Pedro de Barrientos in Chiapa de Corzo
A multitude of buildings
A difficult task: evangelization
The end of the adventure
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The Grijalva river
Friar Pedro de Barrientos
This is an example of a monk who could do everything, build his monastery, draw the streets of the city, appoint and train leaders, raises taxes, speak and write in the local language (Zoque), stalk idolaters, compose music, train horses and legend even says that he taught the natives how to launch fireworks. He was a free spirit who encouraged the Indians to ride horses, while this activity was forbidden in this region at the beginning of colonization, for security reasons (the horse was the main weapon of the Spaniards). Pedro de Barrientos is the true founder of Chiapa de Corzo, a town which was, on his arrival, an encomienda owned by a disreputable Spaniard.
Antonio Remesal pays tribute to him:
Pedro de Barrientos built the convent of Chiapa de Corzo
"In 1588, our Lord called back Father Fray Pedro de Barrientos, a Portuguese, son of the convent of Nuestra Señora de Peña de Francia, which has been mentioned several times in this story: he died in the convent of Chiapa de Indios, which he had established in its present form, and he was the first vicar and the first prior, when the house was separated from that of Ciudad Real and found its place among the monasteries in the province, and father Fray Pedro conceived and decorated it, and it is one of the best convent owned by the College in all New Spain. The church is very spacious and very solid, with three naves, built with brick and its large chapel is very beautiful, with good proportions and decorated with altarpieces placed there by fathers Fray Melchor Gómez and Juan Alonso when they were priors. The cloister is well built and the cells are large and comfortable, most of them overlook the river, because the region is very hot. The refectory and hospice and other facilities are well positioned compared to the rest of the house and the garden with its basin is very pleasant. The sacristy has an abundant and rich decoration which, thanks to the generosity of priors is more expensive than in other convents."
The "Parachicos", in front of the dominican convent of Chiapa de Corzo
He has trouble converting the Indians
"All this is thanks to father Fray Pedro de Barrientos, who worked there and spared no effort and great zeal for the good of the house. He is responsible for the beautiful appearance, good governance and Christianization and cleanliness of the village, because while it is true that many other pious fathers did many wonderful holy things, taught, preached, baptized, counseled, warned, ordered, banned and burnt hundreds of idols, the root of evil was hidden, and given what brewed in the hearts of most Indians (despite their many shows of acts of faith), they were no more Christian than if religion had been preached to them, or if they were still in the mountains overlooking the river from where Captain Diego de Mazariegos had ordered them down".
Pedro Barrientos learns that the Indians worship an ancient god
"Father Fray Pedro de Barrientos arrived in the village. He learned the language of the natives and mastered it as well or even better than his native language. The Lord gave him favour with these people and they began to look to him like a father, and after fourteen years during which he gradually came to understand things related to the Indians, he realized that there were still idolaters in this place, who had kept it a secret, and their main idol was Maviti, whom they worshipped in secret, and they proceeded with their sacrifices as before, contributing a great many servants who were very dirty and suitable to worship this god, who was the glory and happiness of the natives, and whom no one had seen since the earliest times."
"If we are to believe the stories of priests, transmitted by word of mouth, I do not know if we can say that we ca find a single man, a good specialist, an interpreter of puzzles and hieroglyphics, who could interpret so clearly the meaning of each thing, whereas most Indians knew the meaning of every part of this idol, heads, eyes, neck, chest arms, hands and feet, and what meant the loops, trademarks, lines and shapes that appeared on each of these parts, and that was the whole theology of the masters of this republic, immersed in the Christian doctrine, and aware of all the articles of the faith and commandments of the law of God."
He destroyed the statue of the god Maviti
"Father Fray de Barrientos appeared. He discovered evil, took the idol to the square, showed such outrage that they became confused and ashamed as never before, and they did not dare to look at one another. He preached several sermons on the subject, exhorted them to repent, and promised them forgiveness for a sin so great. He broke the idol before them all. He threw it in the fire. And once burned, he scattered the ashes in the wind. He punished with great severity the brothers or the abominable chaplains. And he delivered the priest Juan Doche to the Bishop, who made him serve the Bishop for many years in the cathedral, with shackles on his feet. This done, the Indians surrendered voluntarily many idols which they had hidden, some old and others new, which they had created after they had lost those they had before. Many false Christians were baptized and then brought their children to be baptized : oftentimes, they had the child of a slave baptized instead of their own. From that day, the drinking completely stopped in public, but continued in private.”
"And father Fray Pedro was more beloved than ever before and had more authority to govern the village, appoint mayors and city councilors who were best suited for the Republic, and to make sure that tributes were paid to the Spaniards without any penalty.”
He teaches the Indians how to sing and how to train horses
"He had a calm, affable and very charitable temper : and thus he had very good contact with the Indians. He was very devoted to Our Lady of the Rosary. It was he who ordered the boys and girls to sing catechism, in the manner of psalms and hymns of the church. I was there on the day of the feast of St. Ambrose in 1616 and this prompted me to much devotion and I noticed that on this day, when a fire broke out in the village and destroyed 120 houses, the children did not fail to come to catechism and sang very slowly, as usual, as the monks sang Compline and the Salve.
"It was also Father Fray Pedro who decided that the Indians of the village should learn to raise horses, to ride them and make them run, to spur them on, and hurt them, so much so that they were able to ride as well as in Jerez and to play the cane game with as much ability and boldness as in the most elegant city in Spain.
"During the year 1617, in order to tend more easily to the Indians of San Sebastian, the church was embellished and next to it were built several cells where two priests lived with the vicar and tended to their parish, and answered the needs of the Indians coming to them, and this must faster than if they lived in the convent." (Fray Antonio de Remesal, Historia de la provincia de San Vicente de Chiapa y Guatemala, libro 11, capítulo 12, translated by Chantal Burns)
Fray Pedro de Feria, Revelación sobre la reincidencia en sus idolatrías de los indios de Chiapa después de treinta años de cristianos, 1584:
"...me pareció que debia encomendar estos negocios al padre frai Pedro Barrientos por ser el religioso de mas experiencia de las cosas de los yndios que hay en la tierra, y por ser padre de aquel pueblo, y conocerlos á todos, y haberlos criado á todos, y saber su lengua mexor que ellos"
Testimony by Friar Alonso Ponce who visited Chiapa de Corzo during his inspection of the Franciscan convents of Mexico and Central America (1586)
“On Wednesday, September 10 (1586)… the commissary father (friar Alonso Ponce)… reached a big village called Chiapa de los Indios (so named to differentiate it from the other Chiapa), that was attached to the same bishopric and where everyone speaks Cendal: he went straight to the convent of St Dominique where he served mass right away. He was then fed and rested until evening. This convent is beautiful and its church well built; four or five priests lived there and the prior, a respected elder, suffered from such a strange ailment that it seems appropriate to mention it here. His disease was caused by parasites, and was so painful and severe that we took pity on him. He assured the commissary father that some days, one hundred of these parasites came out of his hands, other days one hundred and twenty or one hundred and forty, and that on this very early day, it was not yet nine o’clock, sixty had come out. And he said that this disease started after he had unfortunately drunk a lot of milk from diseased goats. The village is located in a valley as large as Cuernavaca in the province of Mexico and is almost as warm; it is built near the turbulent river of Canoa, which the commissary father had already crossed over twice, as was said before, and the river becomes very strong and rapid near the village. The village population is big, its houses and streets placed in a very orderly way; there is a big plaza and in its middle, an elegant and well built brick fountain, it has the shape of a vault and has fifteen arches and a snail-shaped stair that reaches its top, and a very big basin where water falls from different spurts. In addition to this fountain, there are two others, one at the entrance of the village and the other one at the end of the village. The Indians of the village, men and women, are always well dressed, according to their custom.” (Antonio de Ciudad Real, Curious Treaty and doctrine of the grandeur of New Spain, Vol. II, Chap. LXII, translated by Chantal Burns)
Plan of the convent in Chiapa de Corzo
"The original plan emerges as a three-aisled church with salient transepts. At the time this church was built, its plan was unique in Chiapas and even in the rest of Central America. The more immediate prototype is the hall-church plan so common in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century in lower Andalusia, of which the best known example is the cathedral of Seville." (Sidney David Markman, Architecture and urbanization in colonial Chiapas Mexico, The American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1984)
Thomas Gage's testimony, circa 1630:
"(...) This Town lyeth upon a great river, whereunto belong many boats and Canoas, wherein those Indians have been taught to act sea-sights, with geat dexterity, and to represent the Nymphes of Parnassus, Neptune, Aeolus, and the rest of the heathnists Gods and Goddesses, so that they are a wonder of their whole nation.
"They will arme with their boats a siege against the town, fighting against it with such courage till they make it yeeld, as if they had been trained up all their life to sea-sights. So likewise within the Town they are as desterous at baiting of bulls, at juego de cannas, at Horseraces, at arming a Campe, at all manner of Spanish dances, instruments, and musick, as the best Spaniards.
"They will erect Towers and Castles made of wood and painted cloth, and from them fight either with the boats or one against another, with squibs, darts, and many strange fire-works, so manfully, that if in earnest they could perform it as well as they do it in sport and pastime, the Spaniards and Fryers might soon repent to have taught them what they have.
"(...) As for acting of playes, this is a common part of their solemne pastimes ; and they are so generous, that they think nothing too much to spend in banquets and sweet-meats upon their Fryers, and neighbouring Towns, whensoever they are minded to shew themselves in a publick feast.
"The Town is very rich, and many Indians in it that trade about the Countrey as the Spaniards do. They have learned most trades befitting a Commonwealth, and practice and teach them within their Town.
"They want not any provision of fish or flesh, having for one that geat river joining unto their Town, and for the other many Estancias (as they call them) ou farmes abounding with Cattell.
"In this Town the Dominican Fryers bear all the sway, who have a rich and stately Cloister with another Church or Chappel subordinate unto it.
"(...) Two or three leagues from the Town, there are two Ingenio’s or Farmes of Sugar, the one belonging to the Cloister of the Dominicans of the City of Chiapa ; the other unto the Cloister of this Town, which contain two hundred Blackmores, besides many Indians, who are imployed in that constant work of making Sugar for all the Country. Hereabouts are bred great store of Mules, and excellent horses for any service. (...)" (Thomas Gage, A new survey of the West India’s or The English American his travail by sea and land, 1655, Book I, Chap. XV. Describing the country of Chiapa, with the chiefest townes and commodities belonging to it.)
Every year the residents of Chiapa de Corzo embark in a party that lasts from the 8th until the 23th of January. During these three weeks, festivities and celebrations take place, as well as the naval battle on the Grijalva river described by Thomas Gage. The streets in town are flooded by fireworks, parades, great meals, dancing, costumes, in what is considered the busiest fair in the region.
Chiapa de Corzo as seen by Antonio Vásquez de Espinosa, circa 1620
"578. The Province of Chiapas contains over 25 villages. The leading one is the capital, Chiapa de Los Indios, from which the whole Diocese takes its name ; it is one of the largest and finest Indian towns, not only in New Spain but in all the Indies ; it contains over 10,000 Indian residents, all well disciplined and intelligent. They are very skillful and ingenious, and quikly learn any trade that requires artistry ; They are very gentlemanly, courteous, and well brought up, and the great majority are excellent horsemen and so they have very good horses and fine rodeos ; they perform their evolutions with reed spears and hoops with such skill that they might very properly appear at His Majesty’s court.
"579. This Indian village of Chiapa is built on the King’s Highway from Mexico City to Guatemala, on a high point near a large river which abounds in fish ; on its banks they raise good melons. This river runs into the Atlantic near Tabasco, becoming an estuary. The village of Chiapa is 12 leagues approximately to the W. of the royal city of Chiapa. Its climate is hot and salubrious, like that of the province as a whole. There is a fine Dominican convent here, for the catechizing and instruction of the Indians, and the administration of the Holy Sacraments. There are some Spaniards living among the Indians in this village. In the center of the plaza is an excellent and very artistic fountain. The region is very fertile and supplies are cheap and abundant. Every day they hold tiangues, i.e., markets, where every afternoon they sell all sorts of fruits, foodstuffs, and other necessities. They maintain a good administration in their communities, and they are charitable to poor travelers who have to pass through ; they have special persons in their communities for the dispensing of charity. As for the penniless Spaniard who has nothing with which to pay them for the provisions they give him and the horse for his further progress, they give him all this for the love of God, and an Indian to guide him to the next village, and ask him merely to enter it in the community record book so that the amount may be made good by the stewards (mayordomos) in whose province that falls. And they give everything necessary to the priests for their services in saying Mass, and treat them with great kindness. It appears that these provinces excel among all the number and surpass the others in these services.
"580. In this village of Chiapa grows the tree which gives the excellent laxative known as royal tamarinds. They have many varieties of excellent bananas, large gardens or plantations of pineapples, quantities of delicious fruit, jocotes (which are the plums of the Indies), excellent poultry, as in all those regions, game, deer, pigeons, doves, quail, and other game birds. This Province of Chiapas is bounded on the S. by the Province of Soconusco." (Antonio Vásquez de Espinosa, "Compendio y Descripción de las Indias Occidentales", 1627-1629, Book V, Chapter II, Continuing the Description of the Diocese of Chiapas and Its Province. Translated by Charles Upson Clark, Smithsonian Institution)
Several of Chiapa de Corzo historical monuments were damaged by the september 7, 2017, earthquake, including the Dominican convent
Antonio de Alcedo, 1786
"CHIAPA, another city in the same province, which, to distinguish it from the former, is called Chiapa de los Indios; these (the Indians) being, for the most part, its inhabitants; is the largest settlement in the whole province, and is situate in a valley close upon the river Tabasco, being 12 leagues distant from the former city. It has various churches, abounds in wealth, and is the place wherein the Indian families first settled. They enjoy many privileges and exemptions, owing to the zeal of the bishop, Fray Bartolomé de la Casas, their procurator at court. The river abounds greatly in fine fish; and is full of barks, whith which they occasionally represent sea-figths. In the city also there are commonly balls, plays, concerts, bull-figths, and spectacles of horsemanship; since the inhabitants are much given to diversions, and in these grudge no expense." (Diccionario geografico-histórico de las Indias Occidentales o América: es a saber: de los Reynos del Peru, Nueva España, Tierra Firme, Chile y Nuevo Reyno de Granada. Madrid, 1786/89)
Chiapa de Corzo, Mayan archeological zone
Located on the banks of the Grijalva river, Chiapa de Corzo was founded in 1528 by the conquistador Diego de Mazariegos. In colonial times, Chiapa de Corzo was the indigenous capital of Chiapas, which is why it was called the Chiapa of the Indians, as opposed to the "Chiapa of the Spaniards", San Cristobal de las Casas, which was inhabited almost entirely by Spaniards.
La Pila: this fountain was designed and laid out by Fray Rodrigo de León, completed by another Spaniard and inaugurated in 1562. Its design is derived from many styles. The buttresses that support the dome were derived from gothic architecture of Spain. The brick-work of the exterior surfaces goes back to the mudéjar architecture. The dome which cover the building has prototypes in the Italianate renacentista style.
The church of the convent of Santo Domingo in Chiapa de Corzo. The present building is basically the one built by Pedro de Barrientos between 1576 and 1588. The primary walling material of the church at Chiapa de Corzo is brick. The preference for brick over stone may very well have been natural for the builders who must have gained their experience as craftsmen in lower Andalusia where from Islamic times brick had been a traditional material.
A cloister of the convent of Santo Domingo. The ex-convent underwent its most intense restoration work during the years 1998 and 1999, culminating in that year with its reopening as a Cultural Center. In its interior one finds the Museum of Lacquer Work, the Franco Lázaro Hall, The Alejandrino Nandayapa Gallery and the Fray Matías de Cordoba Auditorium.
San Sebastian Ruins: Located atop San Gregorio's Hill with construction dating from the 16th century. This church had a layout of three naves separated by arches, which were demolished by earthquakes and the passage of time. Still standing are its asp and façade, inscribed in the façade-retable tradition with niches between the pilasters.