Quiroga, Vasco de
QUIROGA, VASCO DE
Bishop, social reformer; b. Madrigal de las Altas Torres, Castilia la Vieja, Spain, in the 1470s; d. Pátzcuaro, Mexico, March 14, 1565. Little is known of his early years except that he remained a layman and obtained a licentiate in Canon Law. He entered the royal service and in 1525–26 served as a judge in the North African city of Oran. After his return to the court, his friends Juan Bernal Díaz de Luco and Cardinal Juan de Tavera recommended him to the king for a position of importance.
In 1530 he was named oidor of New Spain, a member of the five-man governing body, or audiencia, which was being sent there to maintain royal authority. After arriving in Mexico City in January 1530, he began to exert all his efforts to bring a rule of justice and charity to the native people. He tried to understand their laws and to apply Spanish law accordingly. He was particularly active in judging cases of Indian slavery, with favor toward the slaves. In 1532, out of commiseration for the plight of the native people, he established near Mexico City a hospital-town, called Santa Fe, to care for the sick and needy and to instruct the natives in the Catholic faith. It was patterned after the plan of society presented in Thomas More's Utopia. In 1533–34 he was sent to the province of Michoacán to visit the area and correct abuses. There he established another hospital of Santa Fe on the model of his previous foundation. The two institutions retained a prime place in his interest throughout his life and he watched over them with fatherly protectiveness.
In 1536 Michoacán was made a diocese, and Quiroga was chosen its first bishop. Probably in December 1538 he was ordained through the whole series of orders and consecrated bishop. One of his first acts as bishop was to move his see from Tzintzuntzan, former capital of the Tarascan kingdom of Michoacán, to Pátzcuaro, which seemed a more suitable location. There he established the Colegio de San Nicolás, intended primarily to train priests who would have a command of the native languages. It was the first such establishment in New Spain. He also began work on his cathedral, planned as a structure with five naves, T-shaped with the fourth and fifth naves radiating from the right angles of the T. This work, on which much money and labor was expended against the opposition of many of the Spaniards, was never completed.
In 1542 Quiroga sailed for Europe to attend the Council of Trent, but was forced to return to Mexico after a near shipwreck. In 1547 he again left Mexico and succeeded in reaching Spain. During his stay he was able to give advice on many problems facing the Spanish crown and the Church in the New World. He also obtained favorable decisions in a number of lawsuits that he had appealed to the Council of the Indies.
Having returned to New Spain in 1554, he took part in the First Provincial Council of Mexican bishops in 1555, which treated matters of great interest to him: the construction of hospitals in every town and the limitation of the privileges of the friars. His last years saw a continuation, perhaps to an increased degree, of the manifold litigations that had absorbed much of his energy throughout his career: boundary disputes with his fellow bishops, suits involving his hospitals of Santa Fe, suits with Indians and Spaniards over the construction of his cathedral and the population of his see city, and suits with the friars, especially the Augustinians, arising from his efforts to limit their privileges and freedom of action in his diocese. His will gave its principal attention to his two hospital-towns and his college, both of which continued their valuable contribution to the diocese of Michoacán for many years.
Bibliography: Don Vasco de Quiroga: Documentos, ed. r. aguayo spencer (Mexico City 1939). f. b. warren, Vasco de Quiroga and His Pueblo-Hopitals of Santa Fe (Washington 1963).
[f. b. warren]