Missed previous entries? Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Monumental events occurred in the early 1500s, history altering conquests both political and religious in nature. As Martin Luther anxiously re-read his list of ninety-five thesis before nailing them on a door in Wittenberg, Germany, Spanish explorer Juan de Grijalva prepared his ships to sail from Cuba to the coast of Tabasco, Mexico. Pope Leo X issued his rebuttal to the growing support of Luther’s objections to the traditions and excesses of the Roman Catholic church as Cortez was engaged battle with Montezuma for the new land’s greatest prize, Tenochtitlan. The Roman Catholicism introduced into Mexico is of the pre-Reformation variety.
Mexico City during the early 1500s rivaled Rome and London in population, with an estimated 250,000 inhabitants when Cortez first caught a glimpse of its beautiful waterways and wide avenues. Through strategic alliances, superior European weaponry, imported disease (especially small pox) and an opportune prophecy, Cortez and his band of three hundred men quickly conquered Montezuma, imprisoning and later killing him, although history is unclear on this point. The Spaniards tore down the multi-layered jaguar palace of Montezuma and used much of the pyramid’s materials to construct the cathedral in Mexico City. Construction began in 1573, and the eventual modified and amplified current structure was finally finished in 1813. The conquerors began an extremely aggressive construction campaign, building elaborate cathedrals and simple chapels in both urban and rural areas all through newly conquered Mexico. It is difficult to find a town today, no matter how small, that does not have a Catholic church building as part of its town center, or zócalo.
Convert or Die
Spain changed the landscape of the new world, erecting cathedrals over pyramids, and churches over sacred pagan worship sites. Baptism was synonymous with conversion, and conversion was coerced. Friars and priests sent back glowing reports of religious propagation to their ecclesiastic authorities. The New World is being evangelized! Or was it? Which religious system was changing more? The elaborate, polytheistic belief system of the conquered, or the Catholicism of the conquerors?