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 (Spain, c. 1475 - Venezuela, 1545) 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 preached against the enslavement and harsh treatment of the Indigenous peoples of the Island. Montesinos' preaching led to Bartolomé de las Casas' conversion and his entering the Dominican Order.
Montesinos 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. It was 19 years after Christopher Columbus had landed on the island, and Spain started to colonize it.
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 conquistadors, including Admiral Diego Columbus, the son of Christopher Columbus, as well as other 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.
Founding of mission
In June 1526, with Anthony de Cervantes and Las Casas, Montesinos accompanied 500 colonists under the leadership of Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón to found San Miguel de Guadalupe. The mission was possibly located at the James River, where the English subsequently founded Jamestown of the Virginia Colony; other historians believe it was closer to present-day Savannah, Georgia. The Dominicans celebrated Mass for the first time in the present-day United States.
At the death of Ayllón (October 1526), purportedly in the arms of a Dominican friar, the colony was abandoned. Montesinos and 150 other survivors returned to San Domingo. According to Helps's "Spanish Conquest in America", he went to Santa Ana de Coro (Venezuela) about 1528 with twenty of his Dominican brethren in the expedition of the German Welser of Augsburg. Little more is known of the rest of his life except that he died “martyred” in Venezuela sometime around 1545, as suggested by a note in the margin of the registry in the convent of St. Stephen at Salamanca, which says: "Obiit martyr in Indiis".
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 m 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.
- Bartolomé de Las Casas, in his magisterial Historia de las Indias, offers several versions of his first name (Antón, Antonio or Antoño), but always only refers to his last name as "Montesino" without the "de" or the final "s." See Isacio Pérez Fernández, "Notas documentales, bibliográficas y críticas" in Bartolomé de Las Casas, Obras Completas 5. Historia de las indias III (Madrid: Alainza Editorial, 1994), note 12, page 2509.
- Hanke 1946, p. 142.
- Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. .
- Las Casas explicitly affirms that it was the fourth Sunday of Advent, which that year was December 21; he also affirms that the Gospel reading was from John 1.19b-28, which is what the Dominican Rite Missal in use at Santo Dominigo at that time used on the fourth Sunday of Advent. See Las Casas, Historia de las Indias, volume 3, chapter 3 (Obras Completas 5.3, page 1760); for more on the date of this sermon, see Isacio Pérez Fernández, "Notas documentales, bibliográficas y críticas" in Bartolomé de Las Casas, Obras Completas 5. Historia de las indias III (Madrid: Alainza Editorial, 1994), note 14, page 2510.
- Warner 1987, p. 295
- Bartolome de Las Casas: Witness: Writing of Bartolome de Las Casas. ed and trans by George Sanderlin (Maryknoll: Orbis books, 1993) 66-67.
- Warner 1987, p. 299.
- 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
- Hanke 1946, p. 142-3.
- Hanke 1946, p. 143
- Seed 1992, p. 202
- Warner 1987, p. 296
- , New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia
- Hanke, Lewis. (1946) "Free Speech in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America," The Hispanic American Historical Review, 26,2:135-149.
- Seed, Patricia. (1992). "Taking Possession and Reading Texts: Establishing the Authority of Overseas Empires," The William and Mary Quarterly, 3,49,2:183-209.
- Watner, Carl. (1987). "'All Mankind Is One': The Libertarian Tradition In Sixteenth Century Spain," The Journal of Libertarian Studies, 8,2:293–309.