Thursday, February 9, 2012

Nicolas de Aguilar

Nicolas de Aguilar (b. 1627 d. after 1664) a Mestizo, was a Spanish official in New Mexico. He was tried for heresy and found guilty by the Inquisition. Aguilar was born in Yuriripundaro in the Mexican state of Michoacán. His grandfather was one of the Spanish conquistadors of the province. His grandmother and mother were probably P'urhĂ©pecha Indians. When Aguilar was 18 he left home to live near the northern Mexican city of Parral, Chihuahua where he worked as a miner and soldier. In the New Mexico colony, the Franciscan missionaries had set up a theocracy among the Pueblo Indians. Several Franciscan missionaries lived among the Salinas Pueblos. During Governor Lopez’s inspection of Las Salinas in October 1659, he detected several abuses of Indians by the Franciscans. He established the policy the Aguilar was to use his powers to enforce civil law and not permit the Franciscans to punish religious infractions by Indians. Aguilar carried out this policy so enthusiastically that the Franciscans were soon calling him “Attila.”

The Franciscans often demanded that the Indians work for them without pay. Aguilar enforced a prohibition against Indians working for the Franciscans without pay, including as members of the choir in the churches or as volunteers. Moreover he decreed that Indians were not to be flogged or punished in any way for offenses against the church. On one Sunday Aguilar and a priest clashed during a church service and Aguilar ordered all the Indians to leave. On another occasion Aguilar ordered Indians not to gather firewood for the friars. His rationale was that it was dangerous for the Indians to go into the mountains for firewood given the proximity of Apache Indians. On a third occasion he had an Indian Church official whipped for disciplining two Indian girls accused of being concubines. The issue, however, that truly infuriated the missionaries was Governor Lopez’s permission to the Pueblos to practice their traditional dances and ceremonies, believed by the Franciscans to be idolatrous. This was a direct swipe at the authority of the Church. Aguilar further inflamed the situation by ordering Christian Indians to participate in the dances. Lopez charged that the Franciscans were not observing their vows of poverty and chastity.

The Franciscans duly noted all the offenses against them by Lopez, Aguilar, and other officials. In 1660, the Franciscans publicly excommunicated Aguilar. He turned his back on the clerical judge said "he did not care for all the excommunications in the world." The judge resigned 'saying he did not wish to proceed with people who had no fear of God or censures."

In May 1662, the Franciscans had Aguilar and Governor and Mrs. Lopez arrested and turned over to Inquisition authorities. The men were chained and sent to Mexico City for trial. Aguilar was accused of simple heresy; the governor and his wife were charged with the more serious crime of “Judaic practices.” Nicolas de Aguilar was no fawning supplicant before the much feared Inquisition officials. He was described as a 36 year old man of “large body, coarse, and somewhat brown.” He dressed in crudely-woven and well-worn flannel trousers and a wool shirt. His total worldly belongings fit into a small box containing an extra set of clothing, several religious books, and a few good luck charms and medicinal herbs. He was charged with “obstructing the missionary program, inciting hostility toward the Franciscan friars and disrespect for the church and its teachings, undermining mission discipline, and encouraging native Kachina dances.” Aguilar gave a spirited defense of himself, denying all charges. His trial lasted 19 months and he was found guilty on all charges. He was sentenced to undergo a public auto de fe and banned from residence in New Mexico for ten years and holding government office for life. One of the four judges dissented from the ruling and the punishment was lenient considering the charges. Governor Lopez died during his trial.

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