Travels in Mexico and life among the Mexicans/Chapter 15



TRAS la cruz está el Diablo, "The Devil lurks behind the cross," says the Spanish proverb. Nowhere is this more true than in Mexico. Indeed, his Satanic Majesty rarely takes the trouble to conceal himself, but openly thrusts his impudent face into every gathering of a religious nature that takes place. The religion of the present population of Mexico is extremely anomalous; though nominally Catholics, the Indians are mainly pagans, while the Mestizos and the Creoles have little but the outward semblance. Time, as usual, wreaks its revenges. We know in what manner the religion of the Spaniards was imposed upon the conquered Indians,—at the point of the sword, by the fire and rack. We know that they were "converted" to the new faith by the thousand at a time, and were reckoned good Christians as soon as baptized. We do not wonder, then, that after three hundred years of trial the native population should tacitly agree to the overthrow of priestly power and return to their idols, whom they have so long secretly cherished. Yet it seems strange to us that the successors of Juarez and Gomez Farrias, and those of their associates who are responsible for the downfall of the Church, should be allowed peacefully to rule as they do to-day. To be sure, the Church is exhausted; its final struggle was at the time of Maximilian, and when he fell, and its treasures were appropriated to the use of the nation, it lost more than gold,—it lost its prestige. Yes, the prestige of the Church is departed, never perhaps to return; its officers no longer command the popular respect, and its sanctuaries are no longer sacred from the touch of impious hands. Yet the priests of to-day are no worse than before, so far as their morals and faith are concerned; indeed, I believe they are more worthy of respect than formerly,—that their trials have purified them, and that they are capable, perhaps desirous, of wheeling to the right about, and joining the march of progress, leaving behind them the dead and corrupt superstitions that wrecked them and their hopes.

Stripped of their power by the enactments of 1857, the number of churches reduced to just enough to provide for the actual needs of the people, forbidden themselves to wear their priestly robes in the street, or to fill the air with the perpetual clamor of clanging bells, the clergy of Mexico have held a very painful position. Although we recognize the justness and necessity of the laws of reform, yet we cannot but pity those men in holy office when the thunderbolt fell, who now suffer for the sins of their predecessors.

But though religious processions through the street are prohibited in Mexico, the people do not fail to celebrate the feast days and the festivals. They respect not the Sabbath, nor the priest, but they have a sort of reverence for the saints. Of the three hundred and sixty-five saints in the Mexican calendar, not all, fortunately, are entitled to the honor of a holiday; but many are,—enough seriously to interfere with business, and consume the earnings of the people.

I witnessed several such festivities while in the country; but none seemed to me more grotesque and curious than that of Good Friday, when a final disposition was made of the arch-traitor Judas, against whom the Mexicans seem to have a special spite and wreak their vengeance upon him in a number of ingenious ways. All day long men are parading the streets with effigies of the betrayer hanging from poles, and hundreds are sold, especially to the children, who blow up these images with a gusto and delight only paralleled by our small boy on the Fourth of July. Each image, made of papier-maché, is filled with explosives, and has a fuse, like a fire-cracker, and is touched off by the juveniles amid great rejoicing. The thing culminates at evening, when immense Judases are hung up in prominent places, generally at the intersection of the streets, and exploded in the presence of delighted crowds. Then, also, the bells in the towers ring out their chorus of rejoicing, and a peculiar apparatus, also in the cathedral tower, makes a loud, crackling noise, which the crowds understand well to mean the breaking of the bones of the thieves on the cross.

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Travellers of forty years ago tell us of the murdering of men guilty of a failure to bend the knee at the approach of the Host, when passing through the street attended by the priests; but such a thing is no longer possible. I was surprised one day, on crossing the Plaza, at seeing everybody drop down upon their knees, and received some very black looks from some leperos because I did not do the same. As I turned, there swept by a coach drawn by four horses, containing the holy symbol, which the majority of the people yet respect, if they do not reverence.

Now, not all the feasts and festivals of Mexico are of Romish origin. Upon the remains of Aztec idolatry, says a writer, now dead, have been engrafted the baser ceremonies of the Romish Church. Let us go back to the pre-Spanish days, when the empire of Montezuma was in the height of its prosperity. Eighteen months of twenty days each composed the ancient Mexican year, which commenced in February, and every month had its festival. That of February was in honor of Tlaloc, god of storms; in March followed the cruel sacrifice to Xipé, god of the goldsmiths, and a second to Tlaloc, of children, who were drowned to insure abundant rains. In April, the flower-merchants offered garlands to Coatlicue, the Mexican Flora, and later to Centeotl, goddess of maize. On the fifth month fell the solemn festival in honor of Tezcatlipoca, the chief deity, when the bravest and handsomest of the prisoners in Aztec possession were sacrificed. In the same month occurred the feast of Huitzilopochtli, the Mexican war-god, during which another faultless victim was offered up. Tlaloc had a third and last festival in June, and the goddess of salt, Huixtocihuatl, claimed a female victim, when also the populace went hunting in the mountains and upon the lakes. In July a second feast to Centeotl, the Mexican Ceres, came to pass, when another female was sacrificed at the close of the day's rejoicings, just as the sun went down behind the purple hills. Then came the god of trade, and the god of fire, Xiuteuctli, and on the eleventh month the festival of Teteoinan, "mother of all the gods," when a female prisoner was beheaded, then flayed, and the bloody trophy presented to the god of war. In October came the great feast of Teotleco, "the coming of the gods," when the priests scattered maize meal in front of the sanctuary and watched for the sacred footprints of the principal deity. In November, the goddess of the chase, Mixcoatl, was honored, and then followed another great feast to the war-god and his brother, on the last of December. In the seventeenth month the god of hell, Mictlanteuctli, claimed a nocturnal sacrifice, and the god of the merchants a second feast. The horrid circle of sacrifices was completed on the 1st of February, when all the fires of the city were extinguished, and kindled anew from the flame TLM D303 Mother of the gods.jpgMOTHER OF THE GODS. on the altar of the god of fire. On the last of February took place the most impressive of all the festivals, that of the Teoxihuitl, or "divine years," at the beginning of the Aztec cycle, which fell due only once in a century (fifty two years) and was celebrated with great solemnity.

However much this list of the feasts and festivals of the ancient Mexicans is indebted for its length to the imagination of the Spanish chroniclers, it will at least be evident that these people had quite sufficient for all intents and purposes before the imposition upon them of those pertaining to the Roman Catholic Church. The Spanish clergy labored many years to abolish the remembrance of them, and to substitute their own less barbarous fasts, feasts, and symbols. Although the Indian long clung to his cherished idols, he finally transferred his allegiance from the native to the foreign gods, and entered with great gusto into the celebrations and processions which the clergy got up for his edification. These at last came to be such an intolerable nuisance that government abolished them, so far as processions were concerned, and now, except in certain isolated districts, no religious pageant is allowed to parade the streets.

Besides the feast-days pertaining to the Romish calendar, the following are the legalized holidays, or memorials, on which the national flag is displayed:— Jan. 23, King of Spain; Feb. 5, anniversary of the Constitution of '57; Feb. 22, Washington's birthday; March 14, King of Italy; March 21, birthday of Juarez; 22, of Emperor of Germany; April 1, opening of Congress; May 5 (Cinco de Mayo), victory at Puebla, over the French; May 8, birthday of Hidalgo; May 15, taking of Queretaro; 31, closing of Congress; June I, Italy; June 8, birthday of President of the Republic (Gonzalez); 21, taking of the city of Mexico, 1867; July 4, Independence of the United States; 9, of the Argentine Republic; 14, storming of the Bastile; July 18, death of Juarez; 20, Independence of United States of Colombia; 28, of Peru; 30, death of Hidalgo; Sept. 15, Independence of Guatemala; 15 and 16, Independence of Mexico (Grito de Dolores); 16, opening of the Senate; Nov. 15, birthday of King of Belgium; Dec. 15, close of the Senate.

But to return to our original question, What is the present religious status of the Mexican Indian to-day? Practically, says a writer who studied them long and thoroughly, "there is not much difference between the old heathenism and the new Christianity. We may put the dogmas out of the question. They hear them, and believe in them devoutly, and do not understand them in the least. They receive the Immaculate Conception, as they have received many mysteries before it; and are not a little delighted to have a new occasion for decorating themselves and their churches with flowers, marching in processions, dancing, beating drums, and letting off rockets by daylight, as their manner is. The real essence of both religions is the same to them; they had gods to whom they built temples, and in whose honor they gave offerings, maintained priests, and danced,—much as they do now,—that their divinities might be favorable to them and give them good crops and success in their enterprises. This is pretty much what their Christianity consists of. As a moral influence, working upon the character of the people, it seems scarcely to have had the slightest effect, except in causing them to leave off human sacrifices, which were probably not an original feature of their worship, but were introduced at a comparatively late time, and had already been abolished by one of the kings of the valley of Mexico."

Without denying that the Catholic Church has the ability to institute a reform, and has within its folds upright and pure minded men enough among its clergy to carry it out, yet up to the present time it has not chosen so to do. Upon the institution of the Laws of Reform the people were released from the grasp of the ecclesiastical courts, and the vast majority, though nominally Catholics, were in danger of lapsing into infidelity. It is not my wish to criticise or condemn, for I look upon the Church of Mexico of to-day as the victim, to a great extent, of the past, chained and shackled by the enactments and superstitious ignorance of its founders. But if that Church ever cherished the wish to elevate and regenerate itself and its worshippers, it neglected the occasion when, the French usurpers banished and internal rebellions quelled, peace finally settled down upon the distracted country. Then was the golden opportunity, which, had it been embraced, would have carried Mexico farther onward towards its goal in the path of progress and enlightenment than electricity or steam.

The three great civilizing forces of Mexico, the railroads, telegraphs, and an active religion, are extraneous,—from without the borders of the country. God and Liberty, Dios y Libertad, was the watchword of the republic in those times that tried the souls of Mexico's bravest sons; but liberty to worship God, except after the manner prescribed by the mother Church, was not for a moment entertained.

The first copies of the Scriptures,[1] it is said, entered Mexico with the invading American army, in 1846; but the example of our heroes of that war,—their courage, high devotion to duty, the respect for the rights of, and their forbearance towards, the conquered people,—alone caused many Catholics to become sceptics. The firm stand of the patriot President, Juarez, TLM D306 A vender of holy relics.jpgA VENDER OF HOLY RELICS. encouraged the friends of mission work in this country. In September, 1862, we find the Rev. James Hickey, a Baptist minister, laboring in Matamoras as an independent missionary, and in the November following in Monterey, the northern capital, preaching from house to house and distributing Bibles. On the 1st of March, 1863, he delivered the first Protestant discourse to the public which was ever heard in Monterey, and in that year received as an assistant, who eventually became his successor, the Rev. Thomas M. Westrup, who was appointed as missionary by the American Baptist Home Mission Society of New York.

At present there are fifteen Protestant missions in Mexico, representing twelve Christian bodies. These entered the field in the following order: Baptists (1863), Church of Jesus (1869), Quakers (1871), Presbyterians (1872), Methodist Episcopal Church South (Border Mission 1872, Central Mission 1873), English Independent Mission (1872), Methodist Episcopal (1873), Southern Presbyterians (1874), Associate Reformed Presbyterians (1878), Congregational (1880), Independents (1882), and Southern Baptists (1882).

By way of explanation, it should be observed here, that Miss Rankin, a noble Christian woman, who had been laboring at Brownsville since 1855, crossed the Rio Grande about a year ahead of the Baptists. She at once began the establishment of Christian schools, and soon after, by the assistance of her own trained workers, she established several congregations in the vicinity of Monterey. She was in fact like a bishop among her people, doing a thoroughly good work. Later, her mission was passed over to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, who, in turn, resigned that part of their work to the Presbyterians about 1875.

After a lengthy correspondence with parties now in the field, we find that the Baptists were the first to enter Mexico in a formal way. But we must not fail clearly to state that a most valuable work of preparation was done by the American Bible and Tract Societies, as early as 1847 and 1848. These worthy bodies sent colporteurs in the wake of the American army, who went everywhere "sowing the seed" which Christian churches are now gathering.

Between the years 1867 and 1870, several of the Catholic clergy seceded, and in 1871 the Rev. H. C. Riley, a brave and independent Protestant Episcopalian, furnished with funds by the American and Foreign Christian Union, and with means of his own, obtained a foothold in Mexico City.

Then, in 1872, the Presbyterians sent missionaries to Zacatecas, and the Congregationalists but little later followed. Their preacher in Ahualulco, State of Jalisco, the Rev. J. L. Stephens, was brutally murdered by a mob, March 2, 1874, and was thus the first martyr to the cause in Mexico.

The Methodists, through the labors and visits of Bishop Haven, Dr. Butler, and others, early secured, in 1873, a portion of the old and vast convent of San Francisco, and firmly established themselves in the city of Mexico, whence their missions have spread like a prairie fire, and they are probably the most numerous body of Protestants in Mexico. Under the present energetic guidance of the Rev. J. W. Butler, a large-hearted, earnest Christian, (to whom I am indebted for these hitherto unpublished statistics,) their labors have prospered exceedingly. Sunday and day schools have been established; a printing-press is in active operation, and an illustrated paper, the Abogado Cristiano, has been put in circulation, as well as an annual (Anuario), and numberless tracts, in the Spanish language. The Methodist Church South has also an able director in the person of the Rev. William Patterson, who has likewise occupied several valuable fields for Christian effort. The statistics of the Presbyterian missions have of late been carefully compiled; their force in the field consists of eight in Mexico

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City with ten native helpers, ten in Monterey, five in Zacatecas, one native preacher in San Luis Potosi, and two in Jerez; total membership of all its churches, up to 1883, 7,100.

The Methodist Church is now operating from the following centres: Mexico City, Orizaba, Puebla, Pachuca, Miraflores, Queretaro, Guanajuato, and Leon. There are 17 foreign missionaries including wives, 5 ladies of the Woman's Board, 5 ordained and about 20 other native helpers, 850 communicants, and over 2,000 probable adherents, in 34 congregations. There are 14 Sunday schools, with 675 scholars; 13 day schools, with 600 scholars; 10 church edifices, and 25 other places of worship. There are $120,000 of church property, and two presses in use. Two periodicals are issued, the Illustrated Monthly, having a circulation of 2,500 copies, and the Sunday School paper, a circulation of 1,800 monthly. The total number of pages issued in 1882 was 2,470,445.

The centres of the Methodist Church South are Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca, Toluca, and Leon. They issue two monthly papers, and are giving due attention to educational work.

In 1883 the statistics of these twelve Christian Missions, kindly furnished me by Dr. Butler, are as follows:—

Foreign missionaries, including wives 69
Foreign female missionaries of Woman's Boards. 16
Native laborers ordained 40
" " un-ordained 163
Congregations 264
Communicants 13,096
Probable adherents 27,300
Sunday schools 130
""scholars 130
Day schools 82
Male pupils 1,570
Female pupils 1,516
Church edifices 45
Other places of worship 219
Probable value of church property $462,850
Presses in use 11
Periodicals issued 12
Total circulation of all 14,000
Pages of religious literature issued in 1882 3,570,445
Theological students 36

There has been little display of sectarian bitterness, the different denominations recognizing the importance of resolute mutual endeavor. In the apportionment of Mexico for most effectual work, the northeast, including Monterey, has been taken by the Baptists; Chihuahua and the northwest by the Congregationalists; the Presbyterians are mainly in the central States, and the Methodists in the valley of Mexico and to the south of it.

I cannot find better words in which to conclude this statement of mission work than the following, by the Rev. S. T. Wilson.

"It does not require a long residence in Mexico to impress one anew with these truths:—

"I. This is a transition epoch in the history of the country. A half century of struggle with foreign domination and with ecclesiasticism, resulting in the apparently firm establishment of a republic and the complete divorcement of Church and State, has at last given place to peace. Mexico's pulse beats more normally than ever before. Her energies, instead of finding their vent in rebellions, are now devoted to arts of peace. Encouraged by this peace and by the government, foreigners are investing their capital and enterprise in railroads, mines, and manufactories. Steam and electricity render the success of rebellions almost hopeless. The scream of the locomotive is breaking even the profound quiet of the snow-crowned mountains. The burros and cargadores, Mexico's traditional burden-bearers, look on in wonder as their occupation vanishes. The electric light in the Grand Plaza of this city shines on excavated columns and sculptures of the old Aztec temple, as well as on the hoary cathedral and deserted Inquisition building, as if to rebuke the deeds of darkness of the past. Just as marked is the transition in religious matters. The more intelligent liberals, disgusted with 'The Church,' are naturally making their transit into infidelity. The common classes are more and more asserting their liberty of conscience. Mediæval bigotry has to struggle with modern liberalism in a constantly increasing number of towns. The Bible and its religion are daily growing in favor.

"2. Rome will not make the right use of this transition period. As changeless as the pyramids, as remorseless as the grave, that Church remains the same. Mainly responsible for the continuance of the dark age that has so long enveloped Mexico, she makes every endeavor to perpetuate that darkness. The patron of slavery, she has bitterly resisted every step toward liberty. The direct cause of Mexico's immorality, so incredible in its extent and baseness, she would gladly burn all who teach the truth. The National Museum may, with reason, enclose within the same walls the blood-stained sacrificial stone of the Aztec paganism, and two skeletons of victims of the Inquisition. Martyr blood has consecrated several churches in Mexico. . . .

"3. That the necessary conclusion is that the opportunities and responsibilities of the Mexican transition belong to Protestantism. The door is wide open."

The Mexican government guarantees the protection of all religious denominations, yet there have been many disturbances and frequent murders. The first week I was in Mexico I met two missionaries who had been chased out of Queretaro by a mob incited by the bishop of that city. Though the government vindicated its honor and supremacy by returning them under the protection of troops, yet on the withdrawal of the latter they were left in the same danger as before.

A few weeks later, a native missionary was set upon and stabbed to death by a mob of religious fanatics, near Apizaco, on the principal railroad of Mexico, and nothing was done to punish them. A month later another native preacher was shot at, near the ancient city of Tezcoco, and then lodged in jail upon complaint of the very men who attempted his life. And his accusers? They are pursuing their peaceful vocations unmolested, ready to renew the fight whenever opportunity offers.

It is not in the large cities that these outbreaks occur, as a rule, but in remote settlements in the country, where the people yet blindly follow priestly counsel. But year by year Mexico is growing more enlightened, and newspapers and books are increasing in circulation with great rapidity. In the republic there are some twenty large libraries, containing in all 236,000 volumes, and private libraries with from 1,000 to 10,000 volumes each, and collections of rare manuscripts.

There were published, in the year 1874, 168 magazines and pamphlets, of which 18 were scientific, 9 literary, 2 artistical, 26 religious, and 118 political. In 1882 the newspapers published in Mexico numbered 283, of which 94 appeared in the capital. They printed in the aggregate 378,096 copies, with a total circulation of 46,778,858 copies. Of these, there are two in the English language, "The Two Republics," owned and ably edited by Mr. J. Mastella Clarke, and "The Mexican Financier," a weekly bilingual journal, founded by a New York gentleman, and conducted by young Boston journalists of great promise and ability.

Religion and politics, and sometimes education, often go hand in hand, so it will not seem a wide departure from the subject to mention that politicians, even statesmen, are in rather bad odor in what is called "society" in Mexico. And this society, like the blood of the people composing it, is decidedly mixed, although the Creoles and those of Spanish birth, and especially those loyal to the Church, are its leaders. It is not considered a reproach to be looked down upon by society, for each grade of this heterogeneous people has led it by the nose,—even the Indian, when Juarez was President. President Gonzalez is said to have Indian blood in his veins, and Diaz, the great power behind the throne, and which he fain would constantly occupy, is likewise a Mestizo. The politicians, however, like Romero, Mariscal, and a small host of other famous Mexicans, comprise the more advanced scholars of the country.

  1. The total number of the Scriptures circulated in Mexico up to December 31, 1882, was, as near as can be calculated, 252,898 copies. The British and Foreign Bible Society had several agents in Mexico and a central depository in the capital, until the year 1879, when the remaining stock was purchased by the American Bible Society, which has since carried on the work alone. At present, the central depository and office of the agency of the American Bible Society is situated in Calle de Vargara, Mexico City, and the agent in charge is H. P. Hamilton. The open Bibles in the show windows are read by many people, and supplies are being constantly sent out to the colporteurs and to sub-agencies in all parts of the republic.