Motolinía, Toribio de Benavente

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Franciscan missionary, one of the "Twelve Apostles" in Mexico; b. Benavente, León, Spain, c. 1495; d. Mexico City, probably in 1565. As a young man he became a Franciscan, joining the strict reformed section of the Province of Santiago. In 1523 Martín de valencia was instructed by the Franciscan minister general to choose 12 friars from the province for the first formal Franciscan mission to Mexico. Father Toribio was one of those chosen. Upon arriving in Mexico in May of 1524, he took for his name the first word he learned in the Tlaxcalan tongue, motolinía, meaning "poverty." In June of 1524, when the friars formed the Custody of the Holy Gospel, he was appointed the first superior of the Friary of San Francisco in Mexico City. In spite of the municipal officials, he maintained the authority of the Franciscan custos as head of the Church in Mexico. In 1525 he was appointed superior of Huejotzingo, and in 1527 he went to Honduras and Nicaragua, returning in 1529. That year he gained the enmity of the civil authorities by granting asylum in Huejotzingo to native leaders who had complained of heavy taxations. From 1530 to 1533 he was guardian in Tlaxcala, and he traveled widely among the native people west and north of Mexico City, helping to found the Spanish town of Puebla. In 1534 he was once more sent to Guatemala. Returning after a year or so, he was stationed as a missionary in Tlaxcala.

When the Custody of the Holy Gospel was made a province, Motolonía was appointed guardian of Tlaxcala and was instructed to write an account of the life and beliefs of the native people in pre-Spanish times and a history of the work of the Franciscans among them. From this came his Historia de los indios de Nueva España, completed in 1541, his most important work. Later he wrote a related volume entitled Memoriales. In 1543 he was again sent to Guatemala as custos of a band of 24 friars. When conflicts arose with the Dominicans and several Franciscans asked to leave, he resigned his office in 1545 and returned to Mexico. In 1546 he became acting provincial in Mexico when the provincial was lost at sea; later he was made provincial by election (154851). Little is known of his later work. In 1555 he wrote a scathing attack on the exaggerations in Las Casas' Brevísima relación. His last years were spent in retirement in the friary of Mexico City.

Bibliography: i. p. fernÁndez, Fray Toribio Motolinía, O.F.M., frente a Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, O.P.: Estudio y edición crítica de la carta de Motolinía al emperador (Tlaxcala, a 2 de enero de 1555) (Salamanca 1989). t. motolinÍa, Memoriales e Historia de los indios de la Nueva Espanã. Estudio preliminar por Fidel de Lejarza (Madrid 1970); History of the Indians of New Spain, tr. and ed., f. b. steck (Washington 1951).

[f. b. warren]