The Story of Mexico/Chapter 20

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Antonio de Mendoza, Conde de Tendilla, was the first viceroy sent by Charles V. to New Spain. He arrived in the autumn of 1535.

He belonged to the great Spanish family of Mendoza, which counted twenty-three generations, and claimed descent from the Cid himself. Better than this, he had a well-balanced and moderate character, and governed the country with justice and generosity combined. He had no intention of enriching himself by his position, but at heart put the interests of the Spanish colonists before every other consideration, except those of the Indians, for whose welfare he had from the first a genuine regard. It would seem that Charles V., harassed as he was with the intrigues and difficulties of his own empire, already revolving the design which he put in practice later, of retiring from the world, had himself selected for his first representative in the new country a man whom he knew personally to be equal to the task, one not only of noble blood, but honorable character.

Mendoza set himself to reform the abuses which had already appeared, protected the Indians from the humiliations which the newly arrived Spaniards were disposed to put upon them; he stimulated all branches of agriculture, and finding the natives were already well informed in the cultivation of land, he encouraged them in this pursuit by all possible efforts.

In order to develop the growth and manufacture of wool he caused sheep of fine breed to be brought from Spain; he encouraged the silk industry, and all employments coming from the productions of the earth, which the climate of Mexico greatly favors.

Before his arrival the Franciscan brotherhood had founded several convents. As early as 1521 Cortés, after the conquest of Tenochtitlan, had sent home an urgent request that priests should be sent from Spain to convert the heathen in the new province. For Cortés, through all his undertaking, earnestly regarded his mission as a crusade against the unbeliever; he never hesitated to destroy the temples and gods of the Aztecs, and his first step after victory was to forcibly baptize all his prisoners and the inhabitants of conquered cities into the Christian religion.

As soon as the knowledge of so wide a field was noised abroad, five missionaries of the Franciscan order started for New Spain. One of them was Fray Pedro, of Ghent, a nation of Flanders, who of all the early missionaries in Mexico was the most able and zealous. He was especially endeared to the Emperor Charles V. on account of the holiness and usefulness of his life, and from him he was greatly aided in his work by grants of land and sums of money. Later twelve missionaries were sent out by order of the Emperor, and protected by a Bull from the Pope. These "twelve apostles of Mexico," as they are usually called, arrived in 1524. Their leader was Fray Martin de Valencia, who bore the title of Vicar of New Spain.

To the religious orders in Mexico is due in great measure the firm base upon which the government of Spain was established there. The new viceroy fully recognized this, and encouraged the foundations of colleges and schools already undertaken by them.

In every way he promoted the prosperity and growth of the country, and had the satisfaction in the course of his government, which lasted fifteen years, to see every thing bear the marks of his judgment and enterprise.

It was he who founded two cities which have reached great importance. The first was Guadalajara, near the site where Nuño de Guzman had established a town under the name Espiritu Santo, in the state of Jalisco. Mendoza removed it from its first situation to the one it now occupies. It has become one of the largest and most flourishing cities in Mexico, and at the present time it is one of the most interesting, because, as it has been until very lately remote from railroad communication, it has preserved all the early characteristics of Spanish-Mexican civilization which attended its foundation and first growth. There may still be seen many customs and peculiarities of old Spanish life, which are fast disappearing from the Peninsula, The citizens are well educated, highly cultivated, with the manners of the pure hidalgo, and the houses contain relics and mementos of the past of Mexico, such as are nowhere else to be found.

Mendoza also founded the city of Valladolid, in the late kingdom of Michoacan, of which the poor King Calzonzi had lately been sacrificed to the greed of Nuño de Guzman. This latter received the just punishment for his cruelty. He was imprisoned in 1537, and shortly after died, "in misery and oblivion," says the chronicle.

The large province of Michoacan, now one of the states of Mexico, called by the same name, stretches from the state of Mexico to the Pacific ocean. It contains some of the most beautiful scenery to be found in the whole country, now revealed by the National Railway, which runs from the city of Mexico to Morelia, the capital of Michoacan, and farther on to Patzcuaro. The ultimate destination of the road is Colima, near the Pacific coast. The country of Michoacan was peopled by Tarascans, who, as we have seen, preserved their kingdom until after the Conquest. They have always been known for their sturdy independence, like other mountaineers, for their state is traversed by ridges of lofty hills, making picturesque effects of scenery. It was in suppressing the Indians of Michoacan and the neighboring Jalisco that the ferocious Pedro de Alvarado received a blow, from which he died in 1541.

Mendoza the better to civilize these turbulent tribes, chose a site for a city in the midst of their population. The royal parchment exists, sent from Spain by Queen Juana, under the date of October 27, 1537, in which permission is given to the viceroy—"Insomuch as I am informed by the relation you have made to me, that in these lands you have found or discovered a most beautiful site towards the part of the Chichimecas, in the Province of Michoacan, in which, as it is a place both attractive and convenient, you wish to establish and found a city with more than sixty Spanish families and nine religious advisers, for this purpose acknowledging the service of God and of the Royal Crown, we give and concede faculty and license to the viceroy, Don Antonio de Mendoza, to establish and people the said city."

The day being fixed for the ceremonial of founding the city, all the pueblos in the neighborhood were summoned, and a great conference of people, both Indians and Spaniards, assembled to listen to the royal mandate, which was read aloud. Then the commissioners and the governors of the Indios kissed the parchment in sign of obedience; a mass was celebrated upon an altar, which had been improvised for the occasion under a canopy made of the branches of trees, for the ceremony took place in the open air. Thereupon followed festivities, which lasted several days; the plan of the city was laid out, and lots assigned to the "more than sixty families," who took possession at once.

Among the lists of these families, of which the names remain, is Don Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, a connection, we may assume, of the viceroy. Other noble families were later sent to occupy the new city, so that Valladolid had every reason to hold itself high as a town of distinction.

It was named Valladolid after the birthplace of Mendoza in Spain, and called always Valladolid de Michoacan, in distinction from the town in the old country, until the name was changed, in this century, to Morelia, for reasons we shall understand better further on in the story.

It is hard to account for the presence in Mexico of the "more than sixty families," and many, many more which served as nucleus for all the cities founded by the Spaniards. In the prosperous condition of Spain at that time, when the empire of Charles V. was at the greatest period of glory, it is a question to solve why any noble families took the trouble to risk a perilous voyage, in those days long and, to say the least, uncomfortable, in order to make a new life in the recently conquered colony. Doubtless the reports given by the Conquistadores of the great wealth of the new land attracted many adventurers, who left their country for their country's good, thus seizing a short cut to wealth; but this does not account for whole families, in numbers sufficient to settle city after city over the newly grasped possessions in the hands of the viceroy. Religious liberty was not the motive, for here the strong arm of the Church was stretched as firmly as at home. As early as 1527 a royal order was issued, by which all Jews and Moors were banished from New Spain. The Inquisition was established in 1570, but although the auto da fé was of frequent occurrence during two centuries, the institution never flourished with the vigor it acquired in the old country.

The city of Valladolid flourished exceedingly. Its native population to this day has the reputation of being industrious, docile, and self-restrained. While moderate, at the same time true to heroism, jealous of independence and liberty, restless under oppression, but easily led by gentleness and reason. The character of the Spanish families is hospitable, their manners open and attractive, while at the same time they are exclusive and tenacious of their birth, position, and religious belief.

The church of Michoacan was created by a bull of the Pope Paul III. in 1536. The queen of Spain decreed that a cathedral should be constructed in a suitable place, to be selected by the viceroy and the good Bishop Vasco de Quiroga, who was known as a friend of the Tarascans.

Among the members of the second Audiencia, which retrieved by its wisdom the evil deeds of Nuño and his assistants, was an eminent lawyer, the Licenciado Vasco de Quiroga. As the proceedings of Guzman were fresh in everybody's mind, he heard of them, and at once went into the neighborhood of Tzintzuntzan to relieve, if possible, the condition of the people of Calzonzi. They had fled in terror from their homes, deserting the towns and hiding in the mountains. Quiroga, with great perseverance and gentleness, found them out, and prevailed at last upon the poor Tarascans, who came to love him with passionate devotion. He lived among them until 1536, when he was made their bishop, having been quickly passed through the successive grades of promotion necessary for that purpose, for he was, to begin with, a layman and not under orders. While still oidor of the Audiencia he assumed the cares of his office; by the end of the same year he had received all the necessary orders, from the tonsure to the priesthood.

The city of Tzintzuntzan was first selected for the foundation of the cathedral, as the pueblo of the largest population thereabout. It is now a forlorn Indian village, with straggling rows of adobe huts running down a slope towards the lonely Lake Patzcuaro. Pottery is made there by the simplest methods from clay which abounds in the neighborhood; the people are ignorant, gentle Indians, pursuing their humble lives with the content which characterizes the native Mexican. But behind an orchard of large old olive-trees neglected and decaying, is the parish church, which contains a wonderful picture, so wonderful as to be startling among such incongruous surroundings. In the sacristy, and lighted by one little window with small panes of glass, is a large and impressive canvas, representing the entombment of our Saviour. Surrounding the dead Christ are the Virgin, the Magdalen, St. John, and other figures, all life size. One of the figures in the background is said to be the bishop of Philip II., and tradition asserts positively that the picture is by Titian. The composition, grouping, and treatment are certainly like Titian, especially the introduction of a bit of landscape in the upper left-hand corner. It is possible that the picture is by the great master; even if not, the interest attaching to it is great, for it is beautiful, whoever painted it, and far beyond, as well as utterly different from, many of the altar pieces and "old masters" which abound in Mexico without any value whatever. It is possible that Philip II. sent the picture, or more likely that before his time Charles V., who personally knew Quiroga, and possibly loved him, caused the picture to be sent him for his Indians by reason of his devotion to them, and the eloquence with which he reported their cause to his royal master. This would account for its being in the little church at Tzintzuntzan, where the documents say Quiroga was bishop only for one year. If Charles sent the picture, the likeness of Philip was taken before he had come to the throne, and was only Prince Imperial. As for its remaining at Tzintzuntzan, instead of finding a fit place in the cathedral of Morelia, the Indians have in every generation absolutely refused to have it removed. It would be a brave archbishop, or secular authority who should endeavor now to take it away from them. Unguarded, it hangs in the bare little sacristy, safe and uninjured by irreverent touch.

The cathedral was begun at Patzcuaro, and was to be, says the account, "so magnificent that it has entirely filled the imagination of all those who can remember it." But it was decided that the ground it was on was too near the lake to support so great a structure. In 1550 the king of Spain sent to command a suspension of the works, and it was finally built at Valladolid, where it now stands, a beautiful building, superior to the cathedral in the city of Mexico. It was only completed in 1744. It stands in an open space between two plazas, where the effect of the two lofty well-proportioned towers is uninterrupted by other buildings. The Mexicans delight in church bells, and the towers of the Morelia cathedral are well provided with them, great and small, for all occasions. On a feast-day of the Church these bells are ringing continuously, filling the air of the town with their joyous clangor.

Cortés was away when the Viceroy Mendoza arrived in Mexico. He still retained his title of governor, with the same powers always conferred upon him; but his long absences from the capital made it necessary, as he fully recognized, that some other strong authority should be established there. Nevertheless, he never got on very well with such other authorities, and on his return soon became at odds with Mendoza, who, in his opinion, interfered with his prerogatives. It was then that Cortés bade farewell to his family, and taking with him his eldest son and heir, Don Martin, then eight years old, he embarked for Spain, leaving Mendoza undisturbed in the execution of his office.

It is evident that the rule of the viceroy was judicious and well adapted to grafting a new civilization upon the old. The native tribes were made peaceable without a great deal of contention, and by the adroit and gentle management of the viceroy, ably helped by the religious orders who came to his assistance, readily transferred their old beliefs to the mysteries and miracles of the Roman Catholic faith.

There was genuine enthusiasm for the viceroy on TSOM D233 Cathedral at Morelia.pngCATHEDRAL AT MORELIA.

the part of the Indians. On the Central Railway, about five hours out from the city of Mexico, is a station called Cazadero, which means "place for pursuing game." The name clings to it since 1540, when an immense hunt took place there upon the broad plain which stretches out in all directions. This hunt was a pleasant attention from the Indians to the viceroy to express their approval of his ways with them.

In 1536 was issued the first book printed in Mexico, on a press imported by Mendoza, and put into the hands of one Juan Pablos. In the same year both silver and copper coins were stamped, the latter in the form of an irregular polygon. In 1550 this good ruler sailed away from Mexico, where he had done so much to advance the interests of his royal master. He passed on to take charge of the government of Peru, by a practice which came to be quite common—a sort of diplomatic succession by which the viceroys of New Spain were promoted to the post at Peru.

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