Forgotten souls?

In the recently HOCUS exhibition at the National Museum of Fine Arts, one of the paintings, “El Hombre Olvidado” (Forgotten Man) depicted an ex-conquistador on his deathbed attended by friars to whom he bequeathed the Hacienda de Orion in exchange for Masses celebrated, until the end of time, for the eternal repose of his soul. The intellectual author of the painting, Atty. Saul Hofileña, affirmed in a lecture about friar lands that that was one of the ways the Church accumulated vast tracks of land during the Spanish colonial period. However, Atty. Hofileña commented, rather cynically, that the promise to the dying man was most probably forgotten.

Soon after the HOCUS exhibition closed at the end of Museum Month, I flew to Mexico to visit my daughter and her family. (That was why there was no “Landscape” last week.) I just stumbled upon a scholarly piece pertaining to the sale and/or auction of properties that belonged to the Convento de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe of Valladolid town in the state of Michoacan, from 1805 to 1808. I felt it was related to that HOCUS painting of the dying man for it explained how religious corporations attached to the Convento accumulated properties through charitable donations, bequeathals, and the erection of chaplaincies in exchange for religious ceremonies, sacraments, rituals, and prayers.

The municipal archives in Michoacan are replete with data about this matter. There are copious lists of donors. For example, in 1784, a certain Juan Manuel Michelena bequeathed a house and lot plus 300 pesos for High Masses for his soul. In 1794, Manuel Jose Baca donated a house and 300 pesos so acts of mercy could be performed in his behalf. A nameless parishioner donated his hacienda and gave 1,200 pesos for the feast of San Pedro Alcantara, etc. I wonder if they became forgotten souls like “El Hombre Olvidado.”

Unfortunately for Spain’s colonies in South America, in particular, the ecclesiastical sectors in each one, the Spanish Crown promulgated the “Consolidacion de Vales Reales” designed to raise funds for the metropolis. Wars waged by Kings Carlos III and Carlos IV against the English and the French were driving the kingdom to bankruptcy. Church property, that is, real estate attached to parishes, cathedrals, monasteries, convents, chaplaincies, hospitals, schools, hospices, liquid capital, all kinds of investments had to be turned over to the Royal Treasury.

According to historian Gisela von Wobeser, the effects of that royal orderwere devastating for the Virreinato de la Nueva Espana (Mexico). Valladolid, where the Convento de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe was located, contributed 1,102,777 pesos; 956,279 pesos were extracted from Guadalajara; Puebla sacrificed 2,308,516 pesos and what is now Mexico city dished out an astounding 5,031,584 pesos. The poor parishes of southern states like Oaxaca were not exempted from that cruel royal decree. Implementation was even more severe in Peru and other South American colonies.

In fine (as lawyers say), what the Church, religious and secular orders had amassed through simony and other artifices were lost in one fell swoop. Mexican historians argue that the “Consolidation de Vales Reales” was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back because it was imposed at the wrong time – anti-colonial feelings were already reaching a boiling point.

All of Spain’s Latin American colonies were clamoring for independence. In 1810, with Our Lady of Guadalupe as battle standard, priests like Miguel Hidalgo led Mexicans to revolt against Spain. I would like to see the fury of liberation ina HOCUS painting.