Sahagún, Bernardino de (c. 1499/1500–1590)

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Sahagún, Bernardino de (c. 1499/1500–1590)

Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan missionary, arrived in New Spain in 1529 and began a prolific career of evangelization of the Nahua peoples to Christianity. Born Bernardino de Rivera in Sahagún, Spain, he was trained in Latin, history, philosophy, and theology at the University of Salamanca and became a Franciscan around 1527. He spent his first years in the New World in Tlalmanalco (1530–1532) and as guardian of the Xochimilco Convent. In 1537, Sahagún began teaching Latin at the newly established Colegio de Santa Cruz in Tlatelolco. At the college, indigenous pipiltin (sons of nobles) were trained in the Renaissance humanist tradition of missionary teachers and became the painters, sculptors, scribes, interpreters, and historians of the New World. Sahagún also worked as missionary to the convents of Xochimilco, Huejotzingo, and Cholula, and fulfilled various ecclesiastical duties in the Puebla, Tula, and Tepeapulco and Michoacán regions. From 1547 until his death, and with the help of several youths from the Tlatelolco college, he gathered testimony and information on Nahua life and history. The material collected, analyzed, and presented in Spanish and Nahuatl in three manuscripts is known as the General History of the Things of New Spain. For this work, he is often considered the first ethnographer of the New World. In addition to the Historia, Sahagún wrote several other studies of the Nahuatl language as well as doctrinal works, only one of which, Psalmodía Cristiana (1583), was published in his lifetime.

See alsoFranciscans; Missions: Spanish America.


Klor de Alva, J. Jorge; H. B. Nicholson; and Eloise Quiñones Keber. The Work of Bernardino de Sahagún: Pioneer Ethnographer of Sixteenth-Century Aztec Mexico. Albany: Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, University at Albany, State University of New York, 1988.

León Portilla, Miguel. Bernardino de Sahagún, First Anthropologist. Translated by Mauricio J. Mixco. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.

Nicolau d'Olwer, Luis. Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, 1499–1590. Translated by Mauricio J. Mixco. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1987.

Sahagún, Bernardino de. General History of the Things of New Spain: Florentine Codex. 13 vols. Edited and translated by Arthur J. O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research, and Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1950–1982.

                                     Stephanie Wood

                                    Colleen Ebacher