Special Collections

Colonial Mexico and The Catholic Church

Books from the Albert A. Howard Book History Collection


Introduction and captions by David Carey, Jr., Ph.D.

Professor of History, University of Southern Maine

Though the Spanish empire endorsed the military invasion of Latin America, its alliance with the Catholic Church initiated an even more powerful force in the New World: the spiritual conquest. Hernando Cortés certainly had a sense of the role Catholicism could play in the colonization of the Americas when upon seizing Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital, he requested twelve Franciscan friars to help expand his control. Even though many indigenous peoples maintained their own faith, Catholicism united Latin America in ways that military or political institutions could not. The documents in this collection speak to the central role of the Catholic Church in colonial Mexico. Their very existence (some with gold engravings) are evidence of the Church’s access to resources. Publishing monographs, particularly ones with images, in colonial Mexico was expensive. Two of the works were penned by Jesuits, a religious order dedicated to establishing educational centers and converting indigenous peoples. Jesuit wealth came from indigenous converts whose labor the missionaries used to build successful agricultural and mining enterprises, and affluent Creole (pure blooded Spaniards born in the New World) and mestizo (mixed indigenous and Spanish blooded individuals) patrons (see for example Juan Martínez de la Parra’s published sermon Sermon panegyrico a las virtudes, y milagros de el prodigioso apostol de la India). The Catholic Church had great economic, political, cultural, and social clout in the Americas. The ability to leave behind written records of its activities further ensconced its place in Latin American history.

In addition to the role of the Catholic Church and the emphasis on colonial Mexico, these documents remind us that Spain once held dominion over large parts of what is today the United States. Manuel Antonio Valdés’s description of the exploits of Berndardo de Gálvez in Florida, Texas, and California conjure images of Spain’s expansive colonies. Further, Gálvez may have influenced the course of the American Revolution by denying the British access to the Mississippi River.

The poetry, art, and history in these pages are emblematic of the Spanish influence that continues to permeate the U.S. Southwest.

Mexican Colonial Imprint

 Exaltacion de la Divina Misericordia

Velasco, Alfonso Alberto de.

Exaltacion de la Divina Misericordia en la milagrosa renovacion de la soberana imagen de Christo Sr. Nro. crucificado.

Mexico : Imprenta del Lic. D. Joseph de Juaregui, 1776.

click to view larger image of title page

 etched plate showing the miraculous image

click to view larger image of etching

The history of the town of Izmiquilpa’s statue of Christ Crucified, to which many miracles are attributed. Dating from about 1545, there, it had been moved in the 17th century to the Convent of San José of the Discalced Carmelite Women in Mexico City. A striking etched plate showing the miraculous image done in the Mexican Baroque style faces page 1; this engraving is apparently lacking in most copies (it was probably often removed and used as an icon in its own right). This popular work was first published in 1688 (or possibly 1685).

Catholic Church Confession

 Comulgador Penitente de la Purissima

Nuñez de Miranda, Antonio.

Comulgador Penitente de la Purissima...

Puebla, Mexico : Diego Fernández de Leon, 1690.



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Explanation during the 17th century which describes confession and communion.

Uncommon & Illustrated

 Novena de la santa imagen de Christo

Quiroga, Domingo de.

Novena de la santa imagen de Christo

Mexico : Imprenta de el real, y mas Antiguo Colegio de S. Ildefonso, 1766.



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 woodcut from Novena de la santa imagen de Christo

click to view larger image of woodcut

Quiroga was a Jesuit, procurator of his order, and a native of Spain who served in Mexico from some time in the late 17th-century until his death at Tepozotlan in 1732. The first edition of this seems to have been in Mexico City in 1737. In addition to the novena, [devotion consisting of prayer often said on nine successive days], the work has a full-page woodcut of Christ on the Cross and two medieval crenelated cities in the background.

Colonial Mexican Art

 El sabio con el corazón en la diestra Oración fúnebre

Gutiérrez Dávila, Julián.

El sabio con el corazon en la diestra. Oracion funebre en las honras del Sr. Dr. D. Joseph de Torres, y Vergara...

Mexico : Herederos de la viuda de Francisco Rodriguez Lupercio, 1727.



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In honor of D. Joseph De Torres. Important for the history of colonial-era art.

A Mexican Jesuit on St. Francis Xavier

 Sermon panegyrico a las virtudes, y milagros de el prodigioso apostol de la India

Martinez de la Parra, Juan.

Sermon panegyrico a las virtudes, y milagros de el prodigioso apostol de la India.

Mexico : Por los herederos de la viuda de Bernardo Calderon, 1690.



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Padre Martínez (1655-1701), a native of Puebla, was a leading Jesuit preacher with a huge following, among whom were a number of wealthy supporters who saw to the costs of having his sermons published as he made them available. St. Francis Xavier’s feast day is 3 December and on that date in 1689 Father Juan preached this sermon on his life and accomplishments.

Illuminated Title-page

 Prima oratio habita in regio ac pontificio angelopolitano. seminario

Villagomez y Lorenzana, Gregorio Alfonso.

Prima oratio habita in regio ac pontificio angelopolitano seminario ... Laudem angelici doctoris d. Thomæ Aquinatis. 

[Puebla, Mexico : Reales y Pontificios Colegios de San Pedro y San Juan, 1770]

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An oration in Latin on the life of St. Thomas Aquinas, its author a noted theologian who was a popular preacher in Puebla in the last third of the 18th century. It was the era’s Spanish American custom to illuminate some title-pages by adhering gold foil to letters printed there in red ink, and on this title-page the red phrase “D. Thome Aquinatis” has been so gilt.

Popular Poetry

 Apuntes de algunas de las gloriosas acciones del Exmô

Valdes, Manuel Antonio.

Apuntes de algunas de las gloriosas acciones del Exmô . Señor D. Bernardo de Galvez, conde de Galvez, virey, gobernador....

Mexico : Felipe de Zúñiga y Ontiveros, 1787.


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The author (1742-1814) was a native of Mexico, a printer, and the author of several works, but is chiefly remembered as the publisher of the “Gazetas de México.” The present work is a “romance en decasilabo” recounting Gálvez’s achievements in Mexico, including his role in the politics and activities in Florida, Texas, California, and the Spanish Southwest. A very good example of popular culture poetry and a scarce work.

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