The Continuity of Sacred Urban Open Space: Facilitating the Indian Conversion to Catholicism in Mesoamerica

in Religion and the Arts
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‭During the sixteenth century, the Spanish crown sent Mendicant friars of the Franciscan, Dominican, and Augustinian monastic orders to evangelize and convert the indigenous people of America. With huge populations to convert, spread over an extremely vast territory, a limited number of friars had to find expedient ways to facilitate the conversion effort. Among the many conversion strategies used by the Mendicant friars under the early guidance of Fray Pedro de Gante were: to locate places of Christian worship over or near native ceremonial centers and continue the use of ceremonial open urban space; the incorporation of native religious rituals deemed compatible with Catholic liturgy such as processions, music, art, and dance; the creation of new architectural forms and open urban spaces to provide a setting for these rituals; and the substitution of native rituals for Catholic ceremonies including adjusting native and Catholic ritual calendric dates. Based on recent architectural field surveys and ethnographic documentation, this research focuses on the architectural and urban space adaptations that the missionary friars undertook to facilitate conversion efforts.‬

The Continuity of Sacred Urban Open Space: Facilitating the Indian Conversion to Catholicism in Mesoamerica

in Religion and the Arts

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    Figure 1

    Yaxchilan, stone caiman in the Great Plaza. The University of Texas at Austin, Box-Wagner Collection. Courtesy of the School of Architecture Visual Resources Collection, The University of Texas at Austin.

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    Figure 2

    Ruler as axis mundi in center of quincunx. Drawing courtesy of F. Kent Reilly III.

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    Figure 3

    Uxmal, Nunnery Quadrangle. The University of Texas at Austin, Box-Wagner Collection, VRC 92–12645. Courtesy of the School of Architecture Visual Resources Collection, The University of Texas at Austin.

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    Figure 4

    Tenochtitlan, map showing city as axis mundi, with cross bands describing four-cornered universe. Codex Mendoza.

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    Figure 5

    Voladores in full flight. Photo courtesy of Sinclair Black, FAIA.

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    Figure 6

    Relacion Geografica of Atlatlaucan. Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

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    Figure 7

    Teopantecuanitlan. Drawing by the author.

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    Figure 8

    Dallas Plaque, a cosmogran with elements shown vertically. Courtesy of F. Kent Reilly III.

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    Figure 9

    Simplified quadrangular urban grid. Drawing by the author.

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    Figure 10

    First Renaissance urban plan. Piensa, Italy. Photograph courtesy of Phillip Morrow.

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    Figure 11

    Tepoztlan urban survey. The University of Texas at Austin, Box-Wagner Collection. Courtesy of the School of Architecture Visual Resources Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

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    Figure 12

    Santa Fe de la Laguna urban survey. The University of Texas at Austin, Box-Wagner Collection, VRC 92–13381. Courtesy of the School of Architecture Visual Resources Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

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    Figure 13

    Atrio of Tochimilco, Puebla. Courtesy of the School of Architecture Visual Resources Center.

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    Figure 14

    Pedro de Gante at the center of a quincunx, from the Codex Ozuna. Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

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    Figure 15

    De Valades, Diego. Ideal atrio in Rhetorica Christiana, 1579. Engraving. Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries, University of Texas at Austin.

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    Figure 16

    Relacion Geografica of Atitlan. Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries, University of Texas at Austin.

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