Antonio de Montesinos
Antonio de Montesino
Sculpture by Antonio Castellanos Basich
Antón de Montesino
|Motto||I am the voice of Christ in the desert of this island.|
Antonio de Montesinos or Antonio Montesino (c. 1475 - June 27, 1540) was a Spanish Dominican friar who was a missionary on the island of Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic and Haiti). With the backing of his prior, Friar Pedro de Córdoba, and his Dominican community at Santo Dominigo, Montesinos was the first to publicly preach against the enslavement and harsh treatment of the indigenous peoples of the island. His criticisms initiated a long and bitter struggle to reform the Spanish treatment of Indians in the New World. Montesinos' outspoken criticism was one influence that eventually led to Bartolomé de las Casas to take up and lead the cause of humane treatment of Indians.
Very little is known about Montesinos' early life. He became a Dominican friar at the convent of St. Stephen in Salamanca, where he may have studied. He was part of the first group of Dominican missionaries to go to Hispaniola, in September 1510, under the leadership of Pedro de Córdoba.
On December 21, 1511, the fourth Sunday of Advent, Montesinos preached an impassioned sermon, criticizing the practices of the Spanish colonial encomienda system and decrying the abuse of the Taíno Indian people on Hispaniola.
Listing the injustices that the indigenous people were suffering at the hands of the Spanish colonists, Montesinos proclaimed that the Spanish on the island "are all in mortal sin and live and die in it, because of the cruelty and tyranny they practice among these innocent peoples." According to Bartolomé de las Casas, who was a witness, Montesinos asked those in attendance:
Tell me by what right of justice do you hold these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged such detestable wars against these people who dwelt quietly and peacefully on their own lands? Wars in which you have destroyed such an infinite number of them by homicides and slaughters never heard of before. Why do you keep them so oppressed and exhausted, without giving them enough to eat or curing them of the sicknesses they incur from the excessive labor you give them, and they die, or rather you kill them, in order to extract and acquire gold every day.
The sermon outraged the settlers and prominent citizens of Hispanola, including the governor, Diego Columbus, son of Christopher Columbus, as well as other high-ranking representatives of the king. Montesinos's sermon had a formative impact upon las Casas, who heard it firsthand. Las Casas became well known for his advocacy of the rights of indigenous peoples of the Americas.
The primary policy of the Preaching Friars (Dominicans) in the New World was to aid and represent the aboriginal American Indians under Spanish and Portuguese rules, for which they fought for over three centuries.
The initial result of the protests of the friars at Santo Domingo was an order from King Ferdinand II that Montesinos and other Dominicans who supported him should be shipped back to Spain. Ferdinand at first referred to the preaching of Montesinos as "a novel and groundless attitude" and a "dangerous opinion [that] would do much harm to all the affairs of that land." After returning to Spain, Montesinos and his companions were able to persuade the king of the righteousness of their position.
As a result, the king convened a commission that promulgated the Laws of Burgos, the first code of ordinances to protect the indigenous people, to regulate their treatment and conversion and to limit the demands of the Spanish colonizers upon them.
In July 1526, Montesinos and two other Dominicans accompanied 600 colonists under the leadership of Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón to found San Miguel de Gualdape, the first European settlement in what would become the United States. Established on the coast of Georgia near Sapelo Sound, the colony lasted less than four months before it was overwhelmed by disease, hunger, and a hostile Indian population. At the death of Ayllón in October 1526, the settlement was abandoned. Montesinos and the remaining 150 survivors returned to San Domingo. Before they returned home, it is presumed that Montesinos and the other Dominicans became the first priests to celebrate Mass in the present-day United States.
When Montesinos returned to Hispanola, he continued to play a prominent role in the region. In 1528 he accompanied Father Tomas de Verlanga to Spain to see Charles V on matters of "great importance." While in Spain, Montesinos was appointed protector of the Indians in the Province of Venezuela. Charles V had granted the province to Ambrosio Alfinger and Bartolome Sayller, representatives of the Welser banking family, German creditors of the emperor. Montesinos accompaied the German expedition Venezuala in 1529. On June 27, 1540 he was murdered by an officer of the expedition because of his strong opposition to the exploitation of the Indians.
A large statue of Montesinos delivering his sermon is at the seafront of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Facing the sea, the stone and bronze statue is 15 meters tall and was designed by Mexican sculptor Antonio Castellanos. It was donated to the Dominican people by the Mexican government and dedicated in 1982 by the presidents of Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
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- See the document prepared by the Order of Preachers, “In Evangelical Solidarity with the Oppressed: the Fifth Centenary Anniversary of the Arrival of the Order in America”(PDF) Archived April 7, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
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- Hanke 1946, p. 143
- Seed 1992, p. 202
- Warner 1987, p. 296
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