Martin Schmid was born in a respectable family in Baar. He spent his school years at the Jesuit College in Lucerne from 1710 to 1716. In 1717 he entered the Society of Jesus. The novitiate he made in Landsberg an der Lech, the subsequent theological studies in Hall in Tirol and as of 1722 in Ingolstadt. After he was ordained in 1726 Eichstätt to the priesthood, he obtained permission to travel as a missionary in Latin America. The trip was delayed, however, since he was forced due to the English-Spanish war to insert a longer stay in Seville. The time there he took to improve his Spanish. There he also helped to translate the history of the tribe of the Chiquitos of Juan Patricio Fernández into the German language.
At the end of 1728 the journey to South America continued. The crossing from Tenerife to Buenos Aires took more than three months. The missionaries needed eight more months to reach inland up to Potosi / Bolivia. Here Schmid was selected along with three other Jesuits to evangelize the Chiquitos. He writes these options to his musical skills. In August 1730, he finally reached the mission area of the Chiquitos.
At the Chiquitos
The first ten years 1730-40 Martin Schmid spent in San Javier. Besides his work as a priest, he began to build up a music school. He taught the Indigenous people to recreate European musical instruments. He also helped to establish a variety of workshops and introduced several crafts which laid the foundations of later construction activities. In 1744 he sent a first letter to his home from the Jesuit Reductions San Rafael de Velasco. Here Schmid set up the first of his jungle churches. In 1749 he returned to San Javier, to also build a similar church. In 1752 he undertook the construction of the church in Concepción, Bolivia. In the further mission villages of the Chiquitanía were additional structural measures carried out under his leadership. Thus, the wood-carved baroque altars were created in San Miguel de Velasco and San Ignacio de Velasco. How much Schmid or his staff was involved in the preparation and decoration of the other churches in the ten villages of Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos, is not proven.
When Martin Schmid set out in the mission fields, he had the idea that he would primarily evangelize indigenous peoples. However his Congregation designated other tasks for him. His primary task was to strengthen the faith of the already Christianized indigenous individuals and to make their settlement sustainable. The binding to the Christian belief was furthered by means of religious education and church celebrations. The Jesuit missionaries felt that this connection succeeded even better if more emphasis was placed to the design of the celebrations. For this reason, the music that was loved by the Indians was promoted and the decoration of the church premises on imposing manner realized. During the first years building churches and music lessons were the main fields of activity of Martin Schmid. Within his field of engagement he was also responsible for the spread of handicrafts. For the construction of the churches he trained indigenous artisans, for the music lessons he taught the indigenous locals to build European musical instruments.
When Martin Schmid moved in later years to San Juan Bautista (Santa Cruz), he could participate in direct proselytizing. In a letter to his brother, he described how this was practiced. From the village of San Juan were already about three hundred Christianized Indios sent into the jungles to seek independent living Indians to persuade them to come along to the Jesuit reduction. Schmid writes that the villagers were sent out actually came back after two months with more than a hundred "unbaptized souls." These were then accompanied to the church by music and singing, where Schmid first provided all with simple dresses to hide their nakedness. After they were offered food and supplied with small gifts (glass beads, rosaries, knives, scissors, etc.). The next day all the children were baptized solemnly. They waited to babtise the adults as they needed to be taught first the Christian doctrine.
- The superiors have ordered me to introduce the music in these missions. All villages now have their organ, many violins and double bass made of cedar, clavicordia, spinets, harps, trumpets, shawm. These Indian boys are foregone musicians; with their singing and playing in the Holy Mass they pay every day the own Thanks and Praise to the Lord. I must say that they could appear with their music in every town and church to your great surprise. : From a letter by Martin Schmid in 1744.
Martin Schmid spent the last years in San Miguel de Velasco and in San Ignacio de Velasco, where he was, along with his fellow brother Johann Mesner (1703–68), entrusted with manufacturing and gilding the altars. In San Ignacio, in 1767, arrived the command, of the Spanish King, relative to their expulsion, the order of expulsion. The 73-year-old Schmid was hoping he was not affected by the eviction because of his age. Nonetheless, in 1768 he had to start the arduous journey. With other deportees he crossed the Andes up to Arica/Chile by mule, from where he travelled by boat, via Lima, to Panama; then, via Cartagena (Colombia) and Havana Schmid reached, in 1769, Cadiz/Spain. After a 15-month detention in El Puerto de Santa Maria he was allowed to leave Spain. In mid-November 1770 he arrived in Augsburg. In the spring of 1771 Schmid returned to his home in Switzerland. He spent more than one year at the Jesuit College of Lucerne. He was buried at the Jesuit Church of Lucerne. He died, aged 77, in Lucerne.
Besides his work as a missionary, Martin Schmid made a significant contribution to the enculturation of the Chiquitos Indians. With the introduction of European music and the manufacturing of musical instruments he has influenced their musical culture sustainably. He may have helped significantly to impart knowledge of craftsmanship and agriculture. With the creation of a dictionary, he contributed to the writing system and the conservation of Chiquitano language. However, the most lasting effect which Martin Schmid scored, are his churches and their decorations inside.
These churches and the churches of his students in San Javier (Santa Cruz), Concepción (Santa Cruz), Santa Ana de Velasco, San Miguel de Velasco, San Rafael de Velasco, San José were nominated 1990 by the UNESCO to the World Heritage Sites.
With his letters Schmid left us a precious cultural history heritage.
- Rainald Fischer: Father Martin Schmid SJ, 1694-1772. His letters and his work. Zug 1988 (German).
- Eckard Kühne: The mission churches of Chiquitos province in the plain of Bolivia. Construction and restoration of churches by Martin Schmid (1694-1772). Zürich 2008.
- Johannes Meier (2007) (in German). "Schmid, Martin ". In Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB). 23. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot. pp. 153 et seq.. (full text online)
- Eckart Kühne (Hg.): Martin Schmid 1694 bis 1772, Missionar – Musiker – Architekt, ein Jesuit aus der Schweiz bei den Chiquitano-Indianern in Bolivien. Ausstellungskatalog Historisches Museum Luzern, Luzern 1994 (German). (Spanish: Las Misiones Jesuíticas de Bolivia. Martin Schmid 1694-1772. Misionero, Músico y Arquitecto entre los Chiquitanos. Catálogo de la Exposición en Sta. Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia 1996).
- Werner Hoffmann: Vida y obra del P. Martin Schmid SJ., 1694-1722. Buenos Aires 1981 (Spanish).
- Philip Caraman: Ein verlorenes Paradies. Der Jesuitenstaat in Paraguay; München 1979. ISBN 3-466-42011-3 (German).
- Felix Alfred Plattner: Genie im Urwald. Das Werk des Auslandschweizers Martin Schmid aus Baar; Zürich 1959 (German).
- Felix Alfred Plattner: Ein Reisläufer Gottes. Das abenteuerliche Leben des Schweizer Jesuiten P. Martin Schmid aus Baar; Luzern 1944 (German).
- Dictionary of the Chiquitano language (German); Library La Paz (Bolivia).
- Musical compositions in the music archive in Concepción (Bolivia).
- Book in German: Edifying and enjoyable history of the Chiquitos, and of others... newly-converted people: (Erbauliche und angenehme Geschichte der Chiquitos, und andrer... neu-bekehrten Völcker) Vienna 1729.
- Rainald Fischer: Letters (Briefe) 1988. p. 70.
- The unrestored church, built by Martin Schmid in Concepción, Bolivia, taken before its renovation by Hans Roth (architect) and Eckart Kühne in the 20th century.
- See Daniel Santamaria: The missionary methods of the Jesuits in Chiquitos In:. Kuehne 1994, p. 25-29. (German)
- Rainald Fischer: Briefe (Letters) 1988. p. 95f. (German)
- Letter dated 28 September 1761 to Francis Silvan Schmid, Baar. In: Rainald Fischer: Briefe (Letters) 1988 p. 112-119.
- Die Jesuiten-Reduktionen – Ein unvergessenes Missionswerk (The Jesuit missions – an unforgotten missionary work)
- UNESCO World Heritage Site: Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos
- Literature by and about Martin Schmid in the German National Library catalogue
- Story of Martin Schmid in „Jesuit Mission Life: Santa Cruz Bolivia“
- Answers.com: Martin Schmid, Swiss architect and musician, active in Bolivia
- Delf Bucher: Die Jesuiten Missionen im bolivianischen Tiefland In German: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of March 7, 2002.
- Bernhard Matuschak: Pater Schmids Vermächtnis In German: Wiener Zeitung of April 9, 2004.
- Beat Ammann: Social Engineering an Indios in Bolivien In German: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of April 2, 2008.
- Martin Schmid SJ: Bona Suscipemus