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Diezmo (tithe; in Portuguese, dízimo), an ecclesiastical tax of 10 percent levied on agricultural production. The tithe has biblical roots but came to be the standard level of support of the Catholic Church by the faithful. As the tithe was implemented in the Hispanic Americas it was levied only on agricultural and pastoral production: of a harvest of ten bushels of wheat, for instance, one bushel would be paid to the church; of ten lambs born in a given year, one would go to the church. Usually the tithe was paid on the raw material produced. Bulk wool was subject to the tithe, not woven cloth. Nevertheless, sugar was taxed, not cane. Generally all Christians were subject to the tithe. In Mexico, however, the practice evolved to require that natives pay only on three things (tres cosas): silk, wheat, and cattle. In other regions natives had to pay on all European products, but not on native goods, whereas in other regions they were fully liable.

The tithe could be collected directly by the ecclesiastical authorities, yet often the right to collect the tithe was rented to local contractors. By renting out the collection, the church received slightly less income, but with little or no delay. When the church collected the tithe directly, it often took quite a long time to complete collections for a given year, but it also gave the church more income and an opportunity to speculate in local commodity markets.

The tithe was used for the support of the ecclesiastical hierarchy under the local bishop or archbishop. According to the scheme under which the tithe was divided, one quarter went to the bishop and one quarter to the cathedral chapter. The remaining half was divided into nine parts, with two parts going to the king as patron, four to the local curates, and the remaining three divided equally between the local hospital and the cathedral for its upkeep.

The tithe in Brazil was controlled by the Portuguese crown. The right to collect and administer the tithe in Portuguese overseas possessions had been granted to the military-religious Order of Christ (Ordem de Cristo). Consequently, the tithe collected in Brazil was then sent to Portugal, where crown officials divided it, returning part to Brazil to support the local church.

See alsoCatholic Church: The Colonial Periodxml .


John F. Schwaller, Origins of Church Wealth in Mexico: Ecclesiastical Revenues and Church Finances, 1523–1600 (1985).

Additional Bibliography

Brading, D. A. Church and State in Bourbon Mexico: The Diocese of Michoacán, 1749–1810. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Ferreira, Tito Lívio. A Ordem de Cristo e o Brasil. São Paulo: Instituição Brasileira de Difusão Cultural, 1980.

Jaramillo Magaña, Juvenal. Hacia una iglesia beligerante: La gestión espiscopal de Fray Antonio de San Miguel en Michoacán, 1784–1804. Zamora: El Colegio de Michoacán, 1996.

                                    John F. Schwaller

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