Fray (or Brother) Juan de Torquemada (c. 1562, Torquemada, Old Castile, Spain - 1624, Mexico City) was a Franciscan friar, missionary and historian in Spanish colonial Mexico. He is most famous for his 1615 monumental history of the Indigenous entitled Los veinte y un libros rituales y Monarchia Indiana, commonly known as simply Monarchia Indiana ("Indian Monarchies"). This work, which has never been published in English, was reprinted in Spanish in 1969 as volumes 41 - 43 of the Biblioteca Porrua.
Beginning in 1604 he traveled continually on the business of his order. He was guardian of the convents of Zacatlán (in the mountains of Puebla) and Tlaxcala. In 1607, during the terrible flood of Mexico City, he was asked by Viceroy Juan de Mendoza y Luna, marqués de Montesclaros to reconstruct the calzadas (carriageways) of Chapultepec, Misterios to Tepeyac and San Cristóbal and the dams of Zumpango and Citlaltépetl, although he was not an engineer.
In 1609 he was named chronologist of the Franciscan Order.
In 1610 Torquemada oversaw construction of the monastery and church of Santiago Tlatelolco. Its interior featured a grandiose altarpiece decorated with paintings by Baltasar de Echave Orio surrounding a hand-carved relief of Santiago, but this was destroyed soon afterwards.
In 1614 Torquemada was elected provincial superior of the Order of St. Francis in Mexico. He held this position until 1617.
He died suddenly in the church of Santiago Tlatelolco in 1624, while singing matins.
He wrote Vida de fray Sebastián de Aparicio (Tlatelolco, 1600 and Madrid, 1605), Opúsculos (written 1622 and published as an appendix in Códice Mendieta by Joaquín García Icazbalceta in 1892), various comedies in Nahuatl, and one comedy in Spanish, Latin and Nahuatl, which, unfortunately, has been lost.
His main work is Los veintiún libros rituales i monarchia indiana con el origen y guerras de los Indios Occidentales, de sus poblaciones, descubrimientos, conquista, conversión y otras cosas maravillosas de la misma tierra (The Twenty-one Ritual Books and Indian Monarchy With the Origin and Wars of the West Indians, of Their Populations, Discoveries, Conquest, Conversion and Other Marvelous Things of the Same Land, usually known as Monarchia Indiana) (3 vols., Seville, 1615). The first edition is rare, but the work was reprinted in Madrid in 1723 and again in a facsimile edition by Salvador Chávez Hayhoe in 1943-44.
This was the only New Spain chronicle of its time known to contemporaries. Works of Toribio de Benavente Motolinia, Bernardino de Sahagún, Gerónimo de Mendieta, Diego Muñoz Camargo and others were not available for centuries.
The book is tedious to read because of its theological digressions, contradictions and anachronisms. Nevertheless, it gathers together a large quantity of information taken from Indigenous pictographs and manuscripts and from Franciscan and other Catholic scholars. Torquemada interviewed old Indigenous people about their ancestors and recorded their oral traditions. The Monarchia Indiana is the best work on what was known of the Indigenous past at the beginning of the seventeenth century. It is considered an especially important source on the Totonac, Pipil and Nicoya cultures.
Torquemada describes the 1576 epidemic in New Spain in the following terms:
In the year 1576 a great mortality and pestilence that lasted for more than a year overcame the Indians. It was so big that it ruined and destroyed almost the entire land. The place we know as New Spain was left almost empty.
He reported that two million, mostly Indigenous, people died, according to a survey conducted by Viceroy Martín Enríquez de Almanza.
1500s documents forcing Mexicans to question history: New theory for mass deaths after Spanish conquest stirs heated debate
Jan 08, 2007; MEXICO CITY - Mexicans long have been taught to blame diseases brought by the Spaniards for wiping out most of their Indian...