Bernardino de Sahagún

Bernardino de Sahagún (Spanish: [beɾnaɾˈðino ðe saaˈɣun]; c. 1499 – October 23, 1590) was a Franciscan friar, missionary priest and pioneering ethnographer who participated in the Catholic evangelization of colonial New Spain (now Mexico). Born in Sahagún, Spain, in 1499, he journeyed to New Spain in 1529. He learned Nahuatl and spent more than 50 years in the study of Aztec beliefs, culture and history. Though he was primarily devoted to his missionary task, his extraordinary work documenting indigenous worldview and culture has earned him the title as “the first anthropologist."[1][2] He also contributed to the description of the Aztec language Nahuatl. He translated the Psalms, the Gospels, and a catechism into Nahuatl.

Sahagún is perhaps best known as the compiler of the Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España—in English, General History of the Things of New Spain—(hereinafter referred to as Historia General).[3] The most famous extant manuscript of the Historia General is the Florentine Codex. It is a codex consisting of 2,400 pages organized into twelve books, with approximately 2,500 illustrations drawn by native artists using both native and European techniques. The alphabetic text is bilingual in Spanish and Nahuatl on opposing folios, and the pictorials should be considered a third kind of text. It documents the culture, religious cosmology (worldview), ritual practices, society, economics, and history of the Aztec people, and in Book 12 gives an account of the conquest of Mexico from the Tenochtitlan-Tlatelolco point of view. In the process of putting together the Historia general, Sahagún pioneered new methods for gathering ethnographic information and validating its accuracy. The Historia general has been called "one of the most remarkable accounts of a non-Western culture ever composed,"[4] and Sahagún has been called the father of American ethnography.

Bernardino de Sahagún
Bernardino de sahagun
Bernardino de Ribeira

c. 1499
DiedFebruary 5, 1590 (aged 90–91)
OccupationFranciscan missionary

Education in Spain

Fray Bernardino de Sahagún

Fray Bernardino was born Bernardino de Rivera (Ribera, Ribeira) 1499 in Sahagún, Spain. He attended the University of Salamanca, where he was exposed to the currents of Renaissance humanism. During this period, the university at Salamanca was strongly influenced by Erasmus, and was a center for Spanish Franciscan intellectual life. It was there that he joined the Order of Friars Minor or Franciscans.[2] He was probably ordained around 1527. Entering the order he followed the Franciscan custom of changing his family name for the name of his birth town, becoming Bernardino de Sahagún.

Spanish conquistadores led by Hernán Cortez conquered the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (on the site of present-day Mexico City) in 1521, and Franciscan missionaries followed shortly thereafter in 1524. Sahagún was not in this first group of twelve friars, which arrived in New Spain in 1524. An account, in both Spanish and Nahúatl, of the disputation that these Franciscan friars held in Tenochtitlan soon after their arrival was made by Sahagún in 1564, in order to provide a model for future missionaries.[5] Thanks to his own academic and religious reputation, Sahagún was recruited in 1529 to join the missionary effort in New Spain.[2] He would spend the next 61 years there.

Evangelization of New Spain

Evangeliario leng mexicana.pdf
"Evangeliario en lengua mexicana" (Catecism in Nahuatl (Mexican language))

During the Age of Discovery, 1450–1700, Iberian rulers took a great interest in the missionary evangelization of indigenous peoples encountered in newly discovered lands. In Catholic Spain and Portugal, the missionary project was funded by Catholic monarchs under the patronato real issued by the Pope to ensure Catholic missionary work was part of a broader project of conquest and colonization.

The decades after the Spanish conquest witnessed a dramatic transformation of indigenous culture, a transformation with a religious dimension that contributed to the creation of Mexican culture. People from both the Spanish and indigenous cultures held a wide range of opinions and views about what was happening in this transformation.

The evangelization of New Spain was led by Franciscan, Dominican and Augustinian friars.[6] These religious orders established the Catholic Church in colonial New Spain, and directed it during most of the 16th century. The Franciscans in particular were enthusiastic about the new land and its people.

Franciscan friars who went to the New World were motivated by a desire to preach the Gospel to new peoples.[7] Many Franciscans were convinced that there was great religious meaning in the discovery and evangelization of these new peoples. They were astonished that such new peoples existed and believed that preaching to them would bring about the return of Christ and the end of time, a set of beliefs called millenarianism.[8] Concurrently, many of the friars were discontent with the corruption of European society, including, at times, the leadership of the Catholic Church. They believed that New Spain was the opportunity to revive the pure spirit of primitive Christianity. During the first decades of the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica, many indigenous people converted to Christianity, at least superficially.

The friars employed a large number of natives for the construction of churches and monasteries, not only for the construction itself, but also as artists, painters and sculptors, and their works were used for decoration and evangelization. In this process, the native artists added many references to their customs and beliefs: flowers, birds or geometric symbols. Friars thought the images were decorative, but the Natives recognized their strong religious connotation.[9][10] The mixture of Christian and Indian symbols has been described as Indocristiano or Indochristian art. Inspired by their Franciscan spirituality and Catholic humanism, the friars organized the indigenous peoples into utopian communities. There were massive waves of indigenous peoples converting to Catholicism, as measured by hundreds of thousands of baptisms in massive evangelization centers set up by the friars.[11]

In its initial stages, the colonial evangelization project appeared quite successful, despite the sometimes antagonizing behavior of the conquistadores. However, the indigenous people did not express their Christian faith the ways expected by the missionary friars. Many still practiced their pre-European contact religious rituals and maintained their ancestral beliefs, much as they had for hundreds or thousands of years, while also participating in Catholic worship. The friars had disagreements over how best to approach this problem, as well as disagreements about their mission, and how to determine success.

At the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco

Sahagún helped found the first European school of higher education in the Americas, the Colegio Imperial de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco in 1536, in what is now Mexico City. This later served as a base for his own research activities, as he recruited former students to work with him.[12] The college contributed to the blending of Spanish and indigenous cultures in what is now Mexico.

It became a vehicle for evangelization of students, as well as the recruiting and training of native men to the Catholic clergy; it was a center for the study of native languages, especially Nahuatl. The college contributed to the establishment of Catholic Christianity in New Spain and became an important institution for cultural exchange. Sahagún taught Latin and other subjects during its initial years.[13] Other friars taught grammar, history, religion, scripture, and philosophy. Native leaders were recruited to teach about native history and traditions, leading to controversy among colonial officials who were concerned with controlling the indigenous populations.[13] During this period, Franciscans who affirmed the full humanity and capacity of indigenous people were perceived as suspect by colonial officials and the Dominican Order. Some of the latter competitors hinted that the Friars were endorsing idolatry. The friars had to be careful in pursuing and defining their interactions with indigenous people.

Sahagún was one of several friars at the school who wrote notable accounts of indigenous life and culture.[14] Two notable products of the scholarship at the college are the first New World "herbal," and a map of what is now the Mexico City region.[15] An "herbal" is a catalog of plants and their uses, including descriptions and their medicinal applications. Such an herbal, the Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis, was written in Latin by Juan Badianus de la Cruz, an Aztec teacher at the college, perhaps with help from students or other teachers.[16] In this document, the plants are drawn, named and presented according to the Aztec system of organization. The text describes where the plants grow and how herbal medicines can be made from them. This "herbal" may have been used to teach indigenous medicine at the college.[17] The Mapa de Santa Cruz shows the urban areas, networks of roads and canals, pictures of activities such as fishing and farming, and the broader landscape context. The herbal and the map show the influence of both the Spanish and the Aztec cultures, and by their structure and style convey the blending of these cultures.

Work as a missionary

Psalmodia Christiana Bernardino de Sahagún 1583 title page
Title page, Psalmodia Christiana, 1583

In addition to teaching, Sahagún spent several extended periods outside of Mexico City, including in Tlalmanalco (1530–32); Xochimilco (1535), where he is known to have performed a marriage;[18] Tepepulco (1559–61), Huexotzinco, and also evangelized, led religious services, and provided religious instruction.[19] He was first and foremost a missionary, whose goal was to bring the peoples of the New World to the Catholic faith. He spent much time with the indigenous people in remote rural villages, as a Catholic priest, teacher, and missionary.

Sahagún was a gifted linguist, one of several Franciscans s. As an Order the Franciscans emphasized evangelization of the indigenous in their own languages. He began his study of Nahuatl while traveling across the Atlantic, learning from indigenous nobles who were returning to the New World from Spain. Later he was recognized as one of the Spaniards most proficient in this language.[2] Most of his writings reflect his Catholic missionary interests, and were designed to help churchmen preach in Nahuatl, or translate the Bible into Nahuatl, or provide religious instruction to indigenous peoples. Among his works in Nahuatl was a translation of the Psalms and a catechism.[20] He likely composed his Psalmodia Christiana in Tepepolco when he was gathering material for the Primeros Memoriales. It was published in 1583 by Pedro Ocharte, but circulated in New Spain prior to that in order to replace with Christian texts the songs and poetry of the Nahuas.[21] His curiosity drew him to learn more about the worldview of the Aztecs, and his linguistic skills enabled him to do so. Thus, Sahagún had the motivation, skills and disposition to study the people and their culture. He conducted field research in the indigenous language of Nahuatl. In 1547, he collected and recorded huehuetlatolli, Aztec formal orations given by elders for moral instruction, education of youth, and cultural construction of meaning.[2] Between 1553 and 1555 he interviewed indigenous leaders in order to gain their perspective on the Conquest of Mexico.[13] In 1585 he wrote a revision of the conquest narrative, published as Book 12 of the Florentine Codex, one of his last works before his death in 1590.

Field research

After the fervor of the early mass conversions in Mexico had subsided, Franciscan missionaries came to realize that they needed a better understanding of indigenous peoples in order effectively to pursue their work. Sahagún's life changed dramatically in 1558 when the new provincial of New Spain, Fray Francisco de Toral, commissioned him to write in Nahuatl about topics he considered useful for the missionary project. The provincial wanted Sahagún to formalize his study of native language and culture, so that he could share it with others. The priest had a free hand to conduct his investigations.[13] He conducted research for about twenty-five years, and spent the last fifteen or so editing, translating and copying. His field research activities can be grouped into an earlier period (1558–1561) and a later period (1561–1575).[22]

Florentine Codex IX Aztec Warriors
Aztec warriors as shown in the Florentine Codex.

From his early research, Sahagún wrote the text known as Primeros Memoriales. This served as the basis for his subsequent, larger Historia General.[23] He conducted his research at Tepeapulco, approximately 50 miles northeast of Mexico City, near present-day Hidalgo. There he spent two years interviewing approximately a dozen village elders in Nahuatl, assisted by native graduates of the college at Tlatelolco. Sahagún questioned the elders about the religious rituals and calendar, family, economic and political customs, and natural history. He interviewed them individually and in groups, and was thus able to evaluate the reliability of the information shared with him. His assistants spoke three languages (Nahuatl, Latin and Spanish). They participated in research and documentation, translation and interpretation, and they also painted illustrations. He published their names, described their work, and gave them credit. The pictures in the Primeros Memoriales convey a blend of indigenous and European artistic elements and influences.[24] Analysis of Sahagún's research activities in this earlier period indicates that he was developing and evaluating his own methods for gathering and verifying this information.[22]

During the period 1561-1575, Sahagún returned to Tlatelolco. He interviewed and consulted more elders and cultural authorities. He edited his prior work. He expanded the scope of his earlier research, and further developed his interviewing methods. He recast his project along the lines of the medieval encyclopedias. These were not encyclopedias in the contemporary sense, and can be better described as worldbooks, for they attempt to provide a relatively complete presentation of knowledge about the world.[25]


Sahagún was among the first to develop methods and strategies for gathering and validating knowledge of indigenous New World cultures. Much later, the scientific discipline of anthropology would formalize the methods of ethnography as a scientific research strategy for documenting the beliefs, behavior, social roles and relationships, and worldview of another culture, and for explaining these factors with reference to the logic of that culture. His research methods and strategies for validating information provided by his informants are precursors of the methods and strategies of modern ethnography.

He systematically gathered knowledge from a range of diverse informants, including women, who were recognized as having knowledge of indigenous culture and tradition. He compared the answers obtained from his various sources. Some passages in his writings appear to be transcriptions of informants' statements about religious beliefs, society or nature. Other passages clearly reflect a consistent set of questions presented to different informants with the aim of eliciting information on specific topics. Some passages reflect Sahagún's own narration of events or commentary.


During the period in which Sahagún conducted his research, the conquering Spaniards were greatly outnumbered by the conquered Aztecs, and were concerned about the threat of a native uprising. Some colonial authorities perceived his writings as potentially dangerous, since they lent credibility to native voices and perspectives. Sahagún was aware of the need to avoid running afoul of the Inquisition, which was established in Mexico in 1570.

Sahagún's work was originally conducted only in Nahuatl. To fend off suspicion and criticism, he translated sections of it into Spanish, submitted it to some fellow Franciscans for their review, and sent it to the King of Spain with some Friars returning home. His last years were difficult, because the utopian idealism of the first Franciscans in New Spain was fading while the Spanish colonial project continued as brutal and exploitative. In addition, millions of indigenous people died from repeated epidemics, as they had no immunity to Eurasian diseases. Some of his final writings express feelings of despair. The Crown replaced the religious orders with secular clergy, giving friars a much smaller role in the Catholic life of the colony. Franciscans newly arrived in the colony did not share the earlier Franciscans' faith and zeal about the capacity of the Indians. The pro-indigenous approach of the Franciscans and Sahagún became marginalized with passing years. The use of the Nahuatl Bible was banned, reflecting the broader global retrenchment of Catholicism under the Council of Trent.

Sahagún's Historia general was unknown outside Spain for about two centuries. In 1793 a bibliographer catalogued the Florentine Codex in the Laurentian Library in Florence.[26][27] The work is now carefully rebound in three volumes. A scholarly community of historians, anthropologists, art historians, and linguists has been investigating Sahagun's work, its subtleties and mysteries, for more than 200 years.[28]

The Historia general is the product one of the most remarkable social-science research projects ever conducted. It is not unique as a chronicle of encounters with the new world and its people, but it stands out due to Sahagún's effort to gather information about a foreign culture by querying people and perspectives from within that culture. "The scope of the Historia’s coverage of contact-period Central Mexico indigenous culture is remarkable, unmatched by any other sixteenth-century works that attempted to describe the native way of life.”[29] Foremost in his own mind, Sahagún was a Franciscan missionary, but he may also rightfully be given the title of father of American Ethnography.[1]

As a Franciscan Friar

Sahagún has been described as a missionary, ethnographer, linguist, folklorist, Renaissance humanist, historian and pro-indigenous.[14] Scholars have explained these roles as emerging from his identity as a missionary priest,[11] a participant in the Spanish evangelical fervor for converting newly encountered peoples,[30] and as a part of the broader Franciscan millenarian project.[8]

Founded by Francis of Assisi in the early 13th century, the Franciscan Friars emphasized devotion to the Incarnation, the humanity of Jesus Christ. Saint Francis developed and articulated this devotion based on his experiences of contemplative prayer in front the San Damiano Crucifix and the practice of compassion among lepers and social outcasts. Franciscan prayer includes the conscious remembering of the human life of Jesus[31] and the practice of care for the poor and marginalized.

Saint Francis’ intuitive approach was elaborated into a philosophical vision by subsequent Franciscan theologians, such as Bonaventure of Bagnoregio and John Duns Scotus, leading figures in the Franciscan intellectual tradition. The philosophy of Scotus is founded upon the primacy of the Incarnation, and may have been a particularly important influence on Sahagún, since Scotus’s philosophy was taught in Spain at this time. Scotus absorbed the intuitive insights of St. Francis of Assisi and his devotion to Jesus Christ as a human being, and expressed them in a broader vision of humanity.

A religious philosophical anthropology — a vision of humanity — may shape a missionary’s vision of human beings, and in turn the missionary's behavior on a cultural frontier.[30] The pro-indigenous approach of the Franciscan missionaries in New Spain is consistent with the philosophy of Franciscan John Duns Scotus. In particular, he outlined a philosophical anthropology that reflects a Franciscan spirit.[32]

Several specific dimensions of Sahagún's work (and that of other Franciscans in New Spain) reflect this philosophical anthropology. The native peoples were believed to have dignity and merited respect as human beings. The friars were, for the most part, deeply disturbed by the conquistadores' abuse of the native peoples. In Sahagún's collaborative approach, in which he consistently gave credit to his collaborators, especially Antonio Valeriano, the Franciscan value of community is expressed.[33]

In his five decades of research, he practiced a Franciscan philosophy of knowledge in action. He was not content to speculate about these new peoples, but met with, interviewed and interpreted them and their worldview as an expression of his faith. While others – in Europe and New Spain – were debating whether or not the indigenous peoples were human and had souls, Sahagún was interviewing them, seeking to understand who they were, how they loved each other, what they believed, and how they made sense of the world. He fell in love with their culture. Even as he expressed disgust at their continuing practice of human sacrifice and their idolatries, he spent five decades investigating Aztec culture.

Disillusionment with the "spiritual conquest"

Learning more about Aztec culture, Sahagún grew increasingly skeptical of the depth of the mass conversions in Mexico. He thought that many if not most of the conversions were superficial. He also became concerned about the tendency of his fellow Franciscan missionaries to misunderstand basic elements of traditional Aztec religious beliefs and cosmology. He became convinced that only by mastering native languages and worldviews could missionaries be effective in dealing with the Aztec people.[13] He began informal studies of indigenous peoples, their beliefs, and religious practices.

In the Florentine Codex, Sahagún wrote numerous introductions, addresses "to the reader", and interpolations in which he expresses his own views in Spanish.[34] In Book XI, The Earthly Things, he replaces a Spanish translation of Nahuatl entries on mountains and rocks to describe current idolatrous practices among the people. "Having discussed the springs, waters, and mountains, this seemed to me to be the opportune place to discuss the principal idolatries which were practiced and are still practiced in the waters and mountains."[35]

In this section, Sahagún denounces the association of the Virgin of Guadalupe with a pagan Meso-American deity. The Franciscans were then particularly hostile to this cult because of its potential for idolatrous practice, as it conflated the Virgin Mary with an ancient goddess.

At this place [Tepeyac], [the Indians] had a temple dedicated to the mother of the gods, whom they called Tonantzin, which means Our Mother. There they performed many sacrifices in honor of this goddess...And now that a church of Our Lady of Guadalupe is built there, they also call her Tonantzin, being motivated by the preachers who called Our Lady, the Mother of God, Tonantzin. It is not known for certain where the beginning of this Tonantzin may have originated, but this we know for certain, that, from its first usage, the word means that ancient Tonantzin. And it is something that should be remedied, for the correct [native] name of the Mother of God, Holy Mary, is not Tonantzin, but Dios inantzin. It appears to be a Satanic invention to cloak idolatry under the confusion of this name, Tonantzin.[36]

Sahagún explains that a church of Santa Ana has become a pilgrimage site for Toci (Nahuatl: "our grandmother"). He acknowledges that Saint Ann is the mother of the Virgin Mary, and therefore literally the grandmother of Jesus, but Sahagún writes:

All the people who come, as in times past, to the feast of Toci, come on the pretext of Saint Ann, but since the word [grandmother] is ambiguous, and they respect the olden ways, it is believable that they come more for the ancient than the modern. And thus, also in this place, idolatry appears to be cloaked because so many people come from such distant lands without Saint Ann's ever having performed any miracles there. It is more apparent that it is the ancient Toci rather than Saint Ann [whom they worship].[36]

But in this same section, Sahagún expressed his profound doubt that the Christian evangelization of the Indians would last in New Spain, particularly since the devastating plague of 1576 decimated the indigenous population and tested the survivors.

[A]s regards the Catholic Faith, [Mexico] is a sterile land and very laborious to cultivate, where the Catholic Faith has very shallow roots, and with much labor little fruit is produced, and from little cause that which is planted and cultivated withers. It seems to me the Catholic Faith can endure little time in these parts...And now, in the time of this plague, having tested the faith of those who come to confess, very few respond properly prior to the confession; thus we can be certain that, though preached to more than fifty years, if they were now left alone, if the Spanish nation were not to intercede, I am certain that in less than fifty years there would be no trace of the preaching which has been done for them.[37]

Sahagún's histories of the conquest

Sahagún wrote two versions of the conquest of Mexico, the first is Book 12 of the General History (1576) and the second is a revision completed in 1585. The version in the Historia General is the only narration of historical events, as opposed to information on general topics such as religious beliefs and practices and social structure. The 1576 text is exclusively from an indigenous, largely Tlatelolcan viewpoint.[38] He revised the account in 1585 in important ways, adding passages praising the Spanish, especially the conqueror Hernan Cortés, rather than adhering to the indigenous viewpoint.[39] The original of the 1585 manuscript is lost. In the late 20th century, a handwritten copy in Spanish was found by John B. Glass in the Boston Public Library, and has been published in facsimile and English translation, with comparisons to Book 12 of the General History.[40] In his introduction ("To the reader") to Book 12 of the Historia General, Sahagún claimed the history of the conquest was a linguistic tool so that friars would know the language of warfare and weapons.[41] Since compiling a history of the conquest from the point of view of the defeated Tenochtitlan-Tlatelolcan could be controversial for the Spanish crown, Sahagún may have been prudent in trying to shape how the history was perceived.[42] Sahagún's 1585 revision of the conquest narrative, which included praise for Cortés and the Spanish conquest, was completed in a period when work on indigenous texts was under attack. Sahagún likely wrote this version with that political situation well in mind, when a narrative of the conquest entirely from the defeated Mexicans' viewpoint was suspect.[43]


  • Coloquios y Doctrina Christiana con que los doce frailes de San Francisco enviados por el papa Adriano VI y por el emperador Carlos V, convirtieron a los indios de la Nueva España. Facsimile edition. Introduction and notes by Miguel León-Portilla. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México 1986.
  • The Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain, 12 volumes; translated by Arthur J. O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble; University of Utah Press (January 7, 2002), hardcover, ISBN 087480082X ISBN 978-0874800821
  • The Conquest of New Spain, 1585 Revision. translated by Howard F. Cline, notes and an introduction by S.L. Cline. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1989
  • Primeros Memoriales. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press 1996.
  • Psalmodia Christiana (1583). English translation by Arthur J.O. Anderson. Norman: University of Utah Press 1993.
  • Psalmodia Christiana (1583). Complete digital facsimile of the first edition from the John Carter Brown Library

Further reading

  • Edmonson, Munro S., ed. Sixteenth-Century Mexico: The Work of Sahagún. School of American Research Advanced Seminar Series 6. Albuquerque 1976.
  • Glass, John B. Sahagún: Reorganization of the Manuscrito de Tlatelolco, 1566-1569, part 1. Conemex Associates, Contributions to the Ethnohistory of Mexico 7. Lincoln Center MA 1978.
  • Nicolau d'Olwer, Luis and Howard F. Cline, "Bernardino de Sahagún, 1499-1590. A Sahagún and his Works," in Handbook of Middle America Indians, vol. 13. Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources, Howard F. Cline, editor. Austin: University of Texas Press 1973, pp. 186–207.
  • Klor de Alva, J. Jorge, et al., eds. The Work of Bernardino de Sahagún: Pioneer Ethnographer of Sixteenth-Century Mexico. Albany: Institute for Mesoamerican Studies SUNY, vol. 2. Austin 1988.
  • León-Portilla, Miguel, Bernardino de Sahagún: First Anthropologist, trans. Mauricio J. Mixco. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press 2002.
  • Nicholson, H.B., "Fray Bernardino De Sahagún: A Spanish Missionary in New Spain, 1529-1590," in Representing Aztec Ritual: Performance, Text, and Image in the Work of Sahagún, ed. Eloise Quiñones Keber. Boulder: University of Colorado Press, 2002.
  • Schwaller, John Frederick, ed. Sahagún at 500: Essays on the Quincentenary of the Birth of Fr. Bernardino de Sahagún, OFM. Berkeley: Academy of American Franciscan History, 2003.

External links


  1. ^ a b Arthur J.O. Anderson, "Sahagún: Career and Character" in Bernardino de Sahagún, Florentine Codex: The General History of the Things of New Spain, Introductions and Indices, Arthur J.O. Anderson and Charles Dibble, translators. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press 1982, p. 40.
  2. ^ a b c d e M. León-Portilla, Bernardino de Sahagún: The First Anthropologist (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2002), pp.
  3. ^ Bernardino de Sahagún, Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain (Translation of and Introduction to Historia General De Las Cosas De La Nueva España; 12 Volumes in 13 Books ), trans. Charles E. Dibble and Arthur J. O Anderson (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1950-1982).
  4. ^ H. B. Nicholson, "Fray Bernardino De Sahagún: A Spanish Missionary in New Spain, 1529-1590," in Representing Aztec Ritual: Performance, Text, and Image in the Work of Sahagún, ed. Eloise Quiñones Keber (Boulder: University of Colorado Press, 2002).
  5. ^ David A. Boruchoff, “Sahagún and the Theology of Missionary Work,” in Sahagún at 500: Essays on the Quincentenary of the Birth of Fr. Bernardino de Sahagún, OFM, ed. John Frederick Schwaller (Berkeley: Academy of American Franciscan History, 2003), pp. 59-102.
  6. ^ Jaime Lara, City, Temple, Stage: Eschatological Architecture and Liturgical Theatrics in New Spain (South Bend: University of Notre Dame, 2005).
  7. ^ Edwin Edward Sylvest, Motifs of Franciscan Mission Theory in Sixteenth Century New Spain Province of the Holy Gospel (Washington DC: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1975).
  8. ^ a b John Leddy Phelan, The Millennial Kingdom of the Franciscans in the New World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970).
  9. ^ Reyes-Valerio, Constantino, Arte Indocristiano, Escultura y pintura del siglo XVI en México, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2000
  10. ^ Eleanor Wake, Framing the Sacred: The Indian Churches of Early Colonial Mexico, University of Oklahoma Press (17 Mar 2010)
  11. ^ a b Lara, City, Temple, Stage: Eschatological Architecture and Liturgical Theatrics in New Spain.
  12. ^ León-Portilla, Bernardino De Sahagún: The First Anthropologist; Michael Mathes, The Americas' First Academic Library: Santa Cruz De Tlatelolco (Sacramento: California State Library, 1985).
  13. ^ a b c d e Nicholson, "Fray Bernardino De Sahagún: A Spanish Missionary in New Spain, 1529-1590.
  14. ^ a b Edmonson, ed., Sixteenth-Century Mexico: The Work of Sahagún.
  15. ^ Donald Robertson, Mexican Manuscript Painting of the Early Colonial Period (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959). 155-163.
  16. ^ Edmonson, ed., Sixteenth-Century Mexico: The Work of Sahagún., 156-8; William Gates, An Aztec Herbal: The Classic Codex of 1552 (Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 1939/2000).
  17. ^ Robertson, Mexican Manuscript Painting of the Early Colonial Period., 159.
  18. ^ Arthur J.O. Anderson, "Sahagún: Career and Character" in Bernardino de Sahagún, Florentine Codex: The General History of the Things of New Spain, Introductions and Indices, Arthur J.O. Anderson and Charles Dibble, translators. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press 1982, p. 32.
  19. ^ "14.Bernardino de Sahagún, 1499-1590. A. Sahagún and His Works" by Luis Nicolau D'Olwer and Howard F. Cline. Handbook of Middle American Indians 13. Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources, Part 2. Howard F. Cline, volume editor. Austin: University of Texas Press 1973, pp. 186-87
  20. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Bernardino de Sahagún" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  21. ^ Arthur J.O. Anderson, "Introduction" to the Psalmodia Christiana. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press 1993, pp. xv-xvi
  22. ^ a b López Austin, The Research Method of Fray Bernardino De Sahagún: The Questionnaires.
  23. ^ Thelma D. Sullivan, Primeros Memoriales: Paleography of Nahuatl Text and English Translation, ed. Arthur J. O. Anderson with H. B. Nicholson, Charles E. Dibble, Eloise Quiñones Keber, and Wayne Ruwet, vol. 200, Civilization of the American Indian (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997).
  24. ^ Ellen T. Baird, "Artists of Sahagun's Primeros Memoriales: A Question of Identity," in The Work of Bernardino De Sahagún, Pioneer Ethnographer of Sixteenth-Century Aztec Mexico, ed. J. Jorge Klor de Alva, H. B. Nicholson, and Eloise Quiñones Keber (Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1988), Ellen T. Baird, The Drawings of Sahagun's Primeros Memoriales: Structure and Style (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997).
  25. ^ Elizabeth Keen, The Journey of a Book: Bartholomew the Englishman and the Properties of Things (Canberra: ANU E-press, 2007).
  26. ^ Angelo Maria Bandini, Bibliotheca Leopldina Laurentiana, seu Catalofus Manuscriptorum qui nuper in Laurentiana translati sunt. Florence: typis Regiis, 1791-1793.
  27. ^ Dibble, "Sahagun's Historia", p. 16
  28. ^ For a history of this scholarly work, see Charles E. Dibble, "Sahagún's Historia in Florentine Codex: Introductions and Indices. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press 1982, pp.9-23; León-Portilla, Bernardino De Sahagún: The First Anthropologist.
  29. ^ Nicholson, "Fray Bernardino De Sahagún: A Spanish Missionary in New Spain, 1529-1590." page 27.
  30. ^ a b Sylvest, Motifs of Franciscan Mission Theory in Sixteenth Century New Spain Province of the Holy Gospel.
  31. ^ Ewert Cousins, "Francis of Assisi and Bonaventure: Mysticism and Theological Interpretation," in The Other Side of God, ed. Peter L. Berger (New York: Anchor Press, 1981), Ewert Cousins, "Francis of Assisi: Christian Mysticism at the Crossroads," in Mysticism and Religious Traditions, ed. S. Katz (New York: Oxford, 1983).
  32. ^ Mary Beth Ingham, CSJ, Scotus for Dunces: An Introduction to the Subtle Doctor (St. Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2003).
  33. ^ Robert Ricard, The Spiritual Conquest of Mexico, Translated by Lesley Byrd Simpson. Berkeley: University of California Press 1966, p.42.
  34. ^ Bernardino de Sahagún, Florentine Codex: Introductions and Indices, Arthur J.O. Anderson and Charles Dibble, translators. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press 1982.
  35. ^ Sahagún, Florentine Codex: Introduction and Indices, p.89.
  36. ^ a b Sahagún, Florentine Codex: Introduction and Indices, p. 90.
  37. ^ Sahagún, Florentine Codex: Introduction and Indices, pp.93-94,98.
  38. ^ Alfredo Lopez-Austin. "The Research Method of Fray Bernardino de Sahagún: The Questionnaires," in Sixteenth-Century Mexico: The Work of Sahagún. Edited by Munro S. Edmonson, 111-49. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press 1974.
  39. ^ S.L. Cline, "Revisionist Conquest History: Sahagún's Book XII," in The Work of Bernardino de Sahagún: Pioneer Ethnographer of Sixteenth-Century Aztec Mexico. Ed. Jorge Klor de Alva et al. Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, Studies on Culture and Society, vol. 2, 93-106. Albany: State University of New York, 1988.
  40. ^ Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, Conquest of New Spain, 1585 Revision. Translation by Howard F. Cline. Introduction and notes by S.L. Cline. Salt Lake City, University of Utah Press 1989.
  41. ^ Bernardino de Sahagún, Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain, Introductions and Indices, Arthur J.O. Anderson and Charles Dibble, translators. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press 1982, p. 101.
  42. ^ S.L. Cline, "Introduction" Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, Conquest of New Spain, 1585 Revision, Salt Lake City, University of Utah Press 1989, p. 3
  43. ^ Cline, "Revisionist Conquest History".
Antonio Valeriano

Antonio Valeriano (c. 1521–1605) was a colonial Mexican, Nahua scholar and politician. He was a collaborator with fray Bernardino de Sahagún in the creation of the twelve-volume General History of the Things of New Spain, the Florentine Codex, He served as judge-governor of both his home, Azcapotzalco, and of Tenochtitlan, in Spanish colonial New Spain.

Arthur J. O. Anderson

Arthur James Outram Anderson (November 26, 1907 – June 3, 1996) was an American anthropologist specializing in Aztec culture and translator of the Nahuatl language. He was renowned for his and Charles E. Dibble's translation of the Florentine Codex by fray Bernardino de Sahagún, a project which took 30 years. The two also published a modern English translation of Book XII of the Florentine Codex, which gives an indigenous account of the conquest of Mexico. Anderson translated and wrote an extensive introduction to fray Bernardino de Sahagún's Psalmodia Christiana (Christian Psalmody) He also edited and published translations of formal linguistic texts by eighteenth-century Mexican Jesuit Francisco de Clavigero (1731-1787) outlining rules of the Mexican (Nahuatl) language.


In Aztec mythology, Atlahua, Ahtlahua, Atlahoa, Atlavâ or Atlaua [aˈtɬawa] was a water god, fishermen and archer. There were said to be at least four ancient Aztec temples at which he was worshiped, the tallest supposedly being over 200 feet tall. The Aztecs prayed to him when there were deaths in water, such as when Hernando Cortez conquered Tenochtitlan (the Ancient Aztec capital on a lake, now Mexico City), and the lake was said to be "floating with heads and corpses".

The original image appears in General History of the Things of New Spain by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún: The Florentine Codex. Book II: The Ceremonies

Aztec medicine

The Aztec medicine concerns the body of knowledge, belief and a ritual surrounding human health and sickness, as observed among the Nahuatl-speaking people in the Aztec realm of central Mexico.

The Aztecs knew of and used an extensive inventory consisting of hundreds of different medicinal herbs and plants.

A variety of indigenous Nahua and Novohispanic written works survive from the conquest and later colonial periods that describe aspects of the Aztec system and practice of medicine and its remedies, incantations, practical administration, and cultural underpinnings. Elements of traditional medicinal practices and beliefs are still found among modern-day Nahua communities, often intermixed with European or other later influences.

Ciudad Sahagún

Ciudad Sahagún, officially called Fray Bernardino de Sahagún; is a little town in the municipality of Tepeapulco, within the State of Hidalgo, in Mexico. At its creation it was an important industrial center, but various economic problems have brought Ciudad Sahagún to the point of bankruptcy.

Coatepec Nahuatl

Coatepec Nahuatl is a variety of Nahuatl of southwestern Mexico State and Guerrero spoken by 1,400 people.

Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco

The Colegio de Santa Cruz in Tlatelolco, Mexico, the first European school of higher learning in the Americas, was established by the Franciscans in the 1530s with the intention, as is generally accepted, of preparing Native American boys for eventual ordination to the Catholic priesthood. Students trained in the colegio were important contributors to the work of Franciscan Bernardino de Sahagún in the creation of his monumental twelve-volume General History of the Things of New Spain, often referred to as the Florentine Codex. The failure of the colegio had long lasting consequences, with scholar Robert Ricard saying that "[h]ad the College of Tlatelolco given the country even one [native] bishop, the history of the Mexican Church might have been profoundly changed."

Exercicio quotidiano

The Exercicio quotidiano (older Spanish for "daily exercise"; modern spelling Ejercicio cotidiano; Spanish pronunciation: [exeɾˈθiθjo kotiˈðjano]) is a Nahuatl-language Christian religious manuscript, consisting of daily meditations with Latin passages taken from the New Testament.

The manuscript was originally composed in 1574, and is attributed to the Franciscan missionary Bernardino de Sahagún. However, it is unlikely that he wrote it personally, as by this time he had hand tremors that made it difficult for him to write. The extant manuscript of the Exercicio, currently in the Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois, is not the original but a copy made by the 17th century Nahua scribe Chimalpahin, who may have altered the text somewhat.The Exercicio has been translated into both Spanish and English by Arthur J. O. Anderson. The Spanish version was published in 1993 in Adiciones, apéndice a la postilla y ejercicio cotidiano (ISBN 968-36-2364-6), while the English version was published in 1997 in volume 2 of the Codex Chimalpahin series (ISBN 0-8061-2950-6).

Florentine Codex

The Florentine Codex is a 16th-century ethnographic research study in Mesoamerica by the Spanish Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún. Sahagún originally titled it: La Historia Universal de las Cosas de Nueva España (in English: The Universal History of the Things of New Spain). After a translation mistake, it was given the name Historia general de las Cosas de Nueva España. The best-preserved manuscript is commonly referred to as the Florentine Codex, as the codex is held in the Laurentian Library of Florence, Italy.

In partnership with Nahua men who were formerly his students at the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, Sahagún conducted research, organized evidence, wrote and edited his findings. He worked on this project from 1545 up until his death in 1590. The work consists of 2,400 pages organized into twelve books; more than 2,000 illustrations drawn by native artists provide vivid images of this era. It documents the culture, religious cosmology (worldview) and ritual practices, society, economics, and natural history of the Aztec people. It has been described as "one of the most remarkable accounts of a non-Western culture ever composed."The Americans Charles E. Dibble and Arthur J. O. Anderson were the first to translate the Codex from Nahuatl to English, in a project that took 30 years to complete. In 2012 high-resolution scans of all volumes of The Florentine Codex, in Nahuatl and Spanish, with illustrations, were added to the World Digital Library.

Juan Bautista Pomar

Juan Bautista (de) Pomar (c. 1535 – after 1601) was a mestizo descendant of the rulers of prehispanic Texcoco, a historian and writer on prehispanic Aztec history. He is the author of two major works. His Relación de Texcoco was written in response to the Relación geográfica ca.1580.According to references by Fray Juan de Torquemada, he was born around 1535 at Texcoco. He was the great grandson of Nezahualcoyotl, and was of mixed indigenous and Spanish heritage on his father's side. Considered noble by the Spaniards, he was able to obtain one of his great-grandfather's royal houses, known as the Nezahualcoyotl, in Texcoco.

Pomar was raised as a Christian but learned Aztec tradition from his mother. He was bilingual and spoke and wrote in both Spanish and the native language of the Aztecs, Nahuatl. He is credited with one of the most important compilations of Nahuatl poetry, Romances de los señores de Nueva España.Pomar's major work includes an account of the Aztecs and Tlatelolcas Relación de Juan Bautista Pomar completed in 1582. He interviewed aged Nahuas, who recounted memory of the older and lost customs of their people. His account, written at the suggestion of the protomedic of Philip II of Spain, complements with the works of Bernardino de Sahagún and Fernando Alva Ixtlilxochitl.

La Conquista (opera)

La Conquista (also known as Montezuma) is an opera in two acts by Lorenzo Ferrero set to a trilingual libretto by the composer and Frances Karttunen, based on a concept by Alessandro Baricco. It depicts the major episodes of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521 and the subsequent destruction of the Aztec civilization. The libretto (English-Spanish-Nahuatl) is a blend of historical and literary sources drawn from transcriptions of indigenous and European literature, both kept, with some exceptions, in their original languages. The texts are taken from The Truthful History of the Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Díaz del Castillo, the Book XII of the Florentine Codex, the works of Juan Boscán Almogáver, Bernardino de Sahagún, Lope de Vega, Heinrich Heine, and from Aztec prayers, songs and poems as collected in Cantares Mexicanos and Romances de los señores de Nueva España.

The musical language owes very little to ethnic influences, but the use of the Nahuatl language, characterized by the presence of distinct short and long vowels, imposes a specific rhythm to the vocal part.

Moctezuma II

Moctezuma II (c. 1466 – 29 June 1520), variant spellings include Montezuma, Moteuczoma, Motecuhzoma, Motēuczōmah, Muteczuma, and referred to in full by early Nahuatl texts as Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin (Moctezuma the Younger, modern Nahuatl pronunciation ), was the ninth tlatoani or ruler of Tenochtitlán, reigning from 1502 to 1520. The first contact between indigenous civilizations of Mesoamerica and Europeans took place during his reign, and he was killed during the initial stages of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, when conquistador Hernán Cortés and his men fought to escape from the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan.

During his reign the Aztec Empire reached its greatest size. Through warfare, Moctezuma expanded the territory as far south as Xoconosco in Chiapas and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and incorporated the Zapotec and Yopi people into the empire. He changed the previous meritocratic system of social hierarchy and widened the divide between pipiltin (nobles) and macehualtin (commoners) by prohibiting commoners from working in the royal palaces.The portrayal of Moctezuma in history has mostly been colored by his role as ruler of a defeated nation, and many sources describe him as weak-willed and indecisive. The biases of some historical sources make it difficult to understand his actions during the Spanish invasion.

New Fire ceremony

The New Fire Ceremony (in Nahuatl xiuhmolpilli—the Binding of the Years) was an Aztec ceremony performed once every 52 years — a full cycle of the Aztec calendar— in order to stave off the end of the world.

The first Aztec New Fire ceremony described in ethnohistorical sources was in 1090, according to the Mapa Sigüenza. But there is evidence of New Fire ceremonies having been celebrated in civilizations other and earlier than the Aztecs, for example at Xochicalco in the 6th century. According to Bernardino de Sahagún, the last New Fire ceremony was held in 1507; the tradition ended with the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1519–1521.

The fact that New Fire ceremonies had been celebrated before the rise of the Aztec empire suggests that the Aztecs had inherited the ceremony from earlier civilizations of central Mexico and that it was not an original Aztec invention. The Anales de Tlatelolco mention that the Aztecs upon achieving independence of the Tepanec state celebrated a New Fire ceremony that marked the beginning of the calendric count of the Aztecs. This suggests that the ceremony was also used as a dynastic foundation rite.


In Aztec religion, Painal (also spelled Paynal or Painalton, "Little Painal"; also spelled Paynalton; Classical Nahuatl: Payīnal [paˈjiːnaɬ], Payīnaltōn, Payīnaltzin) was a god (teotl) who served as a representative of Huitzilopochtli.Bernardo de Sahagún's General History of the Things of New Spain, commonly called the Florentine Codex, briefly describes Painal thus:

Paynal was "the delegate," "the substitute," "the deputy," because he represented Uitzilopchtli. When there was a procession he was given the name Paynal, because they pressed him on quickly; he was made to hasten.


Pochteca (singular pochtecatl) were professional, long-distance traveling merchants in the Aztec Empire. They were a small, but important class as they not only facilitated commerce, but also communicated vital information across the empire and beyond its borders. The trade or commerce was referred to as pochtecayotl. The pochteca also traveled outside the empire to trade with neighboring lands throughout Mesoamerica. Because of their extensive travel and knowledge of the empire, pochteca were often employed as spies. The subject of Book 9 of the Florentine Codex (1576), compiled by Bernardino de Sahagún, is the pochteca.


Pozole (Nahuatl languages: pozolli Spanish pronunciation: [po'sole], pozole), which means "hominy", is a traditional soup or stew from Mexico. It is made from hominy, with meat (typically pork), and can be seasoned and garnished with shredded lettuce, chile peppers, onion, garlic, radishes, avocado, salsa or limes. Pozole is typically served on New Year's Eve to celebrate the new year.

It is a typical dish in various states such as Nayarit, Sinaloa, Michoacán, Guerrero, Zacatecas, Jalisco, and Morelos. Pozole is served in Mexican restaurants worldwide.

Pozole is frequently served as a celebratory dish throughout Mexico and in Mexican communities outside Mexico. Common occasions include Mexico Independence Day, birthdays, Christmas and other holidays.

Primeros Memoriales

The Primeros Memoriales ("First Memoranda") is an illustrated Nahuatl-language manuscript compiled by the Franciscan missionary Bernardino de Sahagún and his indigenous assistants in Tepepulco as the first part of his project to document pre-Columbian Nahua society, known as the Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España ("General History of the Things of New Spain").

The name Primeros Memoriales was given to the manuscript by the Mexican historian and archivist Francisco del Paso y Troncoso, when he reproduced the work as a facsimile edition in 1906.

Slender-billed grackle

The slender-billed grackle (Quiscalus palustris) was a species of bird in the family Icteridae. The species was closely related to the western clade of the great-tailed grackle, from which it diverged quite recently, suspected to be around 2,000 years ago.The slender-billed grackle was endemic to central Mexico. It is recorded as having occurred in the Valley of Mexico and the Toluca Valley. Although later records indicated that it might be a marsh specialist, older observations recorded in the General History of the Things of New Spain by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún indicate that it was formerly found in cultivated areas and towns. The species went extinct around the turn of the 20th century.


A veintena is the Spanish-derived name for a 20-day period used in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican calendars. The division is often casually referred to as a "month", although it is not coordinated with the lunar cycle. The term is most frequently used with respect to the 365-day Aztec calendar, the xiuhpohualli, although 20-day periods are also used in the 365-day Maya calendar (the Mayan tun), as well as by other Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Zapotec and Mixtec.

The 365-day cycle is divided into 18 veintenas of 20 days each, giving 360 days; an additional 5 "nameless days" or nemontemi are appended to bring the total to 365.The name used for these periods in pre-Columbian times is unknown. In Nahuatl, the word for "twenty days" is cempōhualilhuitl [sempoːwalˈilwit͡ɬ] from the words cempōhualli [sempoːˈwalːi] "twenty" and ilhuitl [ˈilwit͡ɬ] "day". Through Spanish usage, the 20-day period of the Aztec calendar has become commonly known as a veintena. The Aztec word for moon is metztli, and this word is today to describe these 20-day periods, although as the sixteenth-century missionary and early ethnographer, Diego Durán explained:

In ancient times the year was composed of eighteen months, and thus it was observed by these Indian people. Since their months were made of no more than twenty days, these were all the days contained in a month, because they were not guided by the moon but by the days; therefore, the year had eighteen months. The days of the year were counted twenty by twenty.

Each 20-day period started on a Cipactli (Crocodile) day of the tonalpohualli for which a festival was held. The eighteen veintena are listed below. The dates in the chart are from the early eyewitnesses, Diego Durán and Bernardino de Sahagún. Each wrote what they learned from Nahua informants. Sahagún's date precedes the Durán's observations by several decades and is believed to be more recent to the Aztec surrender to the Spanish. Both are shown to emphasize the fact that the beginning of the Native new year became non-uniform as a result of an absence of the unifying force of Tenochtitlan after the Mexica defeat.

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