Spanish American Saints and the Rhetoric of Identity, 1600-1810
Spanish American civilization developed over several generations as Iberian-born settlers and their "New World" descendants adapted Old World institutions, beliefs, and literary forms to diverse American social contexts. Like their European forebears, criollos—descendants of Spanish immigrants who called the New World home—preserved the memory of persons of extraordinary Roman Catholic piety in a centuries-old literary form known as the saint's Life. These criollo religious biographies reflect not only traditional Roman Catholic values but also such New World concerns as immigration, racial mixing, and English piracy. Ronald Morgan examines the collective function of the saint's Life from 1600 to the end of the colonial period, arguing that this literary form served not only to prove the protagonist’s sanctity and move the faithful to veneration but also to reinforce sentiments of group pride and solidarity. When criollos praised americano saints, he explains, they also called attention to their own virtues and achievements. Morgan analyzes the printed hagiographies of five New World holy persons: Blessed Sebastián de Aparicio (Mexico), St. Rosa de Lima (Peru), St. Mariana de Jesús (Ecuador), Catarina de San Juan (Mexico), and St. Felipe de Jesús (Mexico). Through close readings of these texts, he explores the significance of holy persons as cultural and political symbols. By highlighting this convergence of religious and sociopolitical discourse, Morgan sheds important light on the growth of Spanish American self-consciousness and criollo identity formation. By focusing on the biographical process itself, Morgan demonstrates the importance of reading each hagiographic text for its idiosyncrasies rather than its conventional features. His work offers new insight into the Latin American cult of saints, inviting scholars to look beyond the isolated lives of individuals to the cultural and social milieus in which their sanctity originated and their public reputations took shape.
"These biographies tell the story of how the elite criollo population used an Old World religious genre to create their own history and identity in a non-European context. . . . An important contribution to our store of stories about the colonial period and its peoples. Morgan writes in clear, jargon-free prose that appeals to general readers and offers extensive endnotes for students and scholars." Catholic Historical Review"Supported by extensive research of the written sources on which he relies, and providing a close analysis of the historical setting of all hagiographers and each one of their subjects, this book belongs in the realm of intellectual history. The central point made by the author is that writing is embedded in a cultural tradition as well as in the social circumstances of the writers and their subjects. While the search for the formation of multiple colonial visions of the 'self' continues, an incursion into religious writing may pay high dividends for those interested in this topic. This work proves it." The Americas"Morgan employs a fascinating interdisciplinary approach to the understanding of criollo identity in Colonial Spanish America." —New Mexico Historical Review