Sacristan, Question of the

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Sacristan, Question of the

Question of the Sacristan, a complex legal case that grew into a highly contentious political issue in 1856 in Chile. It began in January 1856 with the dismissal of a servant by the senior sacristan of Santiago cathedral. Two canons of the cathedral, seeking to overturn this action, appealed to the secular Supreme Court, a procedure disliked by many ecclesiastics, who felt that matters of ecclesiastical discipline should be dealt with by the church alone. The combative archbishop of Santiago, Rafael Valentín Valdivieso (1804–1878), denied the supreme court's competence in the affair. Backed by the government of President Manual Montt (1809–1880), the court eventually ruled in favor of the two canons, and later threatened the archbishop with exile.

Deep passions were aroused by the issue. With fears of a political upheaval (which was almost certainly being plotted), the principals reached a compromise. The aftereffects of the "question" were serious: the powerful proclerical wing of the ruling Conservative Party, alienated by Montt's Erastian attitude, was prompted to defect and join forces with the Liberal opposition in the Liberal-Conservative Fusion (1858). This effectively undermined the Conservative hegemony in Chile and opened the way to greater political competition.


Bravo Lira, Bernardino. El Absolutismo ilustrado en Hispanoamérica: Chile (1760–1860) de Carlos III a Portales y Montt. Santiago, Chile: Editorial Universitaria, 1994.

Collier, Simon. Chile: The Making of a Republic, 1830–1865: Politics and Ideas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

                                        Simon Collier