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The Nican Mopohua and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
Read a Spanish translation of this post by Myriam de Arteni.
Among the many treasures of the New York Public Library are documents created as the New World was explored and settled by Europeans and a hybrid culture emerged. James Lenox (1880-1880) whose books, manuscripts, and maps formed the great base for the Library's collection was interested in the history of the Americas. This blog post focuses on a set of documents long referred to as the Monumentos Guadalupanos, or Guadeloupean Monuments, and one document in particular, the Nican Mopohua. A facsimile edition of this historic manuscript is currently underway from SYL Creaciones Graficas and digital images are now part of the Library's Digital Collections.
A complete title of the Nican Mopohua was translated by the Library's Edwin B. Brownrigg as "Here reference is made in order and arrangement to the manner in which the Ever Virgin Saint Mary, Mother of God, recently and marvelously appeared in Tepeyac, which is called Guadalupe." Nican Mopohua is most often translated as simply "here it is told." It is composed in classical Nahautl, the language of the Aztec empire and spoken for centuries before Europeans arrived in central Mexico. Describing the Nican Mopohua and its four hundred year history is a challenge. I've attempted to highlight significant moments in the history of the document here in a novel way, including where it was written and how it came to New York City. Those interested in the Nican Mopohua are invited to read this blog and to expect a forthcoming post from the Library's Conservation Department that will focus on the paper and ink of the manuscript. I am also interested in sharing a new translation, so any potential reader with knowledge of classical Nahuatl is encouraged to offer comments below or to contact the Manuscripts and Archives Division to help support the continued study of colonial Latin America.
The Nican Mopohua recounts divine appearances of a beloved maiden to the devout Cuautitlán native, baptized as Juan Diego and canonized by Pope Jean Paul II, through a series of apparitions around 1531. The maiden told Juan Diego "Beloved son, go you to the bishop and tell him to build a church to me on this spot, so that from it I may give help and protection to the Mexican people in their sorrows and calamities." At first the Bishop ignored Juan Diego, so again the maiden appeared and told the young man to trek to the top of the hill of Tepeyac where he would find a rose garden. Juan Diego collected the Castilian roses in his tilma, or robe and upon their display to the Bishop was imprinted an image of La Morenita, Mother of God, on the garment. A similar story of an apparition of Mary occurred in Extremadura, Spain, the native province to Hernán Cortés where one of three Black Madonnas, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Extremadura, is located.
The real significance of the Nican Mopohua held at the New York Public Library is its possible date of authorship. Scholars contend it may be the earliest written version of the account of Juan Diego and the occurrences at the hill of Tepeyac. The manuscript may even be in the hand of the Nuhua scholar Anotonio Valeriano (ca. 1531-1605) and thus closer to an original account of Juan Diego's narrative than later printed versions. Thus, the manuscript also relates to Aztec traditions around Tepeyac as they were transformed by Catholic ritual in the middle of the sixteenth century. This was a time when the spirit of humanism was dominant among missionaries in New Spain. The three major orders of the Catholic Church, the Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, had then divided Mexico into missionary zones before the effects of the Counter-Reformation. The Franciscans were the first to arrive and thought it only logical for education be available for all. The bishop mentioned in Nican Mopohua itself, Juan de Zumárraga, was a Franciscan friar who became the first bishop of the Diocese of Mexico. Zumárraga supported the diffusion of the Bible to all and carried a copy of Thomas More's criticism of contemporary European society, Utopia, with him to Mexico. Despite the cruelty and greed of the Spanish Viceroyalty from Cortes to the Audiencias, Zumárraga held the position of Protectoría de indios. He and other missionaries considered full education in writing, theology, and philosophy essential to all citizens of New Spain. Zumárraga also held the powerful position of Inquisitor of Mexico and sought to flush out heresies against the Church. A man who understood the significance of the word, Zumárraga was guilty of destroying a great library of Pre-Columbian codices at Texcoco, Mexico. An approved Nahuatl text, the Nican Mopohua, was protected and passed down to future generations as a conversion narrative, a prime reason why it has survived and was later printed in the seventeenth century.
The Monumentos Guadalupanos arrived in New York from the 1880 sale of books related to Mexico from the Library of Senor Don Jose Fernando Ramirez in London. Representatives for James Lenox acquired items 379 and 380 at the London auction. As listed in the catalog, these items had been arranged to "comprise everything which the late indefatigable Mr. Ramirez was able to collect on both sides of the Atlantic, respecting this renowned sanctuary, embracing a period of more than three hundred years." The two series, the first formed by three volumes, and the second by two, is still maintained today.
José Fernando Ramírez (1804-1871), was a renowned Mexican lawyer, statesman, and historian. Raised in Durango and educated in law, Ramirez became an influential minister during the Second Mexican Empire. He was elected several times to high political office, served in the Senate, was a member of the Supreme Court, and headed the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior during the administrations of Presidents Herrera and Arista. An intellectual, Ramirez specialized in pre-Columbian and 16th century Mexican history. He also headed the Imperial Academy of Sciences and Literature, directed the National Museum (1852) and National Library (1857-1862.) During this time, President Juarez had sought to decrease the influence of the Church and decreed its accumulated properties, including monastic libraries in addition to gold, were to be forfeited and destroyed. It was around those years that Ramírez compiled the documents today known as Monumentos Guadalupanos. For these efforts, Ramirez relied upon the assistance and interpretation of Faustino Chimalpopoca Galicia, a descendant of the ancient Indian nobility. Galicia copied documents for Ramírez, as well as prepared their translations to Spanish. Some of the transcriptions and translations even show Galicia's signature. The limited number of biographies on Ramírez indicate that political troubles forced him to leave Mexico in 1867. Perhaps his career was threatened by the return to power of Juarez and Ramírez was then cast as a royalist sympathizer and faced exile. He died in Bonn, Germany, in 1871.
And so this precious document has been safely held at NYPL for over 100 years. I hope this post provides some historical context of the Nican Mopohua and serves to aid the continued transmission of a shared culture in the 21st century.