Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco

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Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco
Iglesia de Santiago Tlatelolco, México D.F., México, 2013-10-16, DD 33.JPG
Established 1536
Type Catholic
Location Tlatelolco, Mexico
Campus Urban
Interior of the temple.
Exterior of the temple.
Dome of the church.

The Real Colegio de Santa Cruz in Tlatelolco, Mexico, was established in the 1530s, the first European school of higher learning in the Americas.[1] The school was built by the Franciscan order on the initiative of Viceroy Don Antonio de Mendoza and Bishop Don Juan de Zumárraga on the site of an Aztec school, for the sons of nobles (in Nahuatl: Calmecac). It was inaugurated on January 6, 1536, however, it had been a functioning school since August 8, 1533. In 1546 the Franciscan order gave the responsibilities of the administration of the school to the indigenous priests who had been educated there but by 1605 the school ceased to have governmental support and by the mid seventeenth century it was abandoned and in ruins. In modern Mexico city the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, close to the location of the Colegio, commemorates this particularly interesting part of the cultural history of Mexico.

The accompanying illustration shows the church of Santiago which still exists, together with part of the conventual buildings (now a library), visible to the right of the church.[2]

The original purpose of the colegio was to educate an indigenous priesthood, and so pupils were selected from the most prestigious families of the Aztec ruling class. These young men were taught in Nahuatl, Spanish and Latin and also learned the basics of Greek as well as crafts such as illumination, bookbinding and European art. Among the teachers were notable scholars and grammarians such as Franciscans Andrés de Olmos, Alonso de Molina and Bernardino de Sahagún, all of whom have made important contributions to the study of both the Classical Nahuatl language and the ethnography and anthropology of Mesoamerica. Also Fray Juan de Torquemada served as a teacher and administrator at the Colegio. When recollecting historical and ethnographical information for the elaboration of the Florentine Codex, Sahagún used his trilingual students to elicit information from the Aztec elders and to transcribe it in Spanish and Nahuatl and to illuminate the manuscripts. Also educated at the colegio wasNahua botanist Martín de la Cruz, who wrote the Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis, an illustrated herbal.


  1. ^ See Brand, p. 63
  2. ^ The surviving conventual buildings house the José María Lafragua Library: see the relevant webpage of the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs


  • Brand, Donald, D., "Where is the Oldest University in the New World?", New Mexico Anthropologist, vol. 4, No. 4 (Oct.-Dec. 1940), pp. 61-63
  • Mathes, Michael, 1985, "The Americas' first academic library Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco", Sacramento, California State Library
  • Maxwell, Judith M, and Craig A Hanson, 1992, "Introduction" Of the Manner of Speaking That the Old Ones Had: Arte Para aprender la Lengua Mexicana 1547. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.
  • SilverMoon. 2007. The Imperial College of Tlatelolco and the emergence of a new Nahua intellectual elite in New Spain (1500--1760). Doctoral Dissertation. Duke University. ProQuest. [1]