Before I get into the thick of things, I just thought it would be fun to mention that there are almost an equal amount of English-speaking people and Spanish-speaking people in the world. English and Spanish tie at number TWO for the most spoken languages. Chinese is spoken by the most people in the world. Also note, I had trouble copy/pasting this document, so there might be some punctuation marks that have floated beyond their boundaries.
The First Christian service in the New World. The First Christian service was on present US land (Florida area), and the service was the Catholic Mass, celebrated around 1521 by Dominicans; one year later, St. Ignatius in Spain wrote the Spiritual Exercises; the Society of Jesus, aka the Jesuits, began to actualize just a few years later—they were dedicated to discernment, intellectual pursuits, helping people through the process of conversion, and faithfulness to Christ’s Bride, the Church; on the other side of the Americas, the Mass reached Alaska by 1779 (Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions) around the same time the Russians began to colonize the area from the East.
The First Christian Church in the New World. The First Church to be built on present US land was Catholic; it was built by Franciscans in Santa Fe in 1609 or 1610.
The First Hospital. Hospital care became an important human development, attributed the influence of Christianity. The first hospital in the Americas was built in the area of Mexico (1524); meanwhile, Luther and the secular nobles suppressed a Catholic peasant rebellion, killing 100,000 peasants in the process, showing an uptick in a trend in Europe that would push people to find a new place to live; in 1598, Spanish settlers built a shrine for our Lady called Nuestra Senora de la Leche y Buen Parto, the statue that would inspire Catholic women in 1956 to start La Leche League, dedicated to teaching people about the benefits of breastfeeding, encouraging women to breastfeed, teaching women how to breastfeed, and working towards making it more socially acceptable since breastfeeding had been frowned upon because of the widespread influence of dualism in the U.S..
The First Christian Martyr in the New World. The First Martyr in the Americas died in 1542 when a Franciscan, Father Juan de Padilla, who was building a school for the Wichita Indians, is caught in a battle between two warring tribes. Several martyrs are killed by Calvins while on their way to help out with missionary work in 1570. There are approximately 100 martyrs that died on what would eventually be called the United States; they died in various places in Maine, Florida, California, Virginia, Texas, Georgia, Kansas, New Mexico, Illinois, New York, Arizona, Mississippi, Michigan, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Most were Spanish missionaries, some were French, and the English killed a few Catholics when they finally arrived here. That is, the seeds of Christianity were spread by the blood of the martyrs as the saying goes.
Dissemination of Knowledge. Spreading literacy and education has always been an important part of the Church’s mission. She has built libraries, educational institutions, developed thought. Besides Scripture, theology, and philosophy, Catholics in Spain also wrote down stories like Cantar de Mio Cid, which is an epic poem from the 1100’s. The first book to be printed in the New World was “The Spiritual Ladder of St. John Climacus;” it was printed in New Spain (Mexico) in 1535. Higher-Level Learning was important to Catholic missionaries; they began building universities within in a few decades; for instance, St. Dominics on Dominican Republic was built in 1538; it is also known as Universidad Santo Tomas de Aquino; another university was established in Philippines by 1611. By 1758, the Jesuits had created 105 schools for higher learning in the Americas, had written down over 300 new languages, had created grammar books for 40 different languages, had built elementary schools that taught music, trade, agriculture, reading and writing, physics, chemistry, and math (Jesuits in America, 1911, by Robert Swickbrath). Unfortunately, since most of the Press, news media, in the 18th century was not owned by Catholics, political propaganda easily detracted from Jesuits, who had shown their dedication to educating all people; they were subsequently suppressed by several political movements. A major factor in the detracting perception of Church was the British Empire; despite the loss of the American colonies beginning in 1776, the British Empire began to spread and control most publications houses internationally. However, in the U.S., some government leaders had also been intimidated by the adeptness of Jesuit education, perhaps as a result of British influence on historical perceptions. They tried to suppress Catholic education in a different way.
Feminine Influence. As Christianity had done since it was established by Christ, women were able to influence history. Spain continued to spread better concepts of woman; in 1523, Juan Luis Vives, a Spanish humanist, dedicated a work to Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s VIII of England’s first wife, that is called de institutione feminae christianae on the importance of women using their talents both in and outside of the home; Teresa of Avila began writing her autobiography and her spiritual treatise beginning in 1565; a sister from New Spain, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, in the 1690’s became one of the most published writers at the time. Queen Isabella was also not without her feminine talents; she expected restraint and integrity from her soldiers during times of war, personally helped the poor, prohibited slavery, and helped in uniting Spain. As said before La Leche League, in 1956, was developed by Catholic women who saw a problem with artificial milk and mother/child detachment; they were inspired by a very feminine statue with Spanish influence.
Technological Advances. Agricultural techniques were shared. Navigational understanding, especially in regards to the oceans and continents, expanded. Spanish missionaries brought the idea of the Printed Word to Native peoples, so wrote down many languages. Spanish explorers learned about International Trade in a way the world had not seen before. Spanish traders brought pigs, cattle, sheep, and donkeys. By far the horse helped not only exploration advance quickly, but the horse also gave the Native Americans an opportunity to travel faster than they had; the first horses were brought to the Americas through Florida be Ponce de Leon. Other goods that were brought by the Spanish through what is now called the Columbian Exchange were rice, onion, peaches, sugar, coffee, and black pepper, to name a few. In exchange, the potato, pineapples, cocoa, rubber, chile peppers, peanuts, and corn were given (okay, sometimes taken). This exchange of agricultural ideas, languages, plants, and animals irrevocably connected the Old World with the New World. For instance, after the potato arrived in Ireland, it became an important part of the Irish diet. And who doesn’t enjoy the mixture of cocoa, sugar, milk, and coffee? These four great ingredients only came together and mixed after the two sides of the world met.
Different perspectives on slavery. The most striking feature to me about the slave trade is that because of Christianity, slavery had very nearly disappeared from Europe by the 15th century; however, outside of Europe, slavery was still accepted and widespread—it was the way humans from all over the world had been doing things for a long time. Why did Europeans get involved in slave trade after having lived without it for so long? It gets complicated and thick. It certainly had been attenuated, if not condemned by the Church, but the new situations that arose were not necessarily met with the right choices or easy answers. African slaves were sold and/or traded by African/Arabic/Turkish/Muslim people; Irish slaves were captured and exploited by the English after England split from Catholics; Native American slaves were traded by Native Americans, but when Columbus brought them to Europe, he was told by Isabella to set them free; Cherokee Indians at one point even owned African American slaves. It seems, however, that Spain did not have any slave ports that sold slaves, and slaves were given the opportunity to win their freedom in the Americas; slaves ran away to Spanish colonies in order to escape English slavery, a place called Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mosé (1687) in Florida ; slavery was much different in Spanish colonies than in English colonies; for instance, slaves were allowed some level of due process, slave-owners were given orders to not mistreat slaves and would be punished if they had, and slave owners were required to keep family units together. Too, slavery was not necessarily based on race or culture in the Spanish colonies as it had been in the English colonies. It should be noted, additionally, that the British and the Spanish both quit using slave labor before the United States.
Literature, media, and the art of alive! Not only do I love the spiritual works that come from Spain, but I also enjoy works like Don Quixote by Cervantes (1605); poets include Gonzalo de Berceo (13th century), Teresa of Avila (16th century), John of the Cross (16th century), and those poets influenced by Catholic mysticism: Guillen (Cuba), Neruda (Chile), Alberti (Spain), and Lorca (Spain). Unfortunately, because the revolution in Spain suppressed Catholicism, it also suppressed and censored culture, so many of these poets were not allowed to publish their works until later. Because of censorship, what many people don’t know about John of the Cross is that he saw apparitions of Mary and had ecstasies while celebrating the Mass ; in stark contrast to the kinds of material that Anglo American and British writers were creating in the early 20th century, the Spanish seemed to avoid the nihilistic results of dualism by allowing themselves to be inspired by John of the Cross’s mysticism. Some influential artists from Spain are Picasso and Salvador Dali, who painted Christ of Saint John of the Cross (1951); from the 16th century, El Greco managed to influence 2oth century Cubism; other artists include Juan Bautista Vasquez, Gregoria Vasquez (1700) from Columbia, and Francisco Goya, who made cartoons in 1771. As far as Spanish American or Spanish American Catholic artists, however, I am still looking. There seems to be a gap in the information, and there’s that problem of who is building the canon.
Saints with connections to Spain: Teresa of Avila, Francis Borgia, Luis of Granada, Ignatius, Peter of Alcantara, John of God, John of Avila, John of the Cross, Juan Diego, Isidore of Seville, Martin de Porres, Rose of Lima, Junipero Serra, Peter Claver, Francis Xavier
What I have found fascinating is how much Protestant English influence there was on how Spanish history has been explained (emphasize evil players; distort or delete the good players). Was this perception given by the British historians developed as a result of jealousy? Was it detraction in order to harm strong competitors? Was it just because the British Empire became so vast at one point that it owned most publishing houses throughout the world? Could it have been that politics now guided what was allowed to be printed? What was the intention? I don’t know. I just know that it is an obvious problem in historical narratives and commentaries. I wonder, sometimes, if the Protestant Reformation was actually the seed for nationalism and racism. No longer was writing histories a matter of searching for beauty, truth, talent and expression in all cultures as it had been with the Catholic Church. Literature became a way to devote energy to a political cause and a national identity.
Let me reiterate, here: I love English literature and culture! I love English people. When I learn things about history, however, it’s just somewhat disconcerting to realize that I don’t know my own American and Catholic history very well.
Another thing I have learned to be wary about when reading the canons of literature is that many of the Spanish authors that have been chosen in order to repair the problem of deletion/censorship that occurred by 19th and early 20th century Anglo-centric thinkers is that they continue to choose works according to former 20th century Anglo-elitist tastes and patronage; by the early 20th century, British tastes were dualistic and nihilistic; they tended to degrade just about everything—from men to motherhood to love—or to revolt against all authority and tradition in support of a progressive communism and population control. Spanish thinkers in the early 20th century, on the other hand, were exploring a different influence—that of Saint John of the Cross. However, totalitarianism or the imperialism of one thought even found its way to Spain, and cultural expression was suppressed even there. Unfortunately, because the United States became an English-only country in the early 20th century, American authors looked to English authors for narratives on history, literature, and culture. As a result, many Americans have some…interesting ideas about Spain.
When did Spain become Spain? Spain, at the time of exploration, was made of several different people from several different languages and religions and was not united until Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile joined in marriage in the 15th century; Muslims had held power in the Iberian peninsula since the 8th century; prior to 1492 when the Spanish monarchy took power, the Moors had enjoyed control of large portions of the Iberian peninsula. In other words, Spain had boundaries closer to what we know it as today towards the end of the 15th century, but it was really brand new in 1492.
The challenges European cultures faced prior to further exploration were widespread, devastating plagues that, according to some sources, annihilated half of the population by the 14th century as well as powerful and very large Empires from the East, Middle East, and Northern Africa. These conflicts with very large empires pushed the development of weaponry, and also added to the dissemination of Eastern knowledge into Western thought. Christians continued to influence the expansion of literacy, science, math, and learning, the development hospitals and care for the poor, the creation of laws to protect women, children, and strangers, and the openness to innovation, human interaction, and exploration.
Western scholars at the time spoke Latin in the universities, which helped in the diffusion of knowledge since Europe is made of several different cultures and languages. So, it’s hard to know much about Spanish exploration without knowing, first of all, the Italians. The Italian trade economy had been developing a strong middle class by the 1400’s, which led to a widening embrace of humanistic learning and thought via Latin, Greek, and Italian vernacular. Prior to this time, such scholars and explorers as Raymond Lully of Majorca, Albertus Magnus of Germany, Thomas Aquinas of Italy, Leonardo Fibonacci of Pisa (who adopted Arabic numerals for math), Roger Bacon of England, Francis of Assisi, and Dominic of Spain had been laying the groundwork for substantial innovation and exploration.
The context of Amerigo and Columbus. Many explorers were Italians who sailed in Spanish ships. The Italian, Amerigo Vespucci was educated by his Dominican uncle while Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy . About 75 years before these two men were born in 1451, Catherine of Siena, on the heels of Bridget of Sweden, had just managed to get the Pope back to Rome. Just 20 years before these two men were born, St. Joan of Arc, from France, was burned at the stake by English Catholics for being a witch—in hindsight, it rather seems that their egos were hurt because she had led the French to a victory in a major battle. 15 years before these two were born, the German Catholic, Gutenberg invented a new printing press and printed the Latin Vulgate. Within 30 years, the printing press was used for printing several kinds of works in several different languages.
When Amerigo and Cristoforo were nine-years-old, Prince Henry the Navigator, a Portuguese Catholic, built another university, but this university would have its primary focus on navigational techniques and technologies. 27 years later, Dias sailed around the southern tip of the African continent. 5 years after Dias’s adventure, Columbus finds what he thinks is the other side of India, no one from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, realizing the extensive continents that existed on the other side of the earth. Just one year after this historic and earth-connecting event, Catherine of Genoa, having survived a plague that had killed 75% of Genoans a few years prior, was able to write a treatise and dialogue for the Church. Think about the 75%. Disease was not something that Europeans escaped even during the time of exploration. Finally, in 1499, Amerigo Vespucci, still Italian but on a Portuguese ship, contends that Columbus did not find the other side of India but an entire new continent. Because he passed this map information onto a German, the continent would be read as Amerigo—the Americas.
Three things to note: the Spanish were contributing to human knowledge and innovation with several nations; there was a level of the harmony and cooperation brought by having a forum language (Latin) that did not subtract but added to the use of vernacular languages and literacy; the people of the Iberian peninsula were in an ideal location to disseminate knowledge and to explore these other parts of the world. With all that, exploration and contact with several new types of cultures began.
Suddenly, it became vastly important to further develop principles of international law. This would be done humanely and thoughtfully at the School of Salamanca in Spain by such thinkers like Vitorio, who taught from 1526-1540. Among other things, he taught that all peoples have a right to their life, property, and culture. Besides figuring out how to negotiate first contact, it is also clear that the people of the Iberian peninsula and Italy were discovering these new cultures faster and going further than any of the European neighbors in the north.
The Native Americans, however, were less advanced in weaponry and in the collaboration of knowledge; so, unlike the other European, African, and Eastern neighbors, the Spanish and Italians encountered a different sort of dilemma with this New World. The Native Americans were more susceptible to being overtaken by cultures who had garnered more power. Not all Spanish explorers approached this very different situation in the same way. Some would fall into the temptation to abuse the greater power they had; others would try to restrain and reprimand those who were not met with and prevented by an equal power. Father Bartoleme de las Casas convinced the king to pass the “Law of Burgos” (1512) in order to protect the Native Americans, and the Pope in 1537 again urged explorers to not abuse indigenous people with a decree. In 1542, de Vaca continued to urge people to see the humanity of the indigenous people. In some cases, economics seemed to overshadow Catholic influence despite Catholic missionary efforts to influence positively human interaction and development in the New World. There were successes and failures when people from one side of the world met the people from the other side of the world.
Multiple first contacts had multiple results. The Portuguese Catholic Ferdinand Magellan, in 1519, circumnavigated the world and found the Philippines . Hernando de Soto finds and crosses the Mississippi River by 1539, and one year later Hernando Alarcon finds the Colorado River while de Cardenas spreads news to Europe about the massive Grand Canyon. By 1542, Cabrillo had seen places around San Diego and Santa Monica . In 1565, Spanish explorers establish the first colony that would last unto today in St. Augustine, Florida, the first city in what would eventually be called the United States. It is here that many African slaves would find safe haven from England who had separated from Catholic countries a few years before . The Philippines had become a Spanish colony by 1571, but after the Spanish-American War (1898), the United States took over and would not let the Philippines become independent until 1946. Because Jefferson feared Spanish control of important ports in the South, he bought a large portion of land from the French, the Louisiana Purchase (1803).
All Spanish colonies became increasingly independent after 1810; Mexico became independent in 1821; some former Spanish colonies in Mexico became part of the U.S. after the Mexican-American War in 1846, the same year the concept of “manifest destiny” arose—Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California would become states with new boundaries that in some ways split cultures that had become accustomed to the boundaries that Spain had created. This was particularly harsh for some Native Americans since they had to now learn a third language/culture and would eventually be bounded by reservations under the newer government.
That said, by 1920 and because of increased nationalism and hatred toward religion, the Mexican government had killed nearly 300,000 Catholics; in the 1930’s, a revolution in Spain took the lives of 1 million people in an attempt to disestablish the Catholic Church; nearly 7,ooo priests and religious were martyred along with thirteen bishops. Because religious freedom was supported by the United States, disestablishment of the Catholic Church did not develop in the same way (a story for another post). However, some scholars contend that there have been far more lynchings of ethnically Mexican-American peoples than there has been of African Americans, but this problem has often fallen under the radar. It’s a complex dilemma, the changing of political boundaries.
While some regard the massive new interaction of people from both sides of the Earth to be a complete disaster, I think, it’s important to remember the good things that came despite some of the bad actions. The spread of literacy, the interaction and learning caused by interaction between cultures, the development of knowledge, the communication between people, and the improvement of what it means to be humane to others who seem outwardly different–these are all things humans were asked to learn as they became more innovative, energized, and explorative. Looking back, sure there have been mistakes. That is easy to do with any person’s, with any people’s history. The question is, do we learn from those mistakes? The obvious point is as time advances, humanity is being asked to communicate between and within cultures. It sounds easy, but when applied, this has been a very difficult step for every one of us. I think the the mistakes that happen as well as the very good things that occur are illustrated profoundly in learning about Spanish, American, and Catholic history.
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