Landa, Diego de

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Franciscan missionary and bishop; b. Cifuentes, Guadalajara, Spain, date unknown; d. Mérida, Yucatán, April 29, 1579. He was professed as Friar Minor in the Convento de los Reyes, Toledo. In 1549, soon after ordination, he went to Yucatán to serve as missionary to the Maya. He quickly achieved mastery of the Maya language, of which he composed a grammar, now lost; and during his missionary labors in major centers of the native population he acquired comprehensive knowledge of preconquest Maya culture. For several years he administered the mission in the pueblo of Izamal, where he began construction of a large church and friary. In 1561 he was elected first minister provincial of the newly established Franciscan province of St. Joseph of Yucatán and Guatemala.

From May to July 1562, Landa made a sweeping inquisitorial investigation of survivals of native religion in the Tutul Xiu district of Mani and adjacent areas. In this inquiry, for which he had active collaboration of the Spanish alcalde of Yucatán, physical torture was employed to elicit testimony and confessions from many Indians. The recorded testimony revealed substantial evidence of continuing practice of idolatry and human sacrifice by baptized Mayans, including prominent leaders. Francisco de Toral, OFM, first resident bishop of Yucatán, who arrived in August 1562, severely criticized Landa's stern measures on the grounds that they were unjust and impolitic in a new mission area.

Landa's authority to conduct the inquiry was also questioned in several quarters. In 1563 Landa returned to Spain to defend his actions before the royal court. The crown referred the case for review and decision to the minister provincial of the Franciscan province of Castile, who in turn called for opinions from a distinguished panel of canonists and civil lawyers. This group concurred that Landa, as minister provincial in Yucatán, had legal authority to conduct inquisitorial proceedings prior to the arrival of Bishop Toral by virtue of Pope adrian vi's Omnímoda of 1522, which granted quasiepiscopal powers to prelates of mendicant orders in America in areas without a resident bishop. They also expressed general agreement that the conditions faced by Landa in 1562 had warranted stern remedial measures. In 1569 the minister provincial absolved Landa of all charges of which he had been accused.

In April 1572, philip ii presented Landa to the Holy See as bishop of Yucatán, successor of Toral (d. April 20, 1571). The papal bulls of appointment were issued on Nov. 17, 1572. A year later (October 1573), Landa took possession in Mérida. The most significant feature of his episcopate was his sustained effort, illustrated by unpublished documentation in the Archivo de Indias, Seville, to alleviate exploitation of the Maya by the local officials, the colonists, and the encomenderos.

During his residence in Spain in the 1560s, Landa wrote the Relación de las cosas de Yucatan, his most enduring claim to fame. The only extant MS (not the original version, which has not been found) of this treatise on Maya antiquities is now preserved in the Academy of History, Madrid. Publication of an incomplete text of this MS, with a French translation, by Brasseur de Bourbourg in 1864, stimulated renewed interest in Maya civilization by European and American scholars. Since 1864 at least eight editions of the Relación in Spanish, French, and English have appeared. Landa's discussion of the Maya calendar and his representations of month and day glyphs have facilitated decipherment of a considerable part of the known corpus of Maya hieroglyphic writings and inscriptions. His Maya "alphabet" has not proved too useful as a research tool. In many other respects, however, the Relación has been a major source of great value for modern students of Maya life, society, and religion in pre and postconquest times.

Bibliography: Landa's Relación de las cosas de Yucatan, ed. and tr. a. m. tozzer (Cambridge, Mass. 1941). d. lÓpez cogolludo, Historia de Yucatan (Madrid 1688 and later eds.). c. carrillo y ancona, El obispado de Yucatan, 2 v. (Mérida de Yucatan, Mex.1892). f. v. scholes and r. l. roys, "Fray Diego de Landa and the Problem of Idolatry in Yucatan," Carnegie Institute of Washington, Cooperation in Research (Washington 1938) 585620.

[f. v. scholes]