Mary Among the Missionaries

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Theology


Department of Religious Studies


Neomi DeAnda


Mary's purity has been a subject of theological inquiry for over a millennium. This project's objective is to follow the development of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception historically to the ways it became manifest in the Spanish kingdoms of the Middle Ages, how it was brought and taught to the Nahua and Maya in the sixteenth century evangelization of Central Mexico by Spanish friars, and then how it remained a powerful force of evangelical and political fervor in New Spain through the analysis of three seventeenth century homilies about the Immaculate Conception. Whereas the conquest of the Americas is largely remembered for the brutalities and injustices committed, the Spanish friars who implemented a wide-scale evangelization of the Native Americans were interested in the sincere conversions of people like the Nahua and Maya. This dissertation studies the evangelization methods of the sixteenth century Franciscan friars in Central Mexico with particular attention to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and to Marian belief and devotion. The study also takes into account the cosmologies and ways of living of the Nahua and Maya, the two most prominent cultural groups in Mesoamerica at the time. The interaction between the friars and the natives is viewed in light of their respective cultural heritages. The spiritual concerns of the friars and their indoctrination of the Nahua and Maya are studied in light of the religious heritage of the Spanish kingdoms of the Middle Ages and the defense of the belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The Spanish friars make Mary central to their evangelization of Central Mexico, along with Christ and the Cross. The first three chapters deal with the pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican world with respect to Nahua and Maya cosmologies, the Catholicism of the Iberian Peninsula up to the expansion to the Americas, and the development of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception respectively. Chapter four focuses on the evangelization methods of the friars. Primary sources written by the friars are examined for their descriptions of how Marian belief and devotion was taught and inculcated among the native tribes, including histories, catechisms, confessor manuals, and sermons. The penultimate chapter completes a trajectory of belief in and teaching about the Immaculate Conception by examining three seventeenth century sermons that were delivered in Mexico City at the Royal University in honor of this Marian feast. The sermons were translated from Spanish by the author who provides commentary and analysis. The sermons demonstrate that the Immaculate Conception, for the sixteenth and seventeenth century friars, was fundamental to Catholic belief and essential for Spanish political allegiance. Moreover, they see Mary the Immaculate Conception as a personification of the Heavenly Jerusalem.


Latin American History, Latin American Studies, Middle Ages, Latin American Literature, Native Americans, Religious History, Religious Education, Spirituality, Theology, Immaculate Conception, Marian devotion, Mariology, Spanish missionaries, Franciscans, evangelization, Nahua, Maya, pre-Hispanic Americas, Aztecs, Spanish Catholicism, Catholic history, John Duns Scotus, Toribio de Benavente Motolinia, Geronimo de Mendieta, New Spain, doctrinas, seventeenth century homiletics, sermons, Heavenly Jerusalem

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