The Story of Mexico/Chapter 21

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XXI.

FRAY MARTIN DE VALENCIA.

Don Luis de Velasco, second viceroy of New Spain, made his entrance into the capital with great pomp, at the end of the year 1550. He, like his predecessor, had been selected with care by the orders of Charles V., if not from his personal knowledge, and he brought to his new position qualities as admirable. His first decree was one liberating one hundred and fifty Indians from slavery, who were working chiefly in the mines, and when the objection was raised that this industry would be paralyzed by the step, he stated that the liberty of the Indians was of more importance than all the mines in the world, and that the rents due to the crown were not of such a nature that for them must be interrupted laws human and divine.

He established in Mexico, for the security of travellers upon the highway, the tribunal of the Holy Brotherhood, instituted in Spain for the same purpose in the time of Isabella. He founded the Royal University of Mexico, and the Royal Hospital for the exclusive use of the natives. He recognized the capacity of these Indians for developing lands hitherto uncultivated, and, in fact, favored them by every means in his power, while he encouraged the development of all the resources of the country, especially the mines, of which some important discoveries were made in his time.

The building of the cathedral at Puebla was pushed with great activity under this viceroy, although the building was not finished until the middle of the next century.

Puebla de los Angeles, second in importance in all Mexico to Guadalajara only, receives its name from the tradition that before the light of Christianity was shed on New Spain, the heathen used to see visions of angels marshalled in mighty hosts in the heavens above the spot where the city stands. It is in the Province of Tlaxcalla, where Cortés found his first friends and stanch allies, on the highway between the coast and the capital.

Of the founding of the city a local chronicler writes that the illustrious Fray Julian Garces, the first bishop who came to Tlaxcalla, fully shared the project for establishing a town somewhere in these parts that might be a resting-place in the long and weary walk from the coast to the city of Mexico; yet he was uncertain in his mind as to where the town had best be, until one night in a vision he beheld a most lovely vega, a plain, bounded by the slope of the great volcanoes on the west, broken by two little hills, and dotted by many springs, and cut by two rivers which gave abundant water, and made all things fresh and green. And as he gazed in pleased amazement, the dream revealed two angels, who with line and rod were measuring boundaries TSOM D237 Puebla de Los Angeles.pngPUEBLA DE LOS ANGELES.

on the ground, as if they were marking out the place for streets and squares, and for the founding of great buildings.

Upon this the bishop awoke, and luckily coming in his search upon the very site that his vision had shown him, chose it for the place of Puebla de los Angeles.

The city is beautifully situated with fine views of the volcanoes; the pyramid of Cholula is eight miles from it. It is a purely Spanish town, founded at the earnest request of the Franciscan friars, who entreated to be allowed to make a town of Spaniards, who should cultivate the earth in the manner and fashion of Spain, without the assistance of Indian labor or the unworthy practice of Indian slavery, thus giving employment to many Spanish good-for-nothings who were going about the country without finding any thing for their hands to do.

The second Audiencia, in whose time the request was made, readily granted it, and the city was founded in 1532. Forty families of Spanish birth assembled, and the plan of the city was marked out, accompanied by the celebration of mass, as at Valladolid. The Indians of the surrounding; towns willingly helped the Spaniards in great multitudes, bringing them materials for the first houses, and singing joyfully as they gave their assistance.

Puebla is so placed with regard to the capital that in the frequent battles of the country it has been time and again fought for or invested. During these periods it is to be feared that its angels have been sometimes compelled to avert their faces. Its present name is Puebla de Zaragoza, in honor of the brave general who defended it against the French, on the 5th of May, 1862.

Thus the efforts of the viceroys were ably seconded by the zeal of the first ecclesiastics of the church of Mexico. Fray Juan de Zumarraga was the first bishop presented by the emperor to Pope Clement VII., in 1527. The next year he arrived at Vera Cruz, bearing the titles of bishop-elect and protector of the Indians, honors which he fairly earned by his interest in them and his devotion to their cause.

These holy men worked zealously with the natives and by adroitly substituting for their heathen superstitions, the legends and miracles of the Catholic Church succeeded in engrafting the new faith upon the old without violence. The Indians accepted readily the narration of the life of the Saviour, his miraculous power, his spotless life, his death upon the cross, but their favorite object of worship and reverence was from the first the Holy Virgin, the mother of Jesus. To her they transferred all the fervor of their idolatry. Her image has always been to them most sacred, her shrine the constant place for votive offerings of flowers, ribbons, and all small objects of familiar use. To the superstitious minds of these people, it was possible to introduce every form of miracle without danger of incredulity; they were soon closely bound to the Church by their faith in the supernatural interference of the heavenly powers, and above all of the Virgin. These superstitions still remain in Mexico, and are so closely held by the Indians, that no government, however "advanced" in religious thought, has dared to interfere with certain rites and ceremonials, pieced upon their ancient garment of faith, in the earliest time of the first viceroys and bishops. The "twelve apostles," godly men who devoted their lives to Christianizing the Indians, have themselves become objects of tradition, and their deeds, as handed down from generation to generation, are as miraculous as any of those they revealed in their day to the simple and credulous Aztecs.

Of all the Apostles the memory of good Fray Martin de Valencia is most highly valued, and many are the traditions concerning his life and works.

An early history of the Indians of New Spain, written in 1541, tells of his life in Amecameca, an Indian village several hours by rail south of the capital, which still preserves all the simplicity of its earliest days. It was in existence long before the Conquest. The Spanish army stopped there a couple of days on their first approach to the city, kindly received by the Cacique in "large commodious stone buildings." Of these latter we must doubt. Near here, Fray Martin loved to dwell "because," as the narrative relates, "it is a very quiet place, most appropriate to prayer, for it is in the side of a little mountain, and is a devout hermitage. Close to this house is a cave devoted to and very suitable for the service of God. In this he used at times to give himself to prayer; and at times he used to go out of the cave into a grove, and amongst those trees there was one which was very large, under which he went to pray early in the morning; and it is asserted that as soon as he placed himself there to pray, the tree swarmed with birds which by their songs made sweet harmony, through which he felt much consolation, and praised and blessed the Lord; and when he went away from there the birds went also; and so, after the death of this servant of God nevermore gathered there in this manner. Both these things were noted by many who used to hold converse there with the servant of God, as well seeing them come and go before him, as their not appearing after his death. I have been informed by a monk of good life that in this hermitage of Amecameca, there appeared to the man of God Saint Francisco and Saint Antonio, who leaving him much comforted departed from his presence."

"Just outside Amecameca, is a hill, rising abrubtly from the plain and closely covered with a growth of ancient trees, some of them ahuehuetes which rival those at Chapultepec in size and venerable aspect. This hill is called the Sacro Monte; there is room for thinking that it was sacred to the Aztec deities even before the coming of the Spanish priests, and that they adopted it to carry on the traditions belonging to it. However, this may be, it was one of Fray Martin's favorite retreats for retiring sometimes to an oratory which he had made in a cave on the mountain, to give himself to special exercises of the highest contemplation and rigorous penance. He continued to labor in teaching the Indios, especially boys, for whom he manifested singular love; he remained there but little time, because in the following year, 1533, he was attacked with the pneumonia which caused his death. This was accompanied by very particular circumstances. A few days before he fell ill, with a few brief words, being in Amecameca, he manifested to his companion that now had arrived the term of his life; and he not having understood this, very soon believed it by seeing the calentura of the servant of God. As the illness increased he was forced to conduct him to the convent of Tlalmanalco, where the evil having declared itself, the holy sacraments were administered. The holy man seeing this case, resolved to bear him to the infirmary of Mexico; and, in fact, upon shoulders of Indians, with much toil, they bore him to the shore at Ayotzinco, two leagues from the pueblo, and laid him in a canoa to carry him by the lake. Scarcely had he entered it when, feeling his hour arriving, he begged them to bring him to land. Yielding to his entreaties, they disembarked, although he was in a dying state, and putting himself upon his knees and causing them to recommend his soul to God, his spirit joined the Lord, falling into the arms of his companion, St. Antonio Ortiz, verifying the prophecy he had made many years before, in Spain, that he was to die in his arms in the middle of a field. As soon as the monks had notice of his death they took his corpse, and with millions of tears of their own and the Indians, gave it sepulture in the church in bare ground, without any precaution to preserve relics so precious. After some time the custodian learned this, and hastening to Tlalmanalco, had him exhumed, and finding him in as good condition as when alive, putting the corpse in a box and separate sepulchre, had a great stone put over it with a corresponding epitaph.

"The body was afterwards secretly moved to the Cave of Amecameca, where it awaits the glorious day of triumph for saints and confusion to reprobates. Many miracles are related of the saint, but more than for these his name will be forever glorious in our country for his great virtues, and above all for the grand services which the order he founded for the glory of God had given to the Mexicans during more than three hundred years."

A further account confirms the devotion with which the Indians, encouraged by the padres, preserved the relics of the holy father.

"In this cave are guarded, night and day, by the Dominican monks, certain relics of this friar: a leather celicio, a coarse and rough tunic, and two chasubles of native linen cloth, in which the servant of God said mass; and on the other side is a great box, locked, which serves as the sepulchre of a wooden Christ. . . . This sainted man died in the year 1534 and was buried in the convent of Tlalmanalco, where his body remained untouched for the space of more than thirty years, since when it has not appeared, nor does any one know where it is nor who disturbed it." In fact, for fifty years the Indians of Amecameca guarded the relics with great devotion, but in secret, passing them from hand to hand, but without giving them up either to Franciscans or Dominicans, until in 1884 they were discovered by the vicar, who collected them and put them in this chapel of the Sacro Monte.

The Indians of Amecameca and of all the surrounding pueblos greatly reverenced, with strange ceremonies, an image of Christ made by the Indians of Amecameca, and carefully preserved by them year after year. A legend states that long ago certain muleteers who were carrying this image to a southern town, missed the mule upon whose pack it had been placed. When the mule was discovered he was standing quietly in the cave upon the sacred mountain, surrounded by all the people of the town, who, conceiving the Christ had chosen their cave for his abode, purchased the image from the muleteers, and constructed for it in that spot a shrine, where it still remains after three centuries. A great pilgrimage is made to the shrine on the top of the sacred Mount. Every year, in Holy Week and on Ash Wednesday, the image is brought down to the parish church. The annual fair is held at this time in the Market Place, doubtless a continuation of some ancient Aztec festival in honor of the return of the Sun. All the country around assembles, and the culmination of the feast is on Good Friday, when the Christ is returned to his shrine on the mountain.

The good Viceroy Velasco died in 1564, having governed the country for fourteen years. Both Mexicans and Spaniards sincerely mourned his loss, giving him the affectionate title of the Father of the country.

During the government of this ruler and his predecessor all the administration of New Spain, political, civil, and religious was established upon so firm a foundation that it could go on in daily action like a well regulated machine. An interregnum occurred, owing to the death of Velasco, which was filled by the government of the Audiencia, always on hand to come to the surface on such occasions. There were two years in which they had the management, but they did not succeed in very much deranging the harmony so well inaugurated by the two viceroys.

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