, within its walls, and fronting in part on the Calle de San Francisco, the most fashionable street in the city of Mexico, was sold to Bishop Riley and a well-known philanthropist of New York, acting for the American Episcopal missions, at an understood price of thirty-five thousand dollars, and is now valued at over two hundred thousand dollars. In like manner the American Baptist missionaries have gained an ownership or control, in the city of Puebla, of the old Palace of the Inquisition; and in the city of Mexico, the former enormous Palace of the Inquisition, is now a medical college; while the Plaza de San Domingo, which adjoins and fronts the Church of San Domingo, and where the auto-da-fe was once held, is now used as a market-place. A former magnificent old convent, to some extent reconstructed and repaired, also affords quar-