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December 21, 1990

Pages 6-7

American Almanac

Vasco de Quiroga and The City

of God In the New World
by Carlos Mendez

Vasco de Quiroga, bishop of Michoacan

"With great cause and rightly, this be called the 'New World,' not because it is
newly found, but because it is, in people and in almost everything, as the first
golden age was."
Vasco de Quiroga, Information en Derecho

The Virgin and the Catholic Sovereigns. This 1490 painting depicts King
Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, with their children, flanked by Saint
Thomas Aquinas and Saint Dominic, two years before Columbus's historic
founding of the New World.

"And I offer myself, with God's help, to begin to establish a generation of

upright Christians, as we all must be and God grant that we are, and perchance
like those of the primitive Church." --Vasco de Quiroga,

The Christianization of The New World: 500th Anniversary

Over the past decades, the academic, political, and even popular point of view
in the United States has been that the discovery, evangelization, and
colonization of North America constituted an aggression and a genocide
committed by the Spaniards against the indigenous peoples of the New World.
Like much else of our nation's history distorted by the liberal media, this is a
lie. It is a lie of specific origin: the Anglo-Dutch oligarchy's campaign to
slander Spain's evangelization of the Americas, a Christianizing mission
which developed as a scientific project of the Catholic Church's great Council
of Florence, of 1438-39. Today, as we approach the 500th anniversary of
Christopher Columbus's historic discovery of America, the purveyors of this
Black Legend are once again at work. For example, The Wilson Quarterly,
published by the Woodrow Wilson Center of Princeton University, dedicated
its summer 1990 edition to the 1992 anniversary, asserting that, rather than
celebrating the Christianization of the barbaric Indian tribes of the Americas,
we should celebrate "five hundred years of Indian Resistance." Writing in the
magazine, Peter Klaren, director of Latin American studies at George Washington University, attacked the Spaniards because they allowed the mixing of
races in the New World! Klaren held up the terrorist, drug-running Sendero
Luminoso gang of Peru as an admirable example of Indian resistance to
civilizing forces.

This propaganda offensive is an attack on the idea most central to Christian

evangelization mission in the New World: All men are created equal. Around
this view of mankind, as a species made in the image of God, the great
churchman and evangelizer Vasco de Quiroga built his life's work. It is
therefore appropriate that we begin a series of articles on the New World
project with a discussion of Don Vasco's mission to the Indians of New Spain
in Mexico.
Lyndon H. LaRouche has said that "what is crucial about Columbus's discovery is that it led directly to the evangelization of the Americas. Like the
attempted evangelization of Africa, the evangelization of the Americas was an
attempt to bring freedom, the freedom which exists only in Christian civilization, to a new continent. No other culture is capable of offering and sustaining
human freedom, because no other culture offers mankind a self-image in the
likeness of God. . . . To further Christian civilization is a great good in and of
itself: it liberates mankind from bestiality, as typified, in the case of the
Western hemisphere, by the degenerate, immoral, Aztecs."
As a nation, we can best celebrate that great historic moment when Columbus
set foot on our continent, by re-dedicating ourselves to the mission of the
sponsors of his voyage: to spread modern civilization, and its uplifted view of
humankind, across the globe.

Don Vasco de Quiroga (1485-1565), judge of the Segunda Audiencia1

which governed the Spanish colony in Mexico in 1530and later the first
bishop of Michoacan, was one of the principal builders of Christian, republican Mexico and especially its western region. The Augustinian model of the
cities he created showed itself to be the best means of evangelizing and
civilizing that was ever created in the New World. Don Vasco was the one
who best comprehended that the indigenous population could only be truly
Christianized at the same time they were being evangelized.
They were also educated in the highest concepts, provided with productive
labor, and taught to govern themselves on republican principles. This could
only succeed through building cities, and Don Vasco was, together with the
Franciscan Junipero Serra (1713-1784), the major city-builder in the New
A forceful demonstration of the correctness of Don Vasco's conceptionand
the success of its realizationis the fact that in a period of 25 years (from

1546 to 1579) the population of his bishopric almost quadrupled, (see the
graphic), while in this same time period the population of the other bishoprics
grew by scarcely 25 percent, or remained stable.
However, bringing his work to realization was not easy. From the very beginning of the colonization and first evangelization of the New World, until it
was no longer a colony, three centuries later, there was unleashed a war in
Ibero-America between those who regarded the indigenous inhabitants as
human beings created in the image and likeness of God, and those who saw
them as mere beasts to be enslaved or, in the best of cases, to be treated as
subjects possessing a limited amount of reason. This was denounced by Don
Vasco in his Information en derecho (Legal Brief), of July 24, 1535: "their
faces are branded as being slaves and they mark them and write on them the
symbol of the names of those who select them and buy them [whence they
pass] from hand to hand, and some there are who [are branded with] three or
four symbols . . . in such a way that the face of the man who was created in
the image of God, has played a role in this [part of the word], because of our
sins, not of the fool, but of the covetous, who are worse than the fools and
more harmful."
Considering the indigenous as created in the image and likeness of God means
to develop in them the divine spark of reason. To evangelize means to convert, to transform the individual and transmit to him or her the Christian
values by means of which he may be able to investigate, in the light of faith
and reason, the truth. Hence, to evangelize is to teach science, since to know
the truth is to know the coherent ordering of the universeof Creationin
order to be able to in this way "convert oneself into a conscious instrument of
the will of the Creator."
As for evangelization as such, the principal problem confronting the first
missionaries in New Spain was how to get the indigenous peoples, with a
primitive culture oriented around magic, and with a limited language, to
comprehend fundamental Christian concepts. How to get the indigenous
peoples to comprehend concepts such as God, the Trinity, and the idea that
God, in the person of the Holy Ghost, proceeds also from Christ, His Son
the notion of the Filioque? How to avoid that the new Christians would
simply repeat the catechism, like parrots? How to avoid that when one spoke
of the Christian God, the indigenous peoples didn't think of their pagan gods
and fall into syncretism?

The task in the New World, was not one of simply converting pagans, but of
educating pagans with a primitive culture and with a language incapableas
suchof assimilating superior concepts such as those of western Christian
culture. Nor was it merely a question of "hispanicizing," in the sense that
many racists want to give to this verb, but rather of getting the indigenous
peoples to incorporate Western Christian culture, of which at that moment,
Spain was the principal representative.
The problem was not academic but rigorously theological, and continues to
this day in missionary work and the systems of bilingual education in all of
Ibero-America. Consciously or not, people speak as they think or think as
they speak; and as they think, they act. Hence, language is not a question of
grammar or of vocabulary, rather of the axiomatic values for whose elaboration and translation language serves.
In New Spain, the problem put itself in terms of whether to translate into the
indigenous languages the texts of Christian doctrine, "indigenizing" its
principal words (concepts), or else, to teach the indigenous peoples Latin or
Spanish. The first implied the risk of syncretism; the second demanded
enormous work and an education process whose fruits would not be immediate, but would be the only true ones. Who best comprehended and solved this
problem was Don Vasco, as we shall see.
The other problem which cropped up very soon was: what should the first
Christians do? The friars were few and their economic resources nil, and once
the indigenous left the schools of the friars or the convents that taught doctrine, they remained exposed, without productive work by means of which to
develop the mind and sustain the body with dignity, in the midst of those who
overtly or covertly continued to practice idolatry. As Don Vasco, among
others, said, the friars had to re-send the already educated into the world, with
the grave risk that they might lose what was gained and return to "their own
idolatries and those of their fathers," or to misery and barbarism.
Don Vasco addressed this problem with the creation of his hospital-towns. He
wrote: "The friars ask us for a solution and we do not know nor is there any
other to give them, except the one of these new towns, where working and
tilling the soil, by their work they maintain themselves, and live in an orderly
fashion, with all good order of cleanliness and with holy and good and catholic ordinances . . . until in time they make a habit of virtue and it changes to
become their nature."

He added: "And I offer myself with God's help to begin to establish a generation of upright Christians, as we all must be and God grant that we are, and
perchance like those of the primitive church." (Letter to the Council of the
Indies, August 13, 1531) And this he did.

Vasco de Quiroga founded "hospital-towns," whose economy was based on the

principle of producing two times the food needed for a year, and in a labor day
of six hours. A near quadrupling of the population in his bishopric proves
conclusively that he made Utopia a reality in New Spain.

This drawing shows the arrival of Vasco de Quiroga in the city of Michoacan,
the seat of his bishopric.

The dome of Santa Fe of Mexico

church in the first town founded
by Vasco

The Hospital-Towns of Vasco de Quiroga

The most important feature of what were called the hospital-towns2 of Don
Vasco is that these were organized to elevate the mind and the standard of
living of their inhabitants. In the towns founded by Vasco the most important
things were the soul and the mind of the people, whose perfecting, in turn,
upgraded the quality of labor. The hospital-towns were organized around a
superior education for all their inhabitants, and everything else was subordinated to this objective.
Naturally, this demanded a self-expanding economy which should produce
enough to sustain the college, raise the standard of living of a growing
population, and capable of apportioning leisure time to its inhabitants to be
able to study.
So Don Vasco's hospital-towns were organized around a high school where
everyone could study together and for free: Spanish- or New-World-born,
mestizos, indigenous; to learn Spanish, Latin, and the indigenous languages,
and all the other things taught there.
The economy of the hospital-towns was based on the concept of producing
each year double the amount to be consumed, which avoided famines and
generated surpluses, a part of which was used to finance the school, and the
rest for primary education, the hospitals, and the acquisition of necessary
goods not produced locally.
So that the city-dwellers might have free time at their disposal for studying
and the arts, the work day consisted of six hoursquite remarkable in a
period when New Spain was dominated by slave labor.
At the same time, the indigenous were educated in the art of governing,
something which was done in the New World only by Don Vasco.
This was, in essence, the "secret" of Don Vasco.
In his Testament, dated January 24, 1565, just prior to his death, and in the
Ordinances which he left behind, Don Vasco explains the nature and function
and they had to continue to functionof his hospital-towns. Significantly,
Don Vasco begins his Testament by referring to what was the essential
objective of his cities, higher education:
First we declare that it is many years ago that I founded in this
city of Michoacan, in the district of Patzcuaro . . . the College [or

High School] of San Nicolas. . . . Therefore that, continuing the

said good work of sustaining the College of San Nicolas and so
that it not perish . . . with that the fruits, rents, parts and proportions of the whole, we might in our days sustain our house
and hold it and keep it for its whole population and how and in
what manner we will say below . . . it was ratified and confirmed
and, if it is necessary, we donate and endow all of the said, so that
it might maintain the College of San Nicolas which we founded
thus, for ever and ever, along with all the livestock and products,
as I have and possess it3, so that all of it might be used for the
said effect, without being able at any time to alienate the capital
of the whole, except only those fruits and rents and parts and
proportions, and this without any prejudice nor any innovation in
the rights that the said College of San Nicolas have acquired or
have been bequeathed in any way until this moment.
And in the same way, let there be read to and taught there for free
my servants and anyone else whom I might give, say, and charge;
and also let there be read and taught Christian doctrine and the
said morality, and to read and write to all the children of the
natives which go there to hear and to learn our language and to
teach to those of our nation theirs, and the students should also
know, everything gratis. . . . Inasmuch as they did everything,
the Indians of this City of Michoacan, by my prayer and
mandate, without having been well paid as they should have
been, let everything be left for them as is, perpetually for ever
and ever, to the said College of San Nicolas, with the charge that
in recompense and satisfaction for the work that the Indians of
this City of Michoacan and the Districts of the Laguna did there,
since they did this, and at their own cost, let there be taught gratis
there in perpetuity all the children of the Indians, residents and
those who sojourn in this said City of Michoacan and of the said
Districts of the Laguna, who also helped with that building, who
would wish to study and whose parents sent them to study there
and to be taught there in all that might be read and taught there,
and this gratis as said without their paying or being asked for
anything or having anything taken away from them, primarily in
the said Christian doctrine and morality which I had printed for
them for that purpose, in the said college, and where they are to
be taught gratis as said, in satisfaction and recompense for their

work, there and in any other place where the said Indians might
have labored, since no better or greater satisfaction than this
[gratis education] can be given them, paying attention to the
manner and quality and conditions, because this was and is the
intention of the founder, which we were.
Don Vasco died a poor man. The only thing he possessed was his personal
library of 626 books, which he donated to be installed in the room of the
Chapel of St. Ambrose at the College of San Nicolas, for the use of the
general population.
As for the education of children, besides the properly scholastic, Don Vasco
says in his Ordinances:
Item, that the manner of teaching agriculture to the children, from
leaving infancy, be the following: that after the hours in which
they are taught doctrine, two days a week they study agriculture,
bringing them with a teacher, or with another appointed in his
place, to the field in the countryside nearest to the school,
reserved or appointed for such, and this in the manner of
joyousness, play and pastime, one or two hours a day, and in
those days the hours of doctrinal teaching should be shortened,
since this is also doctrine and the teaching of good habits, with
their tools or the implements for this work which they all should
have, and that whatever they produce or benefit thereby, be for
them themselves, which be to their benefit and they should all
reap, and that they learn and benefit and divide up, after everything has been gathered up, not like children, but sensibly and
prudently, according to the age, capacity for work and diligence
of each one, according to the view and judgment of the teacher,
with some advantage to be promised and given to those who did
the better work.
Item, that the little girls also, within the family of their parents,
learn the womanly tasks given to them, adopted and necessary to
their profit and well-being and that of the Republic of the Hospital, such as are works in wool, linen, silk, and cotton and for all
that is necessary and accessory to the function of the weavers,
and that together they plan the earth to sow in their turn for their
houses and families.

The Bounty of Agriculture

As for the way to orient agricultural production, Don Vasco stipulates that:
Item, so that you will always have a surplus and so that nothing
will ever be lacking to you, you should sow every year the
double of what you need, the which you will keep in reserve until
you cannot fall short in all likelihood in the current year, and then
you will distribute it as is most fitting, but not before; and thus
you will do always, and this order and this reserve you will
always maintain in each year, twice as much as in the past you
might have tested and found sufficient, or at least a third part
more; the which you will never remove nor sell nor take away
from the surplus of the fertile years, until you might be certain,
by certain likely indications, that the next year which is about to
begin, cannot bring a crop failure, in all likelihood, nor be sterile.
Don Vasco's emphasis on surplus production might seem excessive if one did
not take into account that one of the worst scourges at the time were the socalled "cyclical crises of scarcity" of food, which every ten years decimated
the indigenous population. At least while Don Vasco was alive and while his
hospital-towns functioned as he had specified, not only did these never go
hungry, but, as we said, the population grew more than in the rest of the
regions of the country.
The other productive activities were also oriented in such a way that they
might satisfy the needs of the whole population, and be used for trading with
different products of other regions. In his Testament, Don Vasco stipulates
that the greater part of labor "should and must be in mechanical and other
functions useful and necessary to the said benefit and commonweal of the
Hospital-town and those within its gates, such as the trade of weaver and all
the others connected and pertaining to this trade, and stonemasons, carpenters,
bricklayers, blacksmiths, and others similar, useful and necessary to the republic of the Hospital, of the which let each of you learn his own . . . and not
others vain, useless, strange and corrupting."

Left, Friar Juan de Zumarraga, the first bishop of Mexico City, a close friend of
Vasco de Quiroga and one of the greatest evangelizers of New Spain. Right, The
front of the College of San Nicolas in Michoacan, built by Vasco de Quiroga in
the sixteenth century.

In the course of the sixteenth century, the hospital-town of Santa Fe de la

Laguna (Patzcuaro) grew to the extent of including 73 villages and suburbs,
clustered around. The most distant village was 10 leagues (about 25 miles)
away. According to the Augustinian chronicler, Father Pablo Beaumont, Don
Vasco succeeded in gathering up in Patzcuaro a population of 30,000 inhabitantsalthough he would have liked them to be "60,000 inhabitants."
Each suburb and each village had its own specific function: Janitzio made
nets for fishing; Tupataro, weaving equipment; Guanajo was a village of
carpenters; Parangaricutiro produced woolen blankets; Nuriotepacua, felt
sombreros; Santa Fe and Tzintzuntzan, earthenware; Zicuicho, sculptures
made of cornstalk paste; San Felipe smelted and forged iron; Santa Clara
produced copperware; Taretan cultivated sugar cane, and Santa Fe della
Laguna had (by royal grant) a mill and flour mill; Paracho fabricated guitars,
violins, harps, vihuelas, and various objects made of wood, etc., which are still
produced today and which at the time were in great demand in order parts of
the country.
Another Augustinian chronicler of the period, Father Diego de Basalenque
wrote that in Patzcuaro "they make houses, desks, dressers, picture frames
which they exchange with other cities. There are blacksmiths, tailors, shoemakers. . . . Others make . . . flutes, trumpets, bagpipes . . . others organs,

others paintings. . . . Here they manufactured bells and other things of copper,
since they were close to the mines. . . . (In San Felipe) they make bits, horseshoes, and spurs which the Spaniards transport to the cities."
Music in the Hospital-Towns
Perhaps nothing is more illustrative of the level of development in Don
Vasco's hospital-towns than the cultivation of singing and music. Unfortunately, although much has been said about this, there are no known documents
(scores, etc.), and the only thing we have are the testimony of the chroniclers
of the period, or of people who collaborated with Don Vasco. Don Vasco's
best biographer, Juan Joseph Moreno, writes that Don Vasco founded "a
seminary-college for the Indians" (San Nicolas) so that "there the children of
those born in the town or educated within this family might learn to read and
write, plain singing, and to play various musical instruments."
It is also known that there were orchestras which played at celebrations, and
that Don Vasco himself composed motets, but until today no example has
been found, even though, given the methodical person that Don Vasco was, it
must be assumed that such documentation did exist. Nonetheless, we can
affirm that the development of song and music reached a high level in the
hospital-towns, since in no other way is to be explained the "natural" disposition that still today the indigenous micheocanos have for playing musical
instruments, nor the musical tradition which has endured until the present in
the entire Michoacan region.
The hospital-towns were governed, according to Don Vasco's Ordinances in
the following way: The basic unit was the "family," composed of ten to
sixteen married couples of the same lineage, and the father was the authority
and in charge of the family. In addition, for each 30 families there was one
person in charge, and a "prefect" for each four of these. The heads of the
families nominated four candidates for Principal, whose term lasted three
years, or six years if re-elected. The term of the prefect was for one year.
These were all Indians and they appointed the rest of the officials necessary
for the smooth running of the hospital-town. The objective of having a term
to each office, was that everyone was to become educated in the art of governing, or as Don Vasco says: "in such a way that the wheel might turn to each of
the capable married [men]."
The highest authority was the rector, who had to be a Spanish priest who
spoke the native language. The term of office of rector was also three years,

but the rector could be elected for three more. The rector was appointed by
Don Vasco, and after his death, was to be appointed by the rector of the
College of San Nicolas, with the approval of the dean and the church council.
This school of government instituted by Don Vasco was also unique in the
New World. He taught Christian and republican self-government, unlike the
Jesuits, or Friar Bartolome de las Casas, who maintained that the Indians
should be governed by the indigenous caciques (chiefs). This Don Vasco
opposed, since he considered that in general the caciques were tyrants, who
enslaved the Indians and sold them to the encomenderosthe Spanish
officials in the region. De facto, Las Casas was proposing "to restore the
extinct Indian monarchies, under the distant and eminent sovereignty of the
Building the City of God
Canon Don Vasco arrived in New Spain in January of 1531, in capacity of
judge of the Segunda Audiencia, whose immediate object was to remedy the
disasters which had been created by the Primera Audiencia, presided over by
the bloodthirsty Nuno de Guzman, and to apply the new legal amendments
which prohibited slavery. Six months later, after he had studied the situation,
Quiroga wrote to the Council of the Indies his extensive and celebrated letter
of August 14, in which he said, among other things:
We also write about certain new Indian villages with regard to
which there is much to be done . . . in infertile areas which did
not profit the previous population, and with those areas which,
worked, could very well sustain these new villages. . . . Besides,
these new villages should be peopled with Indians who from
childhood should be brought up and taught doctrine with great
diligence and labor of the friars who are in these parts. . . .
Especially the Franciscans in this city and in its region wherever
they are . . . have a great number of these youngsters in their
houses and their monasteries, so well taught and indoctrinated,
that many of them, besides knowing what is meet for a good
Christian, know how to read and write in their own language and
in ours and in Latin and sing a capella or with the organ, know
how to read music, and others preach, something which very
much shows the glory of our Lord for which we should give
thanks to Him. However with all, it is fitting, so that this fruit be
made manifest upon the face of the earth . . . so that through lack

of grains it not perish, that we put in order and favor how these
new villages which I have mentioned have operated, where this
fruit should be harvested and if this structure of villages where
the harvest takes place is organized as it pleases God, this will be,
if I don't deceive myself, the most fair and most fertile August
anywhere in the world today.
Don Vasco was not a man of mere theories, but a true apostolic Christian.
Without waiting for a reply he began his work, and one year later, in August
1534, he bought with his own money the first land of what would soon be the
first hospital-town of Santa Fe de Mexico.
Quiroga founded this first town with a group of Indians who had been taught
Christian doctrine by the Franciscans and who were chosen by Father Antonia
de Ciudad Rodrigo, one of the celebrated "Twelve First" evangelists, according to his own testimony. In Santa Fe, there preached in these first years friars
as famous as the Franciscan, Fr. Luis de Fuensalida (another of the Twelve
First), and the Augustinian Friar Alonso Burja who resided there, teaching the
Indians to read, to write, and to sing.
Don Vasco's Opposition
From the time that Don Vasco founded Santa Fe, the encomenderos pitted
themselves against him, as did the Council of the City of Mexico, and even
the Marquis del Valle, Martin Cortes. The encomenderos alleged that the
Indians preferred to live in Santa Fe rather than working for them, that they
did not pay tribute or tithes, etc., and that all this affected the economic
resources of the Crown. The members of the Council argued that to build
Santa Fe, the Indians stopped working on the city's public works. Don Vasco
won all the litigation, but they continued until 1563, two years before his
Around the middle of 1533, Quiroga was sent by the Audiencia to Michoacan
to investigate the presumed abuses by the corregidor [Magistrate] against the
Indians. The matter settled, Quiroga spent a lot of time talkingwith the aid
of an interpreterwith the indigenous governor and with the Principals,
getting to know their situation and catechizing them. He spoke with them for
entire days, well into the evening, and finally proposed to them to build them
a hospital-town. It was formally founded on September 14 that very year.
In 1536, Don Vasco de Quiroga was named the first bishop of the recently
created diocese of Michoacan, being consecrated in that office toward the end

of December 1538 by his friend and collaborator, Friar Juan de Zumarraga, in

a ceremony in which he was ordainedsince Don Vasco was a lay member
an unusual event that brings to mind the case of Saint Ambrogio, also a lay
member, was named bishop of Milan in a ceremony in which he was ordained
at the same time.
With the authority that being a bishop gave him, Don Vasco was able to
consolidate and better develop the hospital-towns which he had conceived and
created when he was a judge. His being named bishop was received by all
men of good will with great enthusiasm, since as Zumarraga wrote in his letter
of February 8, 1537 to the Council of the Indies: "Of the election which Your
Majesty made [in choosing] the person of licentiate Quiroga for Michoacan . . .
I hold for certain and along with many others feel that it was one of the most
successful that Your Majesty has made in these parts for raising the Indians to
Paradise, and I think that is valued more by Your Majesty than gold and silver."
For his part, Don Vasco said: "Me, useless and entirely unfit for the execution
of such a great enterprise; me, who cannot manage an oar, me they elected the
first bishop of the city of Michoacan. And thus it happened that before learning, I began to teach, just as Father Ambrose and Augustine said of themselves, lamenting."
The first thing that Don Vasco did, no sooner had he received the papal bulls
with his nomination, was to take possession of his bishopric on the of August
6 1538, declaring that the seat would be in Patzcuarowhere he planned to
construct a great cathedral facing the lake, with five navesand where he
would construct "a hospital-college, where the physical well-being of the
natives and mestizos would be looked after, and their children taught and
liberated from blindness and the mists of ignorance."
Immediately, he began to gather together students and clerics, among them
Cristobal Cobrera, who had been brought up by Zumarraga and who would in
the future collaborate with Quiroga, who years later would ordain him a priest.
Unlike Las Casas who travelled alone all the time, like a steppenwolf, Don
Vasco always maintained relations of close collaboration with Bishop
Zumarraga, with the audiencia, and with the Franciscan and Augustinian
friars, asking them for teachers, studying their experiences, sending Indians to
be educated and trained at the San Jose College for Natives, founded by friar
Pedro of Ghent, and to the nearby College of Tiripetio, within Michoacan,
whose founding in 1540 by the Augustinian theologian, friar Alonso de la

Veracruz he celebrated with joy. His relation with friar Alonso was such, that
Don Vasco left him in charge of the bishopric when he had to go to Spain in
This extensive friendship and collaboration with the Erasmian Bishop
Zumarraga began from his arrival in New Spain, when Zumarraga gave him
his copy of Thomas More's Utopia to read, upon which book Don Vasco based
himself explicitly for the formal organization of his hospital-towns. In his
Informacion, Don Vasco describes More as "an illustrious man and of
superhuman genius . . . this author Thomas More was a great [scholar of]
Greek and a great expert with much authority."4
Don Vasco gave extraordinary importance to health care for the Indians,
scourged by famines and epidemic diseases. The sick, the blind, orphans and
widows received careful attention in his hospitals, of which he managed to
establish about 200 throughout his diocese, the which contributed a great deal
to what we already mentioned, the quadrupling of the population of his
bishopric in a period of time (1546-1579) when there occurred two of the
most terrible epidemics that scourged New Spain, in 1546 and 1576.
The lesson of Don Vasco is still alive, and shows that history could have been
different, as it can be today if we do what has to be done.
The Battle Against Slavery
One of the most important and well-founded arguments against slavery and in
favor of the education and development of the Indians is the cited Informacion en Derecho, motivated by the fact that the February 20, 1534, the Crown
and the Council of the Indies once again authorized slaves "held for ransom"
and the enslavement of prisoners of war. One of the principal tasks of the
Segunda Audiencia had been precisely to make sure the royal instructions of
the July 12, 1530 which prohibited enslavement of the Indians under any
pretext whatsoever, were carried out. A patent followed the royal instruction
dated August 12 the same year, emphasizing that the encomenderos had
abused their permission to acquire slaves made in war, by provoking wars to
this end, or else to acquire them by buying (slaves for "ransom") from the
indigenous caciquesand revoking any permission in this respect.

The frontispiece of Friar Juan de

Zumarraga's copy of Thomas
More's Utopia, which he loaned
to Vasco de Quiroga.

The English humanist Thomas More,

whose model of society in the book Utopia
was implemented in large part in the
hospital-towns of Vasco de Quiroga.

Seal of the bishop Vasco de Quiroga.

Naturally the encomenderos, especially those who owned mines, protested and
put pressure on the Crown and the Council of the Indies to revoke the said
patent, something which occurred on February 20, 1534. For their part, the
members of the Segunda Audiencia were indignant, and decided to write to
the Council of the Indies, as a group and individually. The Informe of Don
Quiroga is an extensive document (about equivalent to 130 pages of a modern
book), in which he demonstratessupporting his argument with very precise
quotations from St. Paul, St. Augustine, and St. Ambrose, among othersthat
there exists no good reason whatsoever to justify slavery of any kind.
At the same time he reiterates that the best way to fulfill the papal and royal
mandate to evangelize the Indians, is by way of building cities. Quiroga says
that, if the Indians flee from the Spaniards, it is not from resistance to being
Christianized but to being made slaves, since
to the works of peace and love, they would respond with peace
and good will, and to force and violence, . . . naturally they have
to respond with defense, because defense is a natural right and is
due to them, as well as to us, because the words and requests
made upon them even if the Spaniards say them and make them,
they do not understand, either not knowing or not wishing or not
being able to be properly understood, thus for failure of both
language and good will on our part for this; because [on the part
of some Spaniards] there is no absence of slave-interests for the
mines, which they have more in mind and with which they are
more concerned, than with whether [the Indians] understand
preaching or requests; and even if they understood, they believe
it a mere deceit and ruse of war, seeing [our] people in the field
so prepared and at the point of setting upon them. . . .
And if the truth must be told, it should be told thus, that veiling
the truth, or coloring and dissimulating the bad and remaining
silent about the truth, I do not know if this is prudent and
discreet, but I know for sure it is not my nature or position to
remain quiet and have to dissimulate, [while I neither] approve
nor consent, while my task obligates me to speak.
After explicitly and amply citing Thomas More and his Utopia, Quiroga
reiterates his proposal to create cities, where one might be able to provide
"remedy for the illnesses and pestilences which commonly destroy the others,
as they destroyed Troy and Babylon and Rome and other similar republics

which might have endured still today, if they had observed ordinances and
laws in them with a content similar to my views."
Finally, on November 20, 1542 the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain
approved what were called the New Laws, which prohibited the enslavement
of the Indians or demanding non-voluntary personal services of them; the
[grant of] encomienda was ordered taken away from those who had treated the
Indians badly; the inheriting of Indians was prohibited, and it was established
that the encomiendas which had belonged to the governors, prelates, monasteries or religious institutions were transferred from that date onward to be the
property of the Crown.
The Enemy: Usury
As one can see, the hospital-towns of Don Vasco had nothing to do with
supposedly communist primitives, nor with Rousseauvian experiences,
"autonomous ethnic states" or "popular churches," as many claim. By
adopting a model of city-buildingwhich he originally proposed for the
entire New Worldwe could have created a truly "new" world in the New
World, a City of God which would also have given impulse to a new
Renaissance in the Old World. What frustrated this possibility was the
"invisible hand" of the period: the usurious Venetian and Genoese bankers,
who had kept Habsburg Spain indebted. In the end, Spain rejected the
successful model of Don Vasco de Quiroga, and opted for the sack of the
coloniesand of herself.
In some fashion, the lesson of Don Vasco is still alive, and shows that history
could have been differentwhich it was in good measureas it can be today
if we do what has to be done. To take up again the spirit, this will, is the only
and best way to commemorate both the 1600th anniversary of the conversion
of St. Augustine and the 500th of the discovery and the First Evangelization of
Author's Notes
1. The Real Audiencia wasbesides the highest court of justicethe first
organ of government instituted in New Spain (in 1527), and was known as the
Primera Audiencia [roughly, first hearing/audience/court]. It was composed
of a president and four judges [oidor, from oir, to hear; cf. modern English
"hearing"]. The Prima Audiencia, presided over by the bloodthirsty Nuno de
Guzman, committed so many crimes and caused so many problems, that the
Crown had to depose it and, in 1530, name a Segunda [second] Audiencia, this

one presided over by bishop Don Sebastian Ramirez de Fundlear, of happy

memory. The first Vice-Regent of New Spain was the humanist Don Antonio
de Mendoza, who governed from 1542 to 1558. When the vice-regency was
created, the Audiencia functioned as a supreme court of justice and as a
consultative junta of the vice-regents. When the vice-regency remained
vacant for some reason, the president of the Audiencia assumed the mandate.
2. In the sixteenth century, the term hospitalfrom the Latin hospes,
"guest"meant "lodging," but also already had the meaning of providing
health care. The hospital-towns of Don Vasco were so in both senses.
3. Knowing the political and legal whimsicality of the crown, and the failure
to enforce the laws that did exist, Don Vasco bought with his own money the
land on which he constructed his first villages, organized cultivation of the
land, created industries, and obtained royal grants (such as exemption from
tribute and permission for certain industries, etc.), in such a way that his
villages were economically and politically independent of the government
(which does not mean they were separatist or anarchic). In making his Testament the way he did, Don Vasco was protecting the Indians.
4. Don Vasco knew the Utopia of Thomas Morepublished in 1516thanks
to the Erasmian bishop, Friar Juan de Zumarraga, who lent him a copy of the
said work. Although his idea about the necessity of building cities as the
place to educate the Indians preceded his reading of the Utopia, Don Vasco
used that book for the organization of his hospital-towns.
Translator's Note
1. The encomienda was a grant given by the Crown to exploit a certain area.