In Mexico, the memory of the Christian heritage under debate

A peaceful town 2,000 meters above sea level, wedged between the smoking craters of the Sierra Nevada, two hours from Mexico City. On this August 9, Tlaxcala is celebrating. Masked men, wearing feathers and dressed in colorful clothes dance in the square of the Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption cathedral. The city celebrates the building’s registration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Since 1994, the organization’s list includes the first monasteries of the XVIe century built on the slopes of the Popocatépetl volcano, which lacked the Franciscan complex built in the 1530s. “Tlaxcala was the first diocese of the country in 1525, indicates Mgr Julio César Salcedo, its current bishop. It is one of the first centers of evangelization of the peoples from this continent. ” The site’s registration with Unesco comes in the year of the 500th anniversary of the Spanish conquest.

Emblem of evangelization and miscegenation

And it is not a hazard. Mexico today questions its collective memory, between a colonial past and a desire to highlight its Amerindian roots. “I don’t see any contradiction, because Tlaxcala is in fact the cradle of Mexican interbreeding, defends Aldo Hernandez, professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. The city is marked by a strong popular syncretism. “

→ ANALYSIS. “Indigenous resistance”: Mexico offers another account of the history of the Conquistadors

“The cathedral represents the combination of Spanish style and Mesoamerican art”, underlines the architect Gelvin Xochitemo, of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (Inah). Inside are the baptismal font where the indigenous lords of Tlaxcala were baptized; these enemies of the Aztecs were allied with the conquistador Hernán Cortés on his arrival in 1519. The place is the symbol of these two cultures. “The indigenous faith which amazed the Spaniards and the faith of the Franciscans united to build this complex and develop the new Christian society in America”, explains Bishop Salcedo.

The year of the 500th anniversary of the conquest

This past difficult to assume, this cultural mix and the memory of evangelization, the nation commemorated on August 13. She remembered the fall of Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec Empire, five hundred years ago. Thus, in the central square of Mexico City, the remains of Aztec temples still challenge the imposing cathedral. “Instead of mentioning the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521, as we have always been taught, today we are talking about 500 years of indigenous resistance”, details Aldo Hernandez.

The memorial feud wavers symbols like the statue of Christopher Columbus in Mexico City, unbolted as the names of conquistadors are removed from the streets. A policy led by the mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, and the president of the country, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador. He has repeatedly asked Spain and the Vatican for apologies for colonization.

“Some personalities, including the president, criticize evangelization, notes the writer Enrique Ortiz, author of the book The Eagles of Tenochtitlan. For them, evangelization is only the imposition of one culture by the destruction of another, the forced labor of the locals. The tendency is to reinterpret history. “

A country in the midst of an ideological debate

However, with the decision of Unesco, it is indeed the Franciscan friars, protectors of the natives, who are honored at the heart of the ideological debate that agitates the country. The controversies over the accusation of treason against the Tlaxcaltecs or on the cruelty of the Spanish colonizers oppose the Mexicans according to their sensitivity.

“The fact that the president sends a letter to the King of Spain and to the Vatican allows, whether we like it or not, to bring to light a story that we had been prevented from questioning”, asks José Vicente de la Rosa, director of Inah, in reference to the decades when the issue of indigenous peoples was secondary. In fact, the country tends to recognize the richness of its interbreeding. “Tlaxcala is the emblem”, rejoices architect Gelvin Xochitemo.


“The Franciscans have won the affection of the Tlaxcaltecs”

Brother Miguel Angel Berrocali,Franciscan of Tlaxcala (Mexico)

“Upon their arrival in Mexico, the Franciscans participated in a new chapter of the country and of the American continent. Their faith has influenced the religious culture of present-day Mexico through humility and charity. The brothers evangelized and taught our Mesoamerican ancestors the European art of the time. The success of the Franciscans is to have won the trust and affection
of the Tlaxcaltecs to promote religion in the wake of the work of Saint Francis of Assisi. “


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