Zumárraga, Juan de

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First bishop and archbishop of Mexico; b. Tavira de Durango, Vizcaya, Spain, c. 1468; d. Mexico City, June 3, 1548. Apparently while still young, he entered the Franciscan Order, taking the habit in the province of Concepción, of which he became provincial minister (152023). He was appointed first bishop of Mexico on Dec. 12, 1527.

By express order of Charles V, Zumárraga, as bishop elect but without episcopal consecration, embarked for Mexico, where he arrived Dec. 6, 1528. He immediately began to organize his newly established, extensive diocese, whose poorly defined limits extended from Michoacán and Jalisco on the northwest, up to and including Guatemala on the south. The Franciscan and Dominican missionaries who worked zealously on the conversion of the natives were of invaluable assistance in this difficult task of organization. The spiritual needs of the conquistadors and Spanish colonists were entrusted to the secular clergy whose lives, functions, and salaries were regulated by Zumárraga, though not without difficulty. Following the old authorized traditions, the bishop elect played an important role in the verification and approval of the appearances of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Tepeyac, in honor of which he erected the first hermitage (1531).

Protector of the Native Peoples. Zumárraga received the appointment and office of protector and defender of the native peoples. Unfortunately, the civil authorities not only failed to respect the wise provisions made by Zumárraga in favor of the native peoples, but even impeded by force the exercise of his office of protector. Therefore Zumárraga excommunicated them and placed Mexico City under interdict. This severe measure brought the disapproval of the Spanish king, who instructed him to return to Spain to justify his actions. Zumárraga obeyed the royal order, returned to Spain in 1532, and succeeded in defending himself against his enemies' charges, many of them slanderous. The emperor, satisfied by this vindication, invited Zumárraga to receive the episcopal consecration; he was consecrated in Valladolid, Spain, on April 27, 1533.

Educational Work. The following year Zumárraga returned to Mexico and applied himself to the enormous task of strengthening ecclesiastical discipline, favoring the missionaries who were attempting to convert the natives, and dedicated himself effectively to the foundation of schools and colleges for native children of both sexes. He and Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza built the first seminary and high school in America, the Colegio de la Santa Cruz de Santiago Tlatelolco, in Mexico City (1536). Beginning in 1537, he also promoted the foundation of a university, which, though not completed during his lifetime, was opened in 1553.

First Press in America. Zumárraga played an important part in the introduction of the press into the New World. He worked toward its establishment from 1533 onward and succeeded in 1539, thanks again to the cooperation of Viceroy Mendoza. The activities of the bishop with respect to the publication and editing, at his own expense, of the first books of New Spain are outstanding: he published the first catechisms in the Castilian and Mexican languages, as well as ascetic and liturgical works for the benefit of his diocese. He himself wrote some of these works, e.g., Doctrina breve muy provechosa Mexico City 1544) and Regla christiana (Mexico City 1544). These notable activities resulted from his literary and humanistic background. He was particularly influenced by the works of Erasmus of Rotterdam, some of whose orthodox Catholic ideas he adopted.

Diocesan Organization. Zumárraga placed great importance on the ecclesiastical organization of his diocese and of all New Spain. He promoted, together with the rulers of Mexico at that time, the establishment of the Dioceses of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guatemala, and Michoacán and proposed as bishops such people as Bartolomé de las casas and Vasco de quiroga. Furthermore, in order to harmonize the missionary and ecclesiastical work of his and neighboring dioceses, he promoted important meetings of bishops in Mexico City, which, if they were not called provincial councils for lack of certain formalities, were nevertheless useful in the orderly and peaceful development of the religious and social life in New Spain. Among these councils, that of 1536 deserves special mention. It was called to settle the controversies that had arisen among the clergy concerning the administration of the Sacraments of Baptism and Matrimony to newly converted natives. The decisions of this council were partially confirmed by the bull O altitudo divini consilii issued by Pope Paul III (1537).

Inquisitor. From 1535 to 1543 Zumárraga exercised the difficult office of inquisitor. In his great desire to protect the rudimentary faith of the new converts, he once carried his work to an extreme, condemning to death through the civil authorities the cacique Don Carlos de Tetzcoco (Nov. 30, 1534). His rigorous procedure was censured by the Spanish court, which, if it did not reprimand him formally, recognizing that Zumárraga had acted upon high motives of rigid ecclesiastical discipline, nevertheless relieved him of the office of inquisitor.

Historians recall with regret that Zumárraga permitted the destruction of many temples, idols, and writings of the ancient Mexicans. The motives that induced this action are to be found in that same zeal, at times too impetuous, of the vigorous prelate.

Personally, the first bishop of Mexico was a man of great moral rectitude and an excellent religious who made a constant effort to live in accordance with his Franciscan vocation and episcopal dignity. He was made first archbishop of Mexico in 1547, but he did not receive news of this until May of the following year. Because of his frequent and generous gifts and donations, he died poor and burdened with debts.

Zumárraga is the dominant figure of early church history of Mexico, as noted and demonstrated by the Jesuit historian Mariano Cuevas. At times he committed excesses of zeal in the execution of his delicate and arduous offices because of his energetic and vigorous character, but these defects must not outbalance his great merits as protector of the native peoples and promoter of the Christian and cultural life of Mexico.

Bibliography: j. garcÍa icazbalceta, Don fray Juan de Zumárraga: Primer obispo y arzobispo de México, 4 v. (Mexico City 1947). f. de j. chauvet, Fray Juan de Zumárraga (Mexico City 1948). a. m. carrenŃo, Don fray Juan de Zumárraga: Teólogo y editor, humanista e inquisidor (Mexico City 1950). r. e. greenleaf, Zumárraga and the Mexican Inquisition, 15361543 (Washington 1962).

[f. de j. chauvet]

Juan de Zumárraga

views updated May 23 2018

Juan de Zumárraga

The Spanish churchman Juan de Zumárraga (ca. 1468-1548), first bishop and first archbishop of Mexico, was an outstanding representative of a group of 16th-century Spanish clergy in America who combined missionary zeal, a sensitive social conscience, and love of learning.

Juan de Zumárraga was born in Tavira de Durango, Vizcaya. Entering the Franciscan order as a youth, he rose in its ranks and in 1527 was appointed first bishop of Mexico. Soon after his arrival in Mexico in 1528, he clashed with the audiencia (a court with executive functions) which Charles V had appointed to govern Mexico in place of Hernan Cortés. The judges proved to be greedy and corrupt men whose main concern was to enrich themselves at the expense of the Indians and the Cortés faction. Since Zumárraga combined with his episcopal office that of protector of the Indians, he attempted to put an end to the abuses committed against the natives by the audiencia, but in vain.

The quarrel between Zumárraga and the judges reached such a pitch that he excommunicated the offenders and placed Mexico City under interdict. Summoned to Spain in 1532 to justify his action, he did so with entire success. The first audiencia, meanwhile, had been removed and replaced with able and conscientious judges with whom Zumárraga maintained excellent relations.

Despite his concern for Indian welfare, Zumárraga did not oppose the encomienda (the assignment to a Spanish colonist of a group of Indians who were to serve him with tribute and labor). He believed that this system, properly regulated, could be beneficial to both Spaniards and Indians.

From 1535 to 1543 Zumárraga served as inquisitor in Mexico. He was extremely active in the pursuit of heresy and other offenses against orthodoxy. The high point of his inquisitorial career was the trial for heresy of the Indian cacique of Texcoco, Don Carlos, whom Zumárraga condemned to death by burning. This excessive severity brought a rebuke from Spain and his removal from the post of inquisitor. Despite the earnest efforts of his principal biographer to clear Zumárraga of the charge of destroying pre-Conquest codices, there is no doubt that he was responsible for the destruction of these and other relics of the Indian past.

Zumárraga made important contributions to the education of Indian youth and to Mexican culture in general. With the aid of Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza he established the famous Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco in 1536 to train the sons of Indian chiefs. Before this school began to decline in the second half of the 16th century, it had produced a generation of Indian scholars who assisted Spanish friars in the writing of important works on the history, religion, and customs of the ancient Mexicans. Zumárraga also built hospitals for both races, introduced the printing press to Mexico in 1539, and wrote and published books for the religious instruction of the Indians.

Zumárraga was appointed the first archbishop of Mexico in 1547. He died on June 3, 1548, in Mexico City. Strongly influenced by the Christian humanism of Erasmus and Thomas More, Zumárraga drew heavily on Erasmus's books for the preparation of his own writings, but selectively, using only that material which was clearly orthodox. His thought was a fusion of medieval and Renaissance elements, but the medieval friar in him was certainly dominant.

Further Reading

The classic biography of Zumárraga is in Spanish. Richard E. Greenleaf's excellent Zumárraga and the Mexican Inquisition, 1536-1543 (1962) covers briefly, but soundly, various aspects of his career. See also the sections on Zumárraga in Lesley Byrd Simpson, Many Mexicos (1941; new ed. 1966), and R. C. Padden, The Hummingbird and the Hawk: Conquest and Sovereignty in the Valley of Mexico, 1503-1541 (1967). □

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