In the Oaxaca area problems of idolatry and sacrifice continued to occupy the friars as the 1560s began. When the Dominicans punished Indians severely word reached Madrid. Philip II in October 1560 ordered the Audiencia to intervene in the proceedings. What we have known of the famous Teticpac autos de fe relied upon the chronicler Francisco de Burgoa who wrote in the seventeenth century. Two official letters in February 1560 from Archbishop Monttifar and his vicar general have sketchy details, but the archbishop’s bland description was designed to protect his Dominican compatriots from censure for their excesses.

Recent archival investigations have uncovered the Audiencia’s probe and will be summarized here. Indians from both Soli and Teticpac had complained to the Audiencia. Indians from Soli had been severely whipped and shorn of their hair for having offended the Dominicans. It seems that Indian alguaciles (sheriffs) had not furnished the proper food and lodgings to the friars and their retinue of retainers when they came to Solhi, district of Teticpac, as well as in Villa de las Zapotecas. The Indian officers were publicly whipped, shorn, and had their authority temporarily withdrawn by Fray Martin, lately vicar in Ocotlin. […] These scandalous occurrences, along with acelebrated series of Franciscan prosecutions of the Maya in Yucatin, began to condition attitudes at the Council of the Indies toward mendicant authority over Indian transgressions as well as the viability of episcopal Inquisitions in sixteenth-century Mexico.

Richard E. Greenleaf, “Persistence of Native Values: The Inquisition and the Indians of Colonial Mexico,” The Americas, vol. 50.3 (1994)


The execution of Don Carlos aroused a storm of protest among the officialdom in Spain. Zumfirraga was reprimanded for his harsh action. There can be no doubt that the Don Carlos case gave real impetus to the movement for exemption of the Indian from the jurisdiction of the Holy Office of the Inquisition. After the Zumirraga period – he was removed as apostolic inquisitor in 1543 but continued on as bishop and ecclesiastical judge ordinary until 1548 – inquisitors and bishops proceeded mildly against Indian relapses into paganism. Most of the important prosecutions of Indians took place in Oaxaca and Yucatan from the 1540s through the 1560s.

Even though the new Tribunal of the Holy Office created in 1571 was prohibited from prosecuting Indians, the Inquisition continued to investigate paganism and to compile dossiers on Indian heresy. Occasionally it initiated trials, only to suspend them or remand Indian culprits over to the provisor’s office. The Holy Office demanded its prerogatives in prosecuting all manner of mestizos as the “baroque social structure” developed along with a baroque religion. These trials are of supreme importance to the ethnohistorian who is interested in fusion of cultures from the late sixteenth century onward.

Richard E. Greenleaf, “Persistence of Native Values: The Inquisition and the Indians of Colonial Mexico,” The Americas, vol. 50.3 (1994)

Inquisition procesos reveal fascinating data on the use of idolatry, sorcery, and sacrifice within a political context of native resistance to Spanish power. In general, the Indians attempted to manipulate inquisitional procedures by denouncing Spanish-appointed caciques of idolatry in order to deprive them of office. There are also denunciations for idolatry and human sacrifice by Indians who wanted to attack their own political enemies hoping to replace them in the new political hierarchy. The procesos also illuminate subversive activities of Indian sorcerers, curers, witches, and seers who tried to perpetuate the old beliefs. Of particular concern to the Mexican Inquisition were groups of native priests and sorcerers who openly defied the “spiritual conquest” by establishing schools or apprenticeships among the young. The teachers made a frontal attack on Catholicism and Spanish Catholic culture. They ridiculed the new religion and urged a return to native religious practices. These men, branded as “dogmatizers” by the inquisitors, were considered especially dangerous by the missionary clergy.

Thus the native priesthood preached a counter-culture and a counter-religion and took the lead in performing sorceries and sacrifices. They supported the ancient practices of concubinage and bigamy as a symbol of resistance to the new religion.

Richard E. Greenleaf, “Persistence of Native Values: The Inquisition and the Indians of Colonial Mexico,” The Americas, vol. 50.3 (1994)

The Holy Office of the Inquisition in colonial Mexico had as its purpose the defense of Spanish religion and Spanish-Catholic culture against individuals who held heretical views and people who showed lack of respect for religious principles. Inquisition trials of Indians suggest that a prime concern of the Mexican Church in the sixteenth century was recurrent idolatry and religious syncretism. During the remainder of the colonial period and until 1818, the Holy Office of the Inquisition continued to investigate Indian transgressions against orthodoxy as well as provide the modern researcher with unique documentation for the study of mixture of religious beliefs. The “procesos de indios” and other subsidiary documentation from Inquisition archives present crucial data for the ethnologist and ethnohistorian, preserving a view of native religion at the time of Spanish contact, eyewitness accounts of post-conquest idolatry and sacrifice, burial rites, native dances and ceremonies as well as data on genealogy, social organization, political intrigues, and cultural dislocation as the Iberian and Mesoamerican civilizations collided. As “culture shock” continued to reverberate across the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Inquisition manuscripts reveal the extent of Indian resistance or accommodation to Spanish Catholic culture […]

The question of the jurisdiction of the Holy Office of the Inquisition over the native populations in New Spain and the rest of the empire has been one of controversy and confusion since the earliest days of the conquest. The perplexing problem of enforcing orthodoxy among the recently converted Indians was linked with the debate over whether or not the Indian was a rational human being who had the capacity to comprehend the Roman Catholic faith. The rationality controversy, and the position of the Indian vis-a-vis the Holy Office of the Inquisition, was not resolved articulately, and, after the first decades of the spiritual conquest, the question took on added importance as the Mexican clergy discovered recurrent idolatry and religious syncretism among their flocks.

Richard E. Greenleaf, “Persistence of Native Values: The Inquisition and the Indians of Colonial Mexico,” The Americas, vol. 50.3 (1994)

Medina Rico and Marcos Alonso de Huydobro made an analysis of all Inquisition trial records from 1640 to 1657 prior to making any generalized charges against the Tribunal and its ministers. A series of glosses of individual trials with irregularities noted preceded a catalogue of procedural violations of the Instructions of Avila and Toledo which were supposed to be the law of the Tribunal of Mexico. Inspections of trial records revealed 55 lapses of procedure when it came to substantiation of charges against
those accused and justification of persecution. […]

Medina Rico was scandalized by the sloppy and deficient records kept from 1640 to 1657. Notaries of the Holy Office staff were required by the Toledo Instructions to keep separate record books of all testimonies and criminal proceedings and never to conmingle the data. There were egregious violations in this respect because in 179 cases there were 3,246 missing or poorly recorded testimonies, and 670 witnesses appeared in the trial records “without authorization being duly sworn to tell the truth, or notarized signatures.” Many witnesses had not been investigated as to their honesty. Huydobro said in March 1658, “the writing in the records of almost all of these testimonies seem to be that of notaries and assistants in the jails,” and to authenticate them “they would have to be taken all over again in proper fashion.”

More shocking was that “the Inquisitors used these proceedings to decide to torture some prisoners, and to make final sentences against them.” Since there were many cases without any testimony at all, Huydobro felt it was impossible “that all these cases were really tried since the judges could not deliberate without actually examining the witnesses. . .” As will be seen later great sums of money changed hands in the process. A complete catalog of the missing and poorly recorded testimonies was appended to the Visita records. Of the 179 names listed in the catalog, all but two were Jews.

Established inquisitorial procedures required that suspects be indicted prior to prosecution by licensed theologians, known as Calificadores, who examined the available evidence to determine whether a crime against the Faith had been committed. The indictment was supposed to occur before arrest. This mandate was not observed in many cases tried by the Mexican Tribunal from 1640 to 1657. Medina Rico found no record of Calificación in the process of people already jailed. In other cases he observed that the indictment process often took place three to four years after arrest! He said they spent “all that time suffering in prison without being formally accused.” This had happened in 19 cases and none of the accused had been Jews.

Richard E. Greenleaf, “The Great Visitas of the Mexican Holy Office 1645-1669,” The Americas, vol. 44.4 (1988)

Inquisitor Saenz de Mafiozca was virulently critical of his associate Inquisitors and their staff. He accused them of being nothing more than merchants out to feather their own nests and to enrich their relatives. The Inquisition Notary Eugenio de Saravia was a protege of the kinfolk of Mexico’s wealthiest crypto-Jewish family, that of Simon Vaez de Sevilla, and he had an illicit liaison with Rafaela Henriquez who influenced him to let her family off lightly in the Judaizante proceedings.

Inquisitor Mafiozca reported that the Tribunal’s records were in disarray, account books were nonexistent, and two hundred people were in jail without proper procedures having been followed. Most records did not extend beyond the 1620s.

Archbishop-Visitor Mafiozca underscored his cousin’s accusations. He forced the Fiscal Gaviola to resign for reasons of peculation. Inquisitor Asas y Argos had all three keys to the Tribunal’s safe even though the law required them to be distributed among three separate functionaries.

Richard E. Greenleaf, “The Great Visitas of the Mexican Holy Office 1645-1669,” The Americas, vol. 44.4 (1988)

Mexico’s Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition founded by Philip II in January 1569 had developed its bureacratic structure by the first decade of the seventeenth century. Spectacular autos de fe between 1574 and 1601 allowed the Tribunal to establish its reputation in the colony and to augment its financial base beyond the yearly 10,000 peso subvention provided by the Spanish monarchy. Trials of crypto-Jews in the 1590s netted considerable income and caused the king to cease his payment of inquisitional salaries for a time. During the first decade of the seventeenth century the Tribunal petitioned the crown to assign the income from a series of cathedral canonries for support of the Inquisition bureaucracy. Between 1629 and 1636 “reserved” canonries were established for Holy Office income and by 1650 nine of these were generating the Inquisition’s salary budget. It was always understood that royal subsidies were to decrease as canonry income paid salaries. All other expenses had to come from judicial fines.

After the flurry of Protestant and Jewish trials of the late sixteenth century, the Mexican Tribunal entered an era of relative inactivity and meager income. From the arrival of the Tribunal in 1571 a series of disputes with the ecclesiastical hierarchy and with civil government over jurisdiction, dignity and position in religious and civil affairs ensued. These abrasive relations accentuated in the first half of the seventeenth century and provided the background for vicious infighting after 1630. Viceroys, jealous of their prerogatives, treated the Holy Office with benign neglect causing the Tribunal to complain in February 1634 that edicts of faith had not been read for a decade. Civil government officials would not march in Inquisition processions or attend proclamations of edicts “owing to quarrels over the ceremonial aspects of the procedures,” and it was another decade “before questions of etiquette and precedence were settled” and edicts of faith were read in the cathedral. The Inquisition Tribunal had reported to the Council of the Suprema in Spain on July 12, 1638 “not a single case was pending.” This was the situation when the Mexican Holy Office used a perceived Jewish conspiracy to recoup its power, prestige, and financial position. Blatant disregard for prescribed inquisitorial procedures, rights of accused, peculation, and use of the Inquisition as a political instrument led to a full scale investigation of the Mexican Holy Office between 1645 and 1669.

Richard E. Greenleaf, “The Great Visitas of the Mexican Holy Office 1645-1669,” The Americas, vol. 44.4 (1988)

[Saint] Lioba was to live on more than twenty years, beloved and venerated by the German Christians as the dearest link with their apostle [St. Boniface, her brother]. Men of affairs in Church and State sought her counsel; Pepin the Short and Charlemagne, among others, held her in high esteem. Queen Hildegard, the wife of Charlemagne, herself esteemed as a holy person, fain would have kept Lioba always at her side. And the simple countryfolk round about Bischofsheim in their sicknesses and perils trustingly brought all their troubles to its venerable abbess.

But more than all others, her own nuns loved her intensely; they used to refer to her drinking vessel as Dilectae parvus, “the darling’s little cup.” According to her biography, compiled by Rudolph of Fulda from the testimony of her nuns, she was singularly beautiful and her face, the face of an angel, was always pleasant and smiling. Yet if the affair demanded it, Lioba could be resolutely strong, as when she moved with vigorous energy to clear one of her nuns of a cruel slander.

Whenever she journeyed to Fulda to pray at her brother Boniface’s tomb, the monks honored her with the extraordinary privilege of entrance into their own church. With an aged nun as companion, she was allowed to assist at divine services and to participate in the monastic chapter’s conferences. Such a permission no other woman has ever received.

Martin Harney, SJ, Brother and Sister Saints (1957)

St. Nicasius was the first archbishop of Rheims. In that city about the year 400 he built a basilica in honor of Our Lady and transferred it to his episcopal seat. On the site today rises the glorious Gothic cathedral. Nicasius was the outstanding victim of the murderous sacking of Rheims by the Vandals and the Alans in 407.

Warned in a vision the holy prelate prepared his people for the impending calamity by arousing them to acts of penance. Even as the barbarian hordes were pouring into the doomed city, this shepherd, with thought only for his flock, hastened from door to door strengthening their constancy in the terrible hour When his men inquired of him if they should fight to the bitter end, he answered: “Let us abide in the mercy of God and pray for our enemies. I am ready to give myself for my people.” And so to save as many lives as possible Nicasius took his stand at the door of his cathedral, bravely exposing himself to the ruthless fury of the blood-lusting barbarians. A brutal swordsman struck off the head of the fearless bishop.

The martyr’s sister St. Eutropia, fearing that she herself had been spared for a more evil fate, fought her way to her brother’s corpse and there attacked his murderer so vehemently that the savage warrior cut her down with his bloody sword.

For many centuries the relics of the martyred brother and sister were venerated in the cathedral of Rheims, until they were lost in the sacrileges of the French Revolution.

Martin Harney, SJ, Brother and Sister Saints (1957)

Imagine for a moment Gilbert Keith Chesterton without Frances. Gilbert alone could have been a famous author, but he would have failed to arrive at most of his speaking appointments. He might have indulged his appetites disproportionately. He might have died in 1915, failing to write The Everlasting Man, Eugenics and Other Evils, St. Francis of Assisi, The Outline of Sanity, many Father Brown stories, St. Thomas Aquinas, all issues of G.K.’s Weekly, and a host of other articles and books. He might have never converted to the Catholic faith. Without Frances, he simply would not have been able to do all he did. As [Father] O’Connor wrote to Frances after Gilbert’s death: “How much of him and his best might have been lost to the world only for you.” […]

She who quietly carried the cross within the context of her own life, through the duties of the married state and the extra duties of marriage to Gilbert Keith Chesterton, was thereby able to bring it to another. This is an authentic apostolate, a bringing of Christ to a fallen world. And, as an enduring example to married women, she did so through the very basic, repetitive duties of her state in life (duties that might be monotonous, even married to G.K.).

Nancy Carpentier Brown, The Woman Who Was Chesterton (2015)