Fray Juan de Torquemada
Juan de Torquemada (c. 1562 – 1624) was a Franciscan friar, missionary and historian in Spanish colonial Mexico. He is most famous for his monumental history of the indigenous peoples entitled Los veinte y un libros rituales y Monarquía indiana, commonly known as Monarquía indiana ("Indian Monarchy"), published in Spain in 1615. This work, which has never been published in English, was reprinted in Spanish in 1969 as volumes 41 - 43 of the Biblioteca Porrúa. A full critical edition in six volumes, with a seventh volume containing supplementary essays by various Mexican scholars, was published in Mexico by the Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, UNAM, between 1975 and 1983.
Juan de Torquemada was born at Torquemada, Palencia, between 1557 and 1565 and arrived in New Spain as a child. He studied philosophy and Nahuatl at the convent Grande de San Francisco in Mexico City, where he was ordained in 1579. In 1582 he moved to the convent of Santiago Tlatelolco, and he was made guardian of that convent in 1600. He also took over the administration of the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco.
Beginning in 1604 he traveled continually on the business of his order. He was guardian of the convents of Zacatlán (in the mountains of Puebla) and Tlaxcala. In 1607, during the flood of Mexico City, he was asked by Viceroy Juan de Mendoza y Luna, marqués de Montesclaros to reconstruct the calzadas (carriageways) of Chapultepec, Misterios to Tepeyac and San Cristóbal and the dams of Zumpango and Citlaltépetl, although he was not an engineer.
In 1609 he was named chronologist of the Franciscan Order.
In 1610 Torquemada oversaw construction of the monastery and church of Santiago Tlatelolco. Its interior featured a grandiose altarpiece decorated with paintings by Baltasar de Echave Orio surrounding a hand-carved relief of Santiago, but this was destroyed soon afterwards.
At a meeting of the chapter for the Franciscan province of Santo Evangelio de México held on 8 January, 1614, Torquemada was elected provincial superior, a position he held until the election of a new provincial on 14 January 1617. As a result of the foundation of other provinces (an activity in which Torquemada had been involved), by 1606 the Santo Evangelio province principally comprised Mexico City and environs, together with the Custodia of Tampico on the Gulf Coast.
Fray Juan, ostensibly in good health, died suddenly on New Year's Day, 1624, having just finished singing matins with the community of friars at the convent at Tlatelolco. He was buried near the high altar of the church of San Francisco de México in Mexico City at 5 p.m. the same day.
He wrote Vida de fray Sebastián de Aparicio (Tlatelolco, 1600 and Madrid, 1605), Opúsculos (written 1622 and published as an appendix in Códice Mendieta by Joaquín García Icazbalceta in 1892), various comedies in Nahuatl, and one comedy in Spanish, Latin and Nahuatl, which, unfortunately, has been lost.
His main work (usually referred to by the abbreviated title under the modern Spanish spelling as Monarquía indiana) is Los veintiún libros rituales i monarchia indiana con el origen y guerras de los indios occidentales, de sus poblaciones, descubrimientos, conquista, conversión y otras cosas maravillosas de la misma tierra (The Twenty-one Ritual Books and Indian Monarchy With the Origin and Wars of the West Indians, of Their Populations, Discoveries, Conquest, Conversion and Other Marvelous Things of the Same Land). It was published in 3 volumes at Seville in 1615. The first edition is rare, but the work was reprinted in Madrid in 1723 and again in a facsimile edition by Salvador Chávez Hayhoe in 1943-44.
This was the only New Spain chronicle of its time known to contemporaries. Works of Toribio de Benavente Motolinía, Bernardino de Sahagún, Gerónimo de Mendieta, Diego Muñoz Camargo and others were not available for centuries.
The book is tedious to read because of its theological digressions, contradictions and anachronisms. Nevertheless, it gathers together a large quantity of information taken from indigenous pictographs and manuscripts and from Franciscan and other Catholic scholars. Torquemada interviewed old indigenous people about their ancestors and recorded their oral traditions. The Monarquía indiana is the best work on what was known of the indigenous past at the beginning of the seventeenth century. It is considered an especially important source on the Totonac, Pipil and Nicoya cultures.
Torquemada describes the 1576 epidemic in New Spain in the following terms:
In the year 1576 a great mortality and pestilence that lasted for more than a year overcame the Indians. It was so big that it ruined and destroyed almost the entire land. The place we know as New Spain was left almost empty.
- The full text is available in multiple pdf downloads from the IIH website
- Cloister of the Monastery of Santiago Tlatelolco. Retrieved June 27, 2006.
- For the dates, see León-Portilla, pp. 42-43; for the structure and founding of Franciscan provinces in Spanish North America, see Habig (map on p. 216)
- León-Portilla, p. 47, quoting the Anales coloniales de Tlotelolco
- Quoted in Rodolfo Acuna-Soto, et al., "Large Epidemics of Hemorrhagic Fevers in Mexico 1545-1815"
- Boban, Eugène (1891). Documents pour servir à l'histoire du Mexique (in French). Paris.
- García Icazbalceta, Joaquín (1853–56). "Torquemada, Juan de". Diccionario universal de historia y geografía (in Spanish).
- Habig, Marion (1944). "The Franciscan Provinces of Spanish North America [Continued]". The Americas. Vol. 1, No. 2
- León-Portilla, Miguel (1983). "Biografía de Juan de Torquemada". Fray Juan de Torquemada, Monarquía indiana (in Spanish) 7. Mexico City: Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México.
- Moreno Toscano, Alejandra (1961). "Vindicación de Torquemada". Historia mexicana (in Spanish).
- Enciclopedia de México (1996). "Torquemada, Juan de". (in Spanish) 13. Mexico City. 1-56409-016-7.
- Picture of the Cloister of the Monastery of Santiago Tlatelolco
- Encarta (Archived 2009-10-31) (Spanish)