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The Library at Tlatelolco
A brief history of the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco and its library.
Earlier in this path, we used marcas de fuego to identify the libraries where the Advertencias was distributed during the early colonial period. In this page, we offer a complimentary approach by considering the history of a single library: the library at the Colegio Imperial de Santa Cruz in Tlatelolco, Mexico. This approach allows us to understand how the Advertencias fit into a broader intellectual culture.
As we know from the title page of the Advertencias, the book was printed at a press at Tlatelolco sometime around 1601. It seems likely that the library at the Colegio Imperial de Santa Cruz, which was collocated with the press and which Michael Mathes describes as the "first academic library of the Americas," would have been one of the first collections to hold a copy of the Advertencias.
Tlatelolco had been a Mexica altepetl (a word frequently translated as "city state") located in what is now Mexico City, not far from the capital city of Tenochtitlan. After the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlan in 1521, Tlatelolco became a Spanish municipality. By the early 1530s, it was the site of a convent and a school, the celebrated Colegio Imperial de Santa Cruz (officially inaugurated in 1536). The archaeological site and church can be visited today in the Cuauhtémoc borough of Mexico City.The history of the Colegio Imperial de Santa Cruz illustrates the ultimately unsuccessful efforts of the Franciscan missionaries to construct an autonomous indigenous Christian society in Mexico. The school was built on the site of a Nahua calmecac (school); its purpose was to provide the sons of indigenous nobility with a traditional Christian education with the goal of producing an indigenous clergy.After the death of many of these students from disease in the 1540s, along with with the execution for idolotry of the student Carlos de Texcoco, this project was abandoned and the school was redefined as a center of research into indigenous linguistics and culture. During this time, it hosted a number of influential scholars of indigenous life, language, and culture, including Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, Andrés de Olmos, and Alonso de Molina. Importantly, the school was also home to the young Nahua men who would inform - and often write - the indigenous-language texts produced in these scholars' names. By 1600, however, when the Advertencias was printed, Spanish support for indigenous intellectual culture had waned, and the Colegio had been reduced to a primary school.In Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco: La Primera Biblioteca Académica de Las Américas, Mathes describes the importance of the Colegio at Tlateloco in the history of American libraries. The Colegio's library, established soon after its opening with the support of Spain and of the Bishop Zumárraga (who donated a number of books from his personal collection) was vital to the school's pedagogical mission. By examining the collection of books found in this library, we can start to understand the intellectual culture fostered at the school, one marked by colonial hybridity. As Miguel León Portilla writes in his introduction to Mathes' book, "los libros, traídos de España, con la herencia de Grecia, Israel y Roma, se hallaron juntos en la biblioteca del Colegio con los impresos en México, varios en náhuatl como el Arte y el Vocabulario de Molina… y también muy cercan estuvieron las transcripciones en náhuatl, los textos de los que hoy se nombran Códices Matritenses y Florentino. Colegio y biblioteca fueron así por varios años verdadero semillero" (9). Like many other historians of this period, León Portilla sees the hybrid textuality of the Tlatelolco library in a generally positive light.
The Advertencias is a part of this intellectual culture, and yet its date of publication places it well after the height of the Colegio as a center for intellectual thought. Perhaps this is why more copies of the Advertencias survive than any other books printed during this period. Thanks to changes in Spanish and Viceroyal law, by the time it was printed, its audience - the students and missionaries who met at Tlatelolco - had moved on.
Tlatelolco's LegacyThe long history of the books held at the library at Tlatelolco help us to understand the legacy of the Colegio. Mathes dates the end of the major intellectual work at Tlatelolco to the death of the Nahua scholar Antonio Valeriano in 1605. By the mid-seventeenth century, he writes, the Colegio was abandoned and in ruins, "for many years forgotten and tragically robbed." At this point, what survived of it was incorporated into the library at the Convento de Santiago Tlatelolco. It remained there until 1834. when the church was occupied by military forces who, in Mathes' words, used the books as mattresses ("lo que evidentemente perjudicó el material bibliográfico" (41)). What remained was incorporated into the library at the Convento de San Francisco in Mexico City, where it was broken up and incorporated into the thematically-organized collection.
On August 12, 1856, Mexican president Ignacio Comonfort nationalized all Franciscan property and liquidated the library at the Convento de San Francisco. Although the library's collection was intended for the Biblioteca Nacional, many of the books were lost, stolen, or sold in transit. This is exactly what happened to the books that had once belonged to the Colegio, which were acquired by the bookseller Francisco Abodiano. Abodiano's son, in turn, sold the collection to the North American book collector Adolph Sutro, whose library was partially destroyed in San Francisco during the earthquake of 1906. What survived is now held by the California State Library at San Francisco.The Sutro collection contains mostly European imprints; the Advertencias, like other American books printed at Tlatelolco, does not appear in Sutro catalogue. Mathes speculates that these books were sold elsewhere before the earthquake, but they haven't been located. Regardless, their absence from the collection marks the shifting values of bibliophiles and historians, and the decay of the coherence of the Sutro collection.
The story of the Tlatelolco Advertencias is a common narrative for Mexican antiquities. The Primeros Libros were affected by war and natural disasters, shifting political priorities and changing economic circumstances. The wars of independence and the Mexican Revolution, in particular, were moments that often led to the destruction or dispersal of historical documents abroad. These stories will be explored further in the "Acquisition" path.
Reading the Advertencias
Discussion of how the Advertencias has been read.
Though this project is primarily concerned with the social history of a work, the history of a book is always intertwined with the words that it contains. This page provides a brief overview of the text of the Advertencias, explaining what it is about, who its intended audience may have been, and the role the book has played in modern scholarship.
The Advertencias para los confessores de los Naturales is a confessional manual: a book that aids in the administration of the sacrament of confession. First established among Christian practitioners between the third and seventh century, confession as a regular practice accompanied by penance was formally established between the twelfth and thirteenth century. After annual confession became obligatory in 1215, various summae were written to help guide this practice; the confessional manuals of subsequent centuries were vernacular variations on this model. They frequently guide the priest on an exploration of a penitent's soul, and call for instruction on the requirements for salvation (Christensen 162-3).
In his Nahuatl and Maya Catholicisms (2013), Mark Christensen explains that American confessional manuals were an important part of the process of indigenous indoctrination. Christensen identifies seventeen Nahuatl confessionals composed between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, beginning with Alonso de Molina's 1565 manual (pictured here) and ending with an anonymous 1803 text. These American manuals were distinguished, as Christensen describes, by both their style and their content. Written at least partially in indigenous languages, they employ a unique indigenous rhetoric - the Advertencias, for example, includes a bilingual catechism. Their content, furthermore, frequently refers to local practices. In the Advertencias, for example, there is an extensive discussion about the theft of fruits from an orchard: if a native steals "unas Peras de un arbol, las quales su señor tenia guardadas para de ellas hazer un presente, como comunmente estos Naturales guardan sus frutillas," Bautista writes, he sins mortally (f14r). The New World poses new problems for confessors; at the same time, in describing these problems, Bautista provides information about local cultural practices.Christensen describes Bautista's goal as the simplification of confessional practices among indigenous converts, explaining: "Bautista produced his Advertencias to reduce the burden of all confessors, both within and without the order, and instruct them on what was necessary and unnecessary in a confession. His two-volume work exempted natives "of little capacity" from having to remember their sins, know the sacraments of the Christian doctrine by memory, and show real contrition because their invincible ignorance excuses [them]" (172-173). While this attitude towards indigenous peoples sounds patronizing and even dangerous to modern ears, it does reflect a certain degree of compassion towards new converts and an effort to adapt religious practices to a new context. However, as Christensen observes, it doesn't seem likely that many confessors were influenced by Bautista's work: despite the large distribution of the Advertencias, later confessional manuals largely ignored the advice it gave.The Advertencias were influential in other ways, however. One remarkable instance is illustrated by the online exhibition "California's Legal Heritage," produced by the Robbins Collection at the University of California, Berkeley. The exhibition features the Advertencias in its section on Spanish Law in the Americas, writing:
In addition to its influence in religious and legal discourse, the large number of surviving editions means that it has remained at the center (or at least at the periphery) of the marketplace for early colonial Mexican books. The Collection and Acquisition paths will explore this history in more detail.Though largely concerned with Catholic teaching and practice, the works of men like Bautista and fellow missionary scholars had a profound impact on the evolving legal and political development of Spanish America. Their treatises established principles and arguments for colonial administrative practices and native rights and privileges that informed the secular legal works of future generations of jurists such as Juan de Solórzano and helped to shape the decisions of the crown.