The Catholic Church occupied a preeminent position in the economy of colonial New Spain. It owned a substantial share of the land of the country and had large amounts of capital invested in agricultural enterprises or in loans to landowners and businessmen. Toward the end of the eighteenth century the secular branch of the Church possessed the greater portion of its riches, but according to Humboldt the monastic orders still had considerable wealth and influence.1 Their investments in land, industries, and urban properties played a decisive role in the shaping of the general economy of New Spain. This position declined in the nineteenth century, however, owing to the economic limitations imposed upon the Church by Charles IV, by the wars of independence, and by subsequent expropriations during the republican period.

Less numerous than monasteries, nunneries played an interesting and important role in the economic life of the viceroyalty. In the first two centuries of colonial life convents acquired and received land and other property, which they exploited with variable success. Since the administration of this property was frequently inept, however, it did not exert as great influence upon the economy as it might have otherwise. Toward the end of the seventeenth century substantial changes had taken place in the manner of investment and administration of the nunneries’ capital. Convents showed a greater inclination to buy urban property. They also started to invest their capital more frequently in loans to the producing classes of merchants, landowners, and miners. During the eighteenth century the activities of convents as property holders and lending institutions increased to such an extent that they gained considerable influence in their society as major financial centers, quite capable of affecting the economic development of the community and of the country in general.

Funds for the foundation, subsistence, and further investments of nunneries came from various sources. Donations from patrons and the dowries of nuns were the primary ones. These in turn were invested in properties or loans, thus providing another source of income. Founding patrons endowed nunneries with their initial capital, which was usually given partly in cash and partly in investments in order to allow the nuns a stable revenue for their internal expenses. Other donations came in the form of legacies, bequests of properties, or payments for the building of the convents by subsequent patrons. They ranged from modest offerings of less than one hundred pesos to large gifts of thousands of pesos. The original funds were drawn from the patron’s properties, which could be mortgaged for their total value or for a limited sum of money. Such properties included houses, pulquerías, haciendas, sugar mills, and mines. Thus much of the rural and urban property of New Spain came to be tied to the Church.2

The growth in economic importance of nunneries corresponded to the establishment of a certain type of landed economy in the hands of a creole nobility and a class of hacendados, miners, and merchants. François Chevalier points out that already in the seventeenth century these classes had become the great protectors of the Church, the founders of schools, capellanías, and convents.3 This interesting correlation between the foundation and growth of convents and the established pattern of property ownership, dating back to the seventeenth century, was accentuated in the eighteenth century. The traditional hacienda continued to be the typical form of land tenure. Mining flourished again, while cattle raising and textile production enriched many persons directly or indirectly concerned with these activities. Wealthy hacendados and merchants became alcaldes, corregidores, or captains of the militia. Decorations of the Orders of Calatrava or Santiago were given to many of them, while titles of nobility were granted to the richest and most illustrious. These men were the usual patrons of the Church in general and of nunneries in particular.4

The majority of the convents founded in the eighteenth century were located outside the capital of New Spain, many of them in minor towns; this fact demonstrates the willingness of rich hacendados and property owners in mining areas to patronize the Church.5 A typical case is the foundation of the convent of San Miguel el Grande by the Canal family. Manuel Tomás de la Canal, a knight of the Order of Calatrava, was a well-known patron of the Church, who toward the end of his life set out to found a convent of Capuchin nuns. The project started in 1740, but the death of the founder halted its progress. Only four years later, however, one of his daughters decided to continue it, and with the help of her tutor, the Conde de Casa de Loja, established a Coneeptionist convent in 1756.6 In Queretaro the Capuchin convent of San José de Gracia was patronized by José Caballero Ocio, a priest, the son of a militia captain, and himself a former captain in the city.7 In Mexico City the convent of Santa Teresa la Nueva was proposed by the daughter of Captain Esteban Molina Mosquera, who had previously repaired and endowed the convent of Santa Teresa la Antigua. All the wealth of the family passed to these two convents.8 Sister María Ignacia Azlor, founder of the convent of La Enseñanza, belonged to the distinguished family of the Marquis of San Miguel Aguayo, a title conferred by the crown in 1682 and possessing a very rich mayorazgo invested in land.9 The convent of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, of the Order of Mary, was founded for Indian girls through the interest of the Marquis of Castañiza.10

Nuns were also among the most reliable patrons of their convents. They could donate money without breaking the vow of poverty, since the action of becoming a patroness was interpreted as one of jurisdiction and not of dominion.11 At profession nuns made wills of their properties which very often were bequeathed to the convents in which they professed. On those occasions when they did not make wills, any inheritance that they might receive passed automatically to the convent. This practice was already in vogue in the sixteenth century, possibly to help the newly founded nunneries to increase their revenues.12 It provoked certain abuses, however, which were reported in a royal cédula of November 1578. In this cédula prelates were advised not to force professing nuns to retain their properties or to forbid them to bequeath properties, thus giving the convent legal grounds to claim them later.13 There is no record of such coercion in the eighteenth century. Available lists of received or expected legacies in various convents show that many nuns made rather considerable contributions to their convents in this manner.14

Another form of donation by nuns was the reservas. Convents allowed nuns to have a private income for their personal needs in order to relieve themselves from the burden of communal expenses. This income was separated by nuns at the time of profession from their personal property or was assigned to them by parents or relatives. Nuns usually made provisions in their wills bequeathing this money or its revenue to the convent. The capital of reservas ranged from several hundred pesos to as much as 20,000 pesos. In 1757 the convent of Santa Clara in Mexico City listed nine nuns enjoying reservas, the total capital amounting to 29,700 pesos.15 In 1760 the convent of Santa Isabel in Mexico City expected to receive 20,000 pesos of reservas willed to it.16

While bequests and reservas were supposed to be voluntary, dowries were required, and these proved to be a dependable and constant source of capital. Dowries were set at 3,000 pesos during the seventeenth century and part of the eighteenth century. Eventually many convents increased the minimum to 3,500 and by the end of the eighteenth century most convents received 4,000 pesos from professing nuns as dowries. Many families who could not raise that amount would mortgage their properties temporarily or impose a lien on them.17 As would be expected, large and wealthy convents obtained considerable sums of money through dowries. La Concepción in Mexico City received around 275,000 pesos from 1763 to 1812.18 La Encarnación, also in Mexico City, received 118,000 pesos from 1791 to 1811.19

Once the initial capital was acquired, the task of administering or investing it to provide the nunnery with an income was assigned to an administrator or majordomo. Majordomos were usually notaries, lawyers, or men who held responsible offices in the government, though sometimes they might be priests. The majordomo possessed legal rights to collect income from the property of those convents under his care; his payment was usually a flat rate plus a percentage of the collected sum. The vicar general of nuns or the provincial of the order supervised minor transactions, and ultimately the bishop or archbishop approved all final settlements.

The exact nature and value of much of the property of nunneries in the seventeenth century remain to be investigated. There is evidence that convents owned some land and continued to own certain rural properties throughout the eighteenth century.20 On the other hand, available documents indicate that toward the end of the seventeenth century nunneries were inclined to acquire more urban than rural property. The books of accounts of the convent of Jesús María in Mexico City record no other type of property but houses. These records extend throughout the entire eighteenth century and show the convent buying houses, constructing new ones, or repairing old ones. No purchase of rural land is found.21 This inclination to acquire urban properties was firmly established in the eighteenth century.

At the end of the colonial period it was acknowledged that nunneries and monasteries possessed a large proportion of the urban estate of Mexico City.22 The convent of La Encarnación, in an account of its properties in 1749, listed sixty-five houses, sixty-five rooms and multiple-tenant dwellings, and twelve shops. They were evaluated at approximately a half million pesos.23 In 1750 Jesús María declared that it possessed thirty-five houses, though neither the total value nor the income received from them was stated.24 The only type of financial transactions in which these and almost all other convents appear to have been engaged was connected with houses.25 In 1812 the majordomos of all convents of Mexico City had to report to the royal treasury the income of the urban properties under their control.

Though the number of houses belonging to each convent was not stated, the incomes of some of the largest nunneries were high enough to indicate ownership of a great number of houses. La Concepción estimated an income of 63,752 pesos per year, La Encarnación 41,920 pesos, Santa Catarina de Sena 34,172 pesos, and Jesús María 32,128 pesos. On the other hand, the very small annual income of some other convents indicates that they possessed the least number of houses. Examples are the convent of San Juan de la Penitencia with 7,839 pesos, Santa Brígida with 3,726 pesos, and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe with a mere 2,900 pesos.26

In 1826 a detailed report on the economic condition of nunneries, written by Juan B. de Arechederreta, listed the number of houses owned by the majority of convents of Mexico City and the income they produced. The total number of houses was estimated at 576, though those belonging to Franciscan convents were not included. The term fincas urbanas used in the report is vague and could refer to properties of multiple tenants. Comparing this report to that of 1812 makes clear that in most cases the income of each convent had remained very stable. Thus it is logical to assume that in the first years of the Republic much of the urban property in Mexico City still belonged to nunneries.27

The ownership of urban or rural estates, however, was not the sole source of income of nunneries. Censos and depósitos contributed a substantial share of this income, and in some instances became the sole source of revenue for some convents. Censos were used by pious donors as a means to provide a regular income to convents. The convent was made a beneficiary to a mortgage on property held by the donor or his heirs, receiving a yearly income of five percent on the capital or principal. Censos were usually made in perpetuity, but in many instances the owner of the property retained the option of canceling the censo by paying the stated principal to the convent. Censos were a common method for patrons to endow a convent or for parents to provide for the dowries of their professing daughters. Most patrons of convents founded in the eighteenth century did not offer all of their money in cash but mortgaged their properties, recognizing a censo in favor of the foundations.28 In the late seventeeth and eighteenth centuries the censo was ingeniously modified in order to circumvent the law forbidding lending at interest. The principal could be recovered by selling the annuity to another investor. This operation became of universal use in the eighteenth century.29

Obras pías were a more restricted type of censo or lien. These were the deeds of citizens or nuns who wished to support the expenses of a religious feast in the church of their chosen convent or other expenses of the nunnery. The pious deed usually entailed an obligation on the part of the convent to celebrate a number of masses for the soul of the donor. The capellanía was still another form of censo. It was a mortgage which provided funds for the support of a chaplain (monk or priest) who eared for the spiritual needs of the nuns, officiated at the service of the convent church, or said a number of masses for the soul of the patron. Capellanías and obras pías were invested in either urban or rural property, since such investments were usually not the choice of the nunnery itself but that of the owner of the property.30

The term censo was rather loosely applied, both to the types of endowment already mentioned which did not require the exchange of capital and to financial operations in which money was involved. Such were the liens by which landowners mortgaged their properties for ready cash, paying five percent interest to the convent from then on. Another type was used to improve properties, which might be mortgaged with a censo, the owner receiving a stipulated capital. After several years the capital was returned and the censo annulled. Chevalier has pointed out that the Jesuits used this type of lien very frequently, borrowing capital on many occasions from rich nunneries.31

In the eighteenth century all legal disguises for the interest-bearing loan were put aside. Members of the Church became openly engaged in the business of lending money. These loans were known as depósitos. They were temporary loans which paid an annual interest of five percent. Unlike the censo the depósito was not tied to any property and was usually paid back in a relatively short time or at least had a deadline for its final redemption. Throughout the eighteenth century merchants, hacendados, and masculine orders increasingly used deposits as a way of acquiring capital for the development of commerce, agriculture, or the improvement of their properties.32 For the nunneries this type of loan was a secure way to obtain a safe income for a number of years, while guaranteeing the return of capital for further investments. In order to protect themselves from loss of capital, nunneries usually demanded the signature of two bondsmen or collateral in the form of some type of security in real estate.33

The importance of deposits as a source of funds may be seen in the following examples. In 1720 the convent of San Juan de la Penitencia in Mexico City had a total of fifty-two deposits, almost all of them lent for a period of two to four years. The sum of money lent was 162,036 pesos.34 In 1771 the Augustinian college of San José de Gracia in Guadalajara obtained 15,000 pesos on loan from the convent of Santa Mónica to repair its buildings.35 During the 1780s the convent of Jesús María provided over 16,000 pesos as a deposit for the construction of the parochial church at Chalco.36 The convent of La Encarnación borrowed from other convents 17,125 pesos from 1791 to 1794 for the construction of a new building. These particular loans paid only 4½ percent, probably as a form of reciprocal discount rate.37 A loan of 100,000 pesos was solicited from the convent of Jesús María by Juan de Guadarmino, a wholesale merchant (almacenero), in March 1763. The sisters intended to give him 65,000 pesos, already held in the coffers, and hoped to complete the sum when the Mariscal de Castilla returned 30,000 pesos previously borrowed.38 Members of the nobility also borrowed heavily from nunneries. The Count of Santiago, the Marquis of Figueroa, the Count of Valenciana, and the Count of San Bartolomé de Xala are only a few among the many names of nobles found in the accounts of different convents.39

For 1745 available records of deposits granted and those recovered (exhibiciones) show that La Concepción in Mexico City gave deposits for the sum of 25,000 pesos and received 23,000 from debtors. La Encarnación lent 12,000 pesos and received 13,000, and San Bernardo lent 32,000 pesos while receiving 18,000 back.40 Between 1747 and 1748 the latter lent the large sum of 79,000 pesos, 40,000 pesos of this going to the Marchioness of Villar for the repair of her properties.41 In 1779 the convent of Jesús María in Mexico City lent 73,000 pesos. This money was distributed as follows: 12,000 pesos to the Augustinian order for investment on its rural estate of San Nicolás Tolentino; 21,000 pesos to the owner of a house and haciendas of indigo; further sums of 6,000, 9,500, and 12,000 pesos went to three owners of haciendas; and 12,500 pesos went to a house owner.42 From 1763 to 1812 the convent of La Concepción in Mexico City received approximately 400,000 pesos in total or partial repayment of loans provided by the convent to private citizens, other convents, or from the sale of houses.43 The figure is indicative of the enormous lending capacities of this convent. Similarly, in the period from 1791 to 1811, the convent of La Encarnación had been refunded approximately 185,000 pesos as repayment for deposits.44

The popularity of liens and deposits was so great by the end of the eighteenth century that many convents declared that they possessed no urban or rural property at all, but depended exclusively on the revenue provided by obras pías and deposits. Such was the case of the convent of Santa Clara de Jesús in Querétaro, which in 1805 had 148,700 pesos invested in liens and deposits, mostly in Celaya, Salvatierra, Querétaro, San Luis de la Paz, and León.45

Both convents and creditors were agreed on the mutual benefits afforded by the lending role of nunneries. In 1771 the convent of Jesús María defended this role with the argument that the money lent by religious institutions was of the greatest service to the community, helping farmers to save their crops, entrepreneurs to buy mines, or traders to start their own businesses.46 When the Marchioness of Selvanevada founded a convent, she supported her petition for the foundation with the statement that the convents of each region were the centers of circulation of money for merchants, farmers, and industries.47 A good example of the truth of this assertion may be found in a request to the Bishop of Guadalajara from the members of the cabildo of Aguascalientes in 1785. The regidores desired 20,000 pesos to buy grain for the public market of Aguascalientes, in view of a forecasted scarcity of cereals, and they wanted to borrow the money from either the coffers of the cathedral church or from any of the nunneries of the city. The loan was granted.48

The colonial government in Mexico City was also well aware of the lending capacities of the Church. After the middle of the seventeenth century the crown had sought to interest the Church in investing money in juros (a kind of treasury bond used in Spain since the sixteenth century).49 It found some response among nunneries.60 Similarly, in 1794 when the Real Renta del Tabaco was mortgaged in order to provide funds for the exhausted royal budget, the convents of San Juan de la Penitencia and La Enseñanza in Mexico City lent 5,000 and 10,000 pesos respectively at a nominal interest of five percent.51 In a society where capital was normally tied to the land or in business enterprises and was, therefore, seldom readily available, the ability to provide such immediate loans conferred upon nunneries a position of great significance in the economy.

Despite their very important role in the general economy of the viceroyalty, nunneries frequently found themselves in financial difficulties because of poor management of funds and other internal economic troubles. There were no fixed rules with regard to the administration of the convents’ income, each having a different manner of allocating its funds and covering its expenses. It is important to mention, however, that there were two different forms of fulfilling religious life which resulted in differences in the administration of incomes. Discalced nuns were not meant to have any income for their meals, being completely dependent upon alms for this purpose. And because of their very modest way of life they also had fewer expenses. Most of the convents of New Spain contained calzada nuns, however, and these were provided with weekly money by the nunnery for the purchase of their meals. They did not live in a communal manner, and each nun was allowed a personal income from her own private sources to spend as she desired. Some convents provided nuns with basic foods, such as meat and bread and gave them a smaller allowance for the rest of their meals.

Among the internal expenses incurred by convents were those of meals for the nuns and their dependents, salaries for professional services, the nursing of the sick, the maintenance of the convent, payment of debts and costs of legal suits, and the celebration of masses and religious feasts. Of these, the largest amount went for food provided for the nuns, for their confessors and chaplains, and for their servants. San Juan de la Penitencia, for example, spent 5,414 pesos during the period of 1707-1713 in weekly allocations to each individual nun for food not furnished by the convent. In addition, the expenses for meat and bread were 10,190 pesos from 1698 to 1702 and 19,287 pesos from 1707 to 1712. These sums did not include costs of poultry, milk, eggs, and vegetables.52 Santa Isabel, in Mexico City, spent 6,240 pesos in 1729 on bread and meat for its sixty nuns. In the same year the cost of chocolate for the nuns, sacristans, and priests amounted to 2,916 pesos, while purchases of poultry, eggs, and wine accounted for 390 pesos.53 During the period 1764-1771, the same convent spent approximately 1,250 pesos monthly for chocolate, meat, and bread.54 It must be pointed out that Franciscan nunneries such as these were by no means the most affluent, and expenses for similar commodities in wealthier convents must have been much larger. Such an example is found in the records of the convent of Jesús María. In 1739 there were 83 nuns in the convent, and the average weekly food expenses ranged from 300 to 400 pesos.55 For 1750, the expenses for the maintenance of 97 nuns averaged 400 pesos weekly, with an annual total of 21,000 pesos.56 Nunneries also spent large sums of money on medicines and the care of the sick. In the convent of Jesús María the expenses of the infirmary rose from 450 pesos per year in 1727 to 950 pesos in 1787.57 Physicians and bleeders received a fixed annual salary which did not change throughout the century in this particular convent. Judicial expenses incurred by convents in litigation over bequests or other claims on their property were frequently high. Another considerable source of expenses was the construction and repair of their property.58

From the end of the seventeenth century, the administration of the income of many convents was frequently unsound, and their expenses considerably greater than their income. The affluent convents of La Concepción and Jesús María in Mexico City were found in such economic trouble around 1670 by Archbishop Payo de Rivera that he approved a change in the internal administration of their income, granting nuns more freedom in the use of the weekly allowances provided by the convents, and thus relieving the nunneries of the burden of providing food and other basic necessities.59 The convents welcomed this measure, and it became a modus vivendi for most of them in the eighteenth century. Thus when the reform of religious observance known as vida común proposed a return to a community of expenses, the nuns vehemently opposed the measure.

After the reformation was adopted in 1774, various prelates pointed out that one of the major reasons for the high expenditures in convents had been the misuse of the financial freedom allowed to nuns. They blamed Payo de Rivera’s reform for much of the disorganization reigning in the administration of convents during the eighteenth century. In 1779, the Archbishop of Puebla, Victoriano López, reported a reduction in the total expenses of the convents under his jurisdiction, which he attributed to the communalization of the expenses and the payment of many of their debts. He also claimed that since the reformation all of the convents had increased their capital for investment.60

The finances of the Franciscan nunneries also had their share of poor administration. They were usually indebted to several sources, and their budgets barely balanced.61 The convent of Santa Isabel in Mexico City, for example, from 1764 to 1771 had monthly expenses ranging from 1,200 pesos to as much as 5,500 pesos on occasions, with an average annual total of 20,000 pesos.62 Though there are no documents available for the income received in those same years, there is a record of the income produced by the properties of the convent for the years 1743-1744. This income amounted to 15,744 pesos for 1743 and 11,155 pesos for the first six months of 1744.63 The convent had a yearly income averaging 14,500 pesos from 1701 to 1707.64 Since the average income had not changed considerably from the beginning of the century, and with probable increases in living expenses, it is safe to assume that the Santa Isabel convent lived in nearly constant deficit throughout all those years.

In general, most of the early funds of the Franciscan nunneries had been invested in houses and in the building of the convents. Afterwards, lacking further funds, they remained in extreme poverty.65 During the seventeenth century many of the donations received by the convents were invested in properties which subsequently fell into disrepair with the consequent depreciation in value or became subject to litigation. Furthermore, great disorder reigned in the accounts of the convents. Since 1699 the Franciscan prelates had tried to supervise the funds in such a manner as to prevent their further depletion. Convents were ordered to submit an annual account of their investments, donations, loans, and depósitos.66

During the remainder of the eighteenth century the Franciscans maintained close supervision over the accounts of the majordomos and tried to disentangle the mass of pious funds, capellanías, and legacies which had lost their value, which did not yield any interest, or for which the records had been misplaced. Such a revision of the investments of the convent of San Juan de la Penitencia in 1750 showed that the convent had a total of 104,800 pesos in censos and depósitos. There were 46,353 pesos involved in litigation, out of which it was considered that only 1,812 pesos could be recovered.67 Since as far back as 1718 this convent had an estimated loss of over 43,000 pesos of its capital, it can be seen that little progress had been made in its financial administration in the intervening years, despite the revisions of the prelates.68

In 1753 the convent of Santa Clara in Querétaro acknowledged that it was owed 32,000 pesos by various debtors and that it had encountered great difficulties in obtaining any repayment. The nuns asked that their majordomo be given special rights to act directly to obtain repayment, without the intervention of lay judges. Though this petition was contested by Franciscan prelates it was granted by Viceroy Revillagigedo. Ten years later, however, the majordomo was removed from his position on the grounds that he had done little for the benefit of the convent. Several witnesses testified that during that decade the nunnery had possessed few funds and that the abbess had been obliged to borrow money from several wealthy persons, including officials of the government, in order to provide for her convent.69

The Franciscans were not the only convents having financial difficulties. The socially prominent convent of La Encarnación in Mexico City reported in 1747 a considerable decrease in its income. The Coffer of the Dead (Arca de Difuntas) had lost much of its capital, probably because of borrowing for daily expenses or repair of properties.70 A report dated in 1765 stated that the Conceptionists of Mérida could hardly provide nine reals a week to each of its nuns, who had to obtain the rest of their support through their own work.71 In 1774 La Concepción of Oaxaca refused to adopt vida común on the grounds that their economic situation was so bad that they could not afford the expenses involved in the change. In order to verify this allegation, an inquiry was made into the state of their accounts, which revealed that the nuns owed 7,530 pesos to their majordomo. They were also in debt to nine other creditors for the sum of 22,100 pesos. They possessed 64,728 pesos invested in various properties, but most of these were in urgent need of repair. Their total capital amounted to 224,231 pesos, but not even one third of it paid interest. The situation of this convent was described by the inquirer as “altogether miserable.”72

There are many other examples of conventual hard times. In 1804 the convent of Santa Inés in Mexico City was requesting permission to hold a raffle in order to repair its convent buildings. The nuns complained that they lacked means even to provide for their meals.73 In the following year, the convent of discalced Carmelites of Dulce Nombre de Jesús in Querétaro, founded two years previously, stated that its only source of income was 10,000 pesos in censos donated by its founder, the Marchioness of Selvanevada. In the same year, the Capuchins of Querétaro claimed that their funds were not enough to cover their expenses and that they were running into a deficit of over 2,500 pesos each year.74

There were several reasons for these economic troubles in the nunneries of New Spain. One of the most important was the lack of a sound and continuous administrative policy. There were few nuns with a clear idea of how to keep the accounts of their convents efficiently. Any nun in the convent could be appointed to the position of accountant, regardless of her abilities. Also, the term of service of the mother accountant (three years) was too short to straighten out such confused accounts as nunneries usually had.75 Once in a while an active nun put in charge of the accounting achieved some positive results. Such was the case in 1779 of Mexico City’s La Concepción. The nuns decided to take into their own hands the reorganization of the old books in view of the majordomos’ inefficiency. They attributed the nonpayment of several pious funds totaling 26,500 pesos to previous maladministration and told their superiors that they hoped to recover most of the sum.76 On the other hand, some convents, such as Jesús María, seemed to have been well administered. Its records throughout the eighteenth century are in good order and show a clear statement of all the expenses incurred.

Still another source of economic burden was the very large numbers of masses and feasts that convents had to celebrate in the memory of their patrons. Almost every donation involved an obligation of this kind, to which were added the masses and feasts instituted by nuns themselves. These religious occasions were costly. The accumulation of legacies, pious offerings, and capellanías throughout two centuries made the financial burden almost unbearable to several convents. They found that they could no longer afford the expenses involved in the fulfillment of these religious and economic obligations. The convent of San Gerónimo in Mexico City found itself in economic straits around 1770, and, in order to obtain some relief, the nuns asked the archbishop to exempt them from the celebration of a number of feasts instituted by pious offerings. The archbishop complied with their request, and this measure was so effective that in 1779 the convent declared that it had recovered a great part of its funds.77

The most dramatic examples of pious burdens, however, were offered by the Franciscan nunneries. The revisions of 1756 and 1760 revealed the magnitude of some of these debts, and the nunneries tried to separate pious legacies and similar funds with active capitals from those which no longer provided any income, in order to determine which ones should be reduced or absolved. For example, the revision of 1760 stated that the convent of Santa Clara in Mexico City had built up a debt to an early seventeenth-century patron amounting to 32,196 masses. In 1700 the nuns had received papal permission to reduce the number of masses to sixteen a month. Another deed of the seventeenth century with a capital of 7,000 pesos, invested in a property of the Augustinians in Veracruz, called for 200 masses for the soul of the donor, the perpetual maintenance of an altar, and the right of the patroness and her heirs to he buried in the convent church.78 It is obvious that if the capital of such pious deeds were lost, the satisfaction of the obligations attached would cause considerable financial hardship to the convent.

Thus the general picture of the economic situation of nunneries in the eighteenth century was contradictory. Though there existed a number of convents circulating vast amounts of money throughout the country in the form of censos and depósitos, closer examination of the private financial situation of many nunneries often discloses a precarious internal economic balance. This situation might be explained by the fact that considerable amounts of capital had been given to nunneries as pious deeds for specified, restricted purposes, so that income from such capital could not be used by the communities to make good their deficits. In addition wealth was distributed unevenly among nunneries. Some, such as La Concepción and La Encarnación in Mexico City or Santa Clara in Querétaro, were the favorites of the richer patrons, who gave them larger and more frequent bequests. They were also more popular among those wishing to profess, receiving more nuns than those convents of more modest life and lesser financial means. This fact insured the richer convents even larger incomes from dowries ready for investment and preserved their already solid economic position. For these reasons the larger convents represented the more successful financial enterprises while the lesser ones were in many instances more of a burden than an asset to the towns in which they were located.

During the last three decades of the eighteenth century the Church in Spain and in the colonies was affected by a series of increasingly stiffer laws reflecting the regalist policies of the Bourbon Kings Charles III and Charles IV. These laws had the purpose of subordinating the church to the state in temporal matters and of curtailing the economic power of the clergy. Restrictions were placed on the power of ecclesiastical judges in the administration of capellanías and the validation or nullification of pious testaments; bequeathing of property to confessors was forbidden; and the rights of nunneries to claim ab intestato properties of dead relatives of nuns were revoked.79

The Spanish crown was not only interested in curtailing the prerogatives of the Church but was also now in great need of funds because of wars with France and England. The large properties of the Church in Spain offered an ideal source from which to strengthen the rapidly emptying royal coffers. After a successful trial in Spain the government applied to the Indies several laws directed against this property. Such was the 15-pereent tax on mortmain property imposed by the cédula of November 2, 1796. This cédula was proclaimed in New Spain in August of the next year and levied the tax whenever agents of the Church exchanged real estate either among themselves or with lay persons.80 It was also applied when the religious or the secular clergy received income; capellanías and obras pías paid the tax at the time of their investment or creation. Similarly nuns’ dowries were assessed a 15-percent tax at the time the convent received them. Cofradías, whether of Indians or Spaniards, acquiring real estate, were also required to pay the tax. At first seminaries, schools, and orphanages were exempted, but one year later the crown reversed this policy and made the real estate of schools subject to the tax.

Another royal measure which distressed the Church in New Spain was the Ley de Amortización. The law had been decreed in Spain in 1798, though it was not applied in the Indies until 1805. The royal government ordered the appropriation and subsequent sale of real estate belonging to monastic orders which had been received through pious donations or legacies or was tied to pious deeds, even though it was not owned by the Church. The capital of liens and deposits which were due, outdated, or ready to be invested was also to be appropriated. Funds coming from these transactions would be applied to the extinction of the royal debt, the crown paying 5 percent interest to the convents.81 All convents in New Spain were asked to furnish the civil government with detailed lists of their capellanías and obras pías. After appraisal by two experts, these properties would be sold in a public auction and the product of the sale turned over to the Caja de Consolidación. No unsold property could be sold privately by its owner, but would be put up for sale once a year by a royal official. The Law of Amortización was applied from 1805 to 1809.82

This law produced great discontent among Mexican landowners, merchants, and farmers, who had borrowed heavily from the Church. Most of these loans were due, and many had been overdue for years. As a consequence they were liable to expropriation by the crown. This situation moved Bishop Manuel Abad y Queipo of Valladolid to write an extensive analysis of the situation and to plead for the suspension of the cédula in New Spain.83 Viceroy Iturrigaray was very much interested in pleasing the crown, however, and the cédula was duly applied. The accounts of the convent of La Encarnación show that large sums of money were paid to the royal treasury. From 1806 to 1809 these amounted to 244,990 pesos.84 La Concepción paid 23,000 in 1808.85 The total amount collected from the Church in New Spain in four years has been estimated at 10,507,951 pesos.86 Several historians of the nineteenth century agreed that extreme economic harm was caused to New Spain by this law.87

In addition to the taxation and appropriations the crown requested several loans from the Church in order to improve its economic situation. In 1798 Charles IV called on all his subjects to make voluntary donations or “patriotic” loans to the crown. The nunneries of New Spain contributed over 54,000 pesos from 1798 to 1799.88 In 1811 the major convents of Mexico City were ordered to provide an account of the funds available in their coffers. They were expected to lend these to the crown.89

Nunneries were also ordered to pay a ten-percent tax on the total income derived from the rents of their urban property. The convents were to pay half of this, while the rest was to be paid by the tenants of their properties. This measure applied also to cofradías, brotherhoods, and monasteries.90 The majordomos of all convents of Mexico City presented statements of income obtained from 1807 to 1811 from the houses owned by these nunneries, and the ten percent was to be deducted from the income of an average year. The majordomos alleged that the collection of this tax would be a difficult task. A large number of the tenants of these houses were very poor, and they could not afford to pay the five percent owed by them. Often only three-fourths of the expected money could be collected, while the convents pressed suits against delinquent tenants.91 In addition, the convents maintained, frequent repairs of the houses diminished the income of the nunneries. These arguments were presented in a document addressed to the audiencia, petitioning a reduction in taxation to 8 percent. The audiencia did not grant the request, however, and a proclamation ordering the collection of the full ten percent was issued in February 1812.

Though a final assessment of the financial situation of nunneries at the end of the colonial period is still difficult, the available data indicate that on the whole they were rich investors circulating a large amount of capital and owning a significant part of the urban property of New Spain. Their internal economic situation ranged from affluence to relative poverty, because of the peculiar way in which their capital was tied to the land or urban property and poor management of their revenues.

This conflicting situation was presented in detail by Juan B. de Arechederreta in his general analysis of the state of convents in Mexico City in 1826.92 Arechederreta defended the nunneries, which like the rest of the Church were then under much attack from the anticlericals. He stated that there was little justification for the general belief in the great wealth of nunneries. Few of them had any considerable surplus, he said, and all of them had extraordinary expenses which greatly disturbed their economic balance. The usual delay in the payment of the rents on their houses and interest on their loans tended to make this situation worse. Arechederreta reported that these houses produced a revenue of 347,617 pesos to the nunneries. Despite his claims that nunneries lacked riches, he had to admit that they were circulating a sum close to three million pesos in censos and loans. This figure did not include any of the provincial nunneries, and the circulating amount in the whole country must have been much larger. On the other hand, it was true that the government of the new Republic, continuing the policy of the Spanish crown, had borrowed extensively from the coffers of nunneries and owed them large sums of money which it was in no hurry to repay.93 Nevertheless, according to the chart provided in the report, none of the large convents of Mexico City had a deficit at the time.

This statement of accounts, written in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, confirms the general trend found in the financial organization of convents in the eighteenth century and their position in the economy of New Spain. During the first half of the nineteenth century, despite the taxes and unpaid debts of their creditors, nunneries like the rest of the Church remained economically strong.94 Even though the Ley Lerdo confiscated their rural properties in 1856, there is evidence that they managed to recover part of them in the following years.95 Not until the banning of contemplative communities in 1867 did the well established economic position of nunneries in Mexico become undermined.


Alexander von Humboldt, Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain (2d. ed., 4 vols., London, 1814), III, 99.


Archivo General de la Nación, Mexico, Historia, Vol. 34, Fundación de varios conventos; Vol. 77, Autos de Fundación del Convento de Carmelitas de Queretaro; Vol. 92, Beaterio de Santa Rosa. Erección en convento; Bienes Nacionales, leg. 242, Autos de Fundación del Convento de Santa Brígida. The family Aguirre Caballero donated nearly 150,000 pesos to this foundation, mortgaging three cereal-producing farms and several of their houses. Hereafter the Archivo will be cited as AGN.


François Chevalier, Land and Society in Colonial Mexico, (Berkeley, 1963), 252, 302; Erie R. Wolf, “The Mexican Bajío in the Eighteenth Century,” Synoptic Studies of Mexican Culture (New Orleans, 1957), No. 17, pp. 181, 185-186.


Ricardo Ortega y Pérez Gallardo, Estudios genealógicos (México, 1902), passim. By the same author see also, Historia genealógica de las familias de México (México, 1908).


Out of twenty convents founded in this century, five were in Mexico City, two in Oaxaca, three in Guadalajara, one in Santa María de los Lagos, one in Salvatierra, two in Michoacan, one in Pátzcuaro, one in Querátaro, three in Puebla, and one in San Miguel el Grande.


AGN, Historia, Vol. 113; Juan Benito Díaz de Gamarra y Dávalos, Ejemplar de Religiosas. Vida de la muy reverenda madre Sor María Lino de la S.S. Trinidad (México, 1831), 12-17. For a study of the economy and society of eighteenth-century San Miguel el Grande see Francisco de la Maza, San Miguel de Allende (México, 1939).


José María Zelaa e Hidalgo, Glorias de Querétaro (México, 1803), 71, 113-114. In the same city of Querétaro the Marchioness of Selvanevada founded, early in the nineteenth century, a Carmelite convent backed by a fortune of nearly 600,000 pesos. See AGN, Historia, Vol. 77.


M. A. Valdés, Gazetas, XII, No. 29 (1805), 254; Josefina Muriel de la Torre, Conventos de monjas en Nueva España (México, 1946), 401.


“La Nobleza Colonial a fines del siglo XVIII,” Boletín del Archivo General de la Nación, XIII, No. 4 (1942), 541-589.


AGN, Colegios, Vol. 8, exp. 2, 3, 4.


Andrés de Borda, Práctica de confesores de monjas (México, 1708), 19-37.


AGN, Templos y Conventos, Vol. 14, exp. 1; El Convento de San Gerónimo vs. Ana de Segura (1626), at the Bancroft Library, University of California (hereafter cited as BL); B. Ladrón de Guevara, Manifiesto que el Real Convento de Religiosas de Jesús María de México . . . hace al Sagrado Concilio Provincial (México, 1771), 60.


Diego de Encinas, Cedulario Indiano (4 vols, Madrid, 1945), II, fol. 41.


AGN, Bienes Nacionales, leg. 49, exp. 16, 30, 66; Archivo de Instrumentos Públicos de Guadalajara, Protocolos de Blas de Silva, Vol. 15, fol. 195; Vol. 26, fol. 130, 177. A bequest of 10,000 pesos is recorded in the latter volume. (The Archivo will be hereafter cited as AIPG.) Archivo del Instituto Nacional de Antropología, México, Investigaciones de los Legados, Capellanías y Obras Pías que tiene este Convento de N.M. Santa Clara de la Villa de Carrión, Valle de Atlixco (1772). This convent expected nearly 16,000 pesos in legacies. (Hereafter the Archivo will be cited as AINA.)


Biblioteca Nacional de Máxico, Archivo Franciscano, Revisión de Legados del Convento de Santa Clara de México (1757). (Hereafter the Archivo will be cited as BNAF.)


José Antonio de Oliva y Juan José Moreyra, Testimonio Auténtico de la Revisión Auténtica General . . . de todas las Obras Pías, Legados, Escrituras . . . en todos los conventos de Religiosos y Monasterios de Monjas de Sta. Clara de esta Sta. Provincia del Santo Evangelio de México, etc. (1760), fol. 774. (In the manuscript collection of the Library of the University of Texas, cited hereafter as LUT.)


AIPG, Protocolos de Blas de Silva, Vol. 15, fol. 149, 150; Vol. 26, fol. 130; Protocolos de García de Argomanes, Vol. 17, fol. 170, 177; Vol. 35, fol. 178.


AINA, Libro de los Principales que se ponen en el Arca de este Convento de la Concepción de Ntra. Sra.


AINA, Colección Gómez Orozco, Libro IV del Arca del Convento de Religiosas de Ntra. Sra. de la Encarnación.


AIPG, Tierras y Aguas, Vol. 27-1, No. 63. Sta. María la Gracia declared in 1756 ownership of several cattle ranches in the vicinity of the city, all acquired as mercedes in the preceding century; AINA, Libro de los Principales, fol. 41. La Concepción recorded the purchase of one hacienda in Chaleo in 1797; AGN, Templos y Conventos, Vol. 10, exp. 1; Tierras y Aguas, Vols. 196-199; Vol. 824, exp. 3; Vol. 956, exp. 2; BL, Rodrigo Álvarez Sobrino vs. Convento de religiosos agustinos, 1723; Silvio Zavala, Fuentes para la historia del trabajo en Nueva España (8 vols., México, 1939-1946), III, 151-152, VII, 425.


Archivo de la Secretaría de Salubridad y Asistencia, Mexico City. “Burrus-Kubler” series of microfilmed material available at the Bancroft Library. Papers of the Jesús María convent. (The Archivo will be cited herafter as ASSA.) For further information see, Donald B. Cooper, “A Selective List of the Colonial Manuscripts . . .,” HAHR, XLII (August 1962), 385-414.


José M. L. Mora, Disertación sobre la naturaleza y aplicación de las rentas y bienes eclesiásticos (México, 1833), 52.


AGN, Bienes Nacionales, leg. 18, exp. 34.


ASSA, Libro de Instrumentos de comprovación del Real Convento de Jesús María (1750).


AGN, Bienes Nacionales, leg. 18, exp. 5, 7, 31; leg. 82, exp. 4, 5, 22, 50; leg. 84, exp. 7; leg. 85, exp. 3, 21; leg. 91, exp. 118; leg. 125, exp. 4; Templos y Conventos, Vol. 8, exp. 1; Vol. 18, exp. 7, 8; Vol. 30, exp. 15. For the purchase of a house information was required as to its condition, repairs needed, and approximate value. If the operation appeared to be detrimental to the convent it was advised not to buy. The Church had a body of legal advisers for these matters. The construction of new houses or repairs of old ones also required ecclesiastical approval.


AGN, Templos y Conventos, Vol. 11, exp. 11.


Juan B. de Arechederreta, “Noticia de los Conventos del Arzobispado de México. Año de 1826.” Boletín del Archivo General de la Nación, XXIV, No. 3 (1953), 473-500.


AGN, Templos y Conventos, Vol. 18, exp. 3, Vol. 30, exp. 16; Historia, Vol. 74, Fundación del convento de Guadalupe de México; AIPG, Protocolos de García de Argomanes, Vol. 17, fol. 34; ASSA, Libro de Ymbentario de los Papeles que ay en el Archivo del Real Convento de Jesús María (1718-1750); Chevalier, Land and Society, 254-255.


Chevalier, Land and Society, 255. The amount of money given in censos on urban or rural properties by the Church in general in the eighteenth century must have been very high. A record of the censos of the convent of San Juan de la Penitencia in Mexico City in 1720 lists a total of 126,000 pesos. Out of these, 43,000 pesos were invested in houses and 83,000 pesos in haciendas, sugar mills, ranches, and huertas. See BNAF, Memoria de los Depósitos, Censos y Casas que tiene este Convento de Sr. San Juan de la Penitencia (1720).


AGN, Templos y Conventos, Vol. 2, exp. 2, Vol. 3, exp. 1; ASSA, Libro de Ymbentario; Chevalier, Land and Society, 256-257. Capellanías were in most cases unredeemable; however, one example has been found of a licence granted to La Concepción of Mexico City to redeem a capellanía in 1779. See AGN, Bienes Nacionales, leg. 146, exp. 50.


Chevalier, Land and Society, 255.


AIPG, Protocolos de Blas de Silva, Vol. 31, fol. 63, 177; Protocolos de García de Argomanes, Vol. 35, fol. 101.


AGN, Bienes Nacionales, leg. 91 is completely devoted to deposits in several convents of Mexico City. See also, leg. 82, exp. 2, 7, 8, 12, 18; leg. 156, exp. 1, 3, 6, 7; AIPG, Protocolos de García de Argomanes, Vol. 35, fol. 22, 24, 191; Vol. 17, fol. 21, 168.


BNAF, Memoria de los Depósitos . . . de San Juan de la Penitencia.


AIPG, Protocolos de Blas de Silva, Vol. 15, fol. 36, 54.


AGN, Templos y Conventos, Vol. 4, exp. 1.


AINA, Libro IV del Arca . . . de Ntra. Sra. de la Encarnación, fol. 4, 6, 7, 8, 9. A total of 35,125 pesos was borrowed from other convents and private sources.


AGN, Bienes Nacionales, leg. 82.


AGN, Ibid., leg. 82, leg. 91; Templos y Conventos, Vol. 23, exp. 22.


AGN, Bienes Nacionales, leg. 91.


AGN, Ibid., leg. 156.


Ibid., leg. 146.


AINA, Libro de los Principales. Some of the loans returned to the convent on several occasions illustrate the remarkably large sums of money involved at times. In August 1777 the oldest regidor of the ayuntamiento paid back 29,664 pesos. In May 1784 the Count Torre Cossío returned 18,000 pesos. The Marqués del Apartado returned 19,000 pesos in May 1793 and 10,000 pesos in July of the same year. Thirty thousand pesos were repaid by the governor of the estate and Marquesado del Valle de Oaxaca in February 1800. Likewise, in 1805 José Domínguez Guerra returned 50,000 pesos which had been mortgaged on one of his mills. See fol. 14, 24, 35, 36, 44, 54.


AINA, Libro IV del Arca.


AGN, Templos y Conventos, Vol. 23, exp. 22.


Ladrón de Guevara, 158.


AGN, Historia, Vol. 77.


AIPG, Protocolos de Blas de Silva, Vol. 26, fol. 85, 92. Another interesting case was reported in 1763. The convent of Sta. Teresa la Antigua in Mexico City was requested to make a loan of 13,000 pesos by merchants of San Miguel el Grande, headed by a member of the rich Castañiza family. This loan was also granted. See AGN, Bienes Nacionales, leg. 82, exp. 15.


Juros had originally been annuities granted by the Crown out of the state revenues as a special token of favor. Since the times of the Catholic Kings, and especially after Charles V, juros became annuities sold by the Crown which were used to cover extraordinary royal expenses. They were increasingly assigned against ordinary revenues of the state. By the end of the seventeenth century they had become a heavy burden on the revenues of the Spanish Crown. See John H. Elliot, Imperial Spain, 1469-1716 (New York, 1964), 198, 281, 332, 353. Also Chevalier, Land, and Society, 261.


AGN, Templos y Conventos, Vol. 3, exp. 4. The convent of La Concepción of Oaxaca invested 30,000 pesos from 1640 to 1690 in juros. In 1790 the nuns of this convent were sueing the Crown in order to obtain the payment of 1,500 pesos of unpaid interest, due since 1758. See also Vol. 20, exp. 5 and 6 for previous claims of the same convent and the convent of Santa Clara of the island of Santo Domingo.


Archivo Histórico de Hacienda, Documentos relativos a Tabaco, leg. 343-344.


BNAF, Primer Libro de Gastos que corre desde agosto de 1698 hasta octubre de 1713. Convento de San Juan de la Penitencia, México. The years from 1702 to 1707 are missing.


LUT, Testimonio Auténtico, fol. 737. Chocolate was one of the largest expenses in all nunneries. In Santa Clara of Puebla, 290 pesos were spent in 1710 for the chocolate of the abbess and sister accountants alone. See AGN, Historia, Vol. 136.


BNAF, Libro de Gastos del Convento de Santa Isabel de México que se estrena el día primero de henero de 1764.


ASSA, Recaudos [de Ystrumentos de comprobación del Real Convento de Jesús María] (1737-1739).


Ibid., Libro de Gasto (1750-1751).


Ibid., Quaderno de Recaudos de Comprovación . . . (1727-1729); Libro de instrumentos de comprovación . . . (1786-1787).


Ibid. See various books of accounts for the years 1739, 1750, 1771, and 1786.


Ladrón de Guevara, 25-35. Payo de Rivera decreed that each nun should receive money for her meals weekly, in addition to a ration of meat and bread provided by the convent. This latter item was suspended by Archbishop Ortega y Montañés at the beginning of the eighteenth century, being replaced by a higher weekly allowance. Franciscan nunneries were in a similar situation. In 1710 Santa Clara of Puebla was excused by its father provincial from providing any food to its nuns because of its poor financial situation. The convent was to increase its weekly allowance to 20 reals, and nuns would provide their own food with this money. See AGN, Historia, Vol. 136.


AGN, Historia, Vol. 137.


LUT, Testimonio Auténtico, fol. 738.


BNAF, Libro de Gastos.


Ibid., Libro de Resivo de este Convento de Santa Isabel de México que corre desde el 1° de henero de 1743 hasta postrero de diciembre de 1744. The second half of 1744 is missing.


Ibid., Libro donde se asientan lo que se resibe cada mes de Sensos y Casas en este Conbento de Santa Isabel en este año de 1701.


LUT, Testimonio Auténtico, fol. 746; BNAF, Revisión de Legados, Obras Pías y Gravámenes del Convento de Santa Isabel de México (1756).


BNAF, Patente del Ministro Provincial, Fr. Manuel Virgil (1708); Patente de Fr. Antonio Mancilla (1722); AGN, Historia, Vol. 136. In 1710 the convent of Santa Clara of Puebla claimed to have lost 3,540 pesos. They also owed 10,724 pesos to several citizens of Puebla. The nuns were ordered to keep yearly accounts of their income and expenses.


BNAF, Expediente sobre revisión de cuentas del Convento de San Juan de la Penitencia (1750). This convent had an average yearly income of 14,400 pesos from 1739 to 1746. See Sumario de las Cantidades de pesos que . . . entregó [al] Sagrado Convento de San Juan de la Penitencia (1739-1746).


LUT, Testimonio Auténtico, fol. 771. Santa Clara of Puebla claimed to have lost 16,380 pesos of its capital by 1756. See BNAF, Razón de las memorias y obras pías . . . (1756).


AGN, Templos y Conventos, Vol. 10, exp. 2.


AGN, Bienes Nacionales, leg. 85, exp. 7.


France V. Scholes (ed.), Documentos para la historia de Yucatán (3 vols., Mérida, 1936), II, 76. As a comparison, a skilled bricklayer earned from five to seven reals a day throughout the eighteenth century.


AGN, Correspondencia de los Virreyes, Vol. 10, fol. 275. Among the creditors of the convent were the Oratory of San Felipe Neri, the convents of San Agustín and La Merced, and the cathedral church. The convent had had a litigation with the order of San Hipólito, which had lasted for thirteen years, entailing thousands of pesos in expenses.


AGN, Templos y Conventos, Vol. 30, exp. 14.


Ibid., Vol. 23, exp. 22.


Ibid., Bienes Nacionales, leg. 146, exp. 72, 75, 77, 78, 80 through 83; leg. 156, exp. 32 through 35, 37. These expedientes contain the accounts of different convents of Mexico City in the second half of the eighteenth century. They include the income and expenses of convents for a period of one to three years.


Ibid., leg. 146, exp. 57.


Ibid., exp. 48.


LUT, Testimonio Auténtico, fol. 745-746.


For further information on laws passed during this period see V. Rodríguez Casado, “Política Interior de Carlos III,” Simancas, I (1950), 123; Antonio Domínguez Ortiz, La sociedad española en el siglo XVIII (2 vols., Madrid, 1955), I, 128 ff.; Richard Herr, The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Spain (Princeton, 1958), 33-34, 382-392; BL, Providencias Diocesanas de México y otras Superiores, fol. 272, 335, 338; Rescriptos reales sobre asuntos eclesiásticos, fol. 35; Morfi Documents, Cedulario (3 vols.), I, fol. 49.


AGN, Bandos y Ordenanzas, Boletín del Archivo General de la Nación, II, No. 4 (1931), 587, 594, 615; Valdés, Gacetas, XIII, No. 35 (1806), 281.


BL, Morfi Documents, Cedulario, I, fol. 179. The execution of the cédula in America was in charge of a junta formed by the viceroy and archbishop or president of the audiencia and the bishop of each diocese and other minor authorities. Officials involved in the collection of the funds received as a compensation one-half percent of the total. It was absolutely forbidden to spend any of the collected sums in the colonies.


AGN, Templos y Conventos, vol. 22, exp. 23; Valdes, Gazetas, XIII, No. 53, p. 511; XVIII, No. 124 (1808), 864; XIX, No. 49 (1809), 321.


Manuel Abad y Queipo, “Representación a nombre de los labradores y comerciantes de Valladolid de Michoacán . . .” and “Escrito Presentado a D. Manuel Sisto Espinosa,” in José M. L. Mora, Obras Sueltas (2 vols., Paris, 1837), I, 70 ft.


AINA, libro IV, fol. 28, 31, 32.


Ibid., Libro de los Principales, fol. 61.


“Noticias de Nueva España en 1805, publicadas por el Tribunal del Consulado,” Boletín de la Sociedad Mexicana de Geografía y Estadística (México, 1850) primera epoca, II, 44.


Humboldt considered the measure harmful to agriculture and the general prosperity of the country, though it is to be noted that he was influenced by the thought of Bishop Abad y Queipo. See his Political Essay, III, 100. Alamán and Bustamante definitely criticized it and exposed its fatal effects. See Lucas Alamán, Historia de México (5 vols., México, 1849-1852), I, 137; Carlos María Bustamante, Suplemento a la historia de los tres siglos de México (4 vols., México, 1836-1838), III, 212-224. Bustamante regretted seeing the ecclesiastical funds used to sustain what he considered a demoralized court. Of the use of these funds in New Spain he said, “. . . daban impulso al labrador, al artesano, al comerciante, al minero, al eclesiástico, y en fin, a toda nuestra sociedad. . . .”


Valdés, Gazetas, IX, No. 13 (1798-1799), 97, 104, 129, 159, 174, 194, 195, 211, 273, 344, 361.


ASSA, Miscellanous expedientes, No. 24. José Gazano a los conventos de La Enseñanza, La Encarnación, La Concepción, San Lorenzo, Jesús María, and Santa Inés.


AGN, Templos y Conventos, Vol. 11, exp. 11.


There is evidence that nunneries had always been plagued by the problem of arrears in the collection of the rents on their bouses. In 1761 this fact was acknowledged by La Concepción, which possessed the largest number of houses in the city. Similar reports for the year of 1767 were made by San Bernardo and San José de Gracia. See AGN, Bienes Nacionales, leg. 82, 156.


Arechederreta, “Noticia,” passim.


Convents had loaned to the government of the nation, according to the chart provided by Arechederreta, 1,259,867 pesos, though he claimed in his report that the sum was close to two millions. The largest loan was that of La Encarnación, with 304,209 pesos, followed by La Concepción with 259,069 pesos. In third place was Jesús María with 103,773 pesos. San Lorenzo had lent 96,990 pesos and San José de Gracia 74,750 pesos. Other nunneries such as San Gerónimo and the Capuchins of Guadalupe had lent over 70,000 pesos each. The latter is a remarkable ease, since at the beginning of the nineteenth century it was a rather poor convent. Arechederreta urged the government to continue paying the interest on loans given to the ramos of minería and consulado. Great contrasts are found in the ownership and income received from houses. La Encarnación was reported to own 79 houses with an income of 40,425 pesos while La Concepción was said to have only sixty houses with an income of 93,097 pesos. On the other hand, Santa Brígida owned only six houses, preferring to invest 133,910 pesos in censos. However, the majority of convents possessed at least twenty houses each.


The consensus of staunch anticlericals such as Mora was that the nunneries were unprofitable institutions, because millions of pesos had been put into their coffers without any benefit to the country. Mora was either not aware of or wished to overlook the use given to the capital acquired by nunneries, which was to a large extent invested in loans to the productive forces of New Spain. Nunneries were banks and not mere repositories of money, and this very character made them unpalatable to the anticlericals who did not wish to see such economic power in any of the branches of the Church. In later years, when relations between clericals and anticlericals became tense with the threat of appropriation of ecclesiastical property, there is evidence that nunneries contributed some funds to the support of political causes. See Michael P. Costeloe, “The Mexican Church and the Rebellion of the Polkos,” HAHR, XLVI (May 1966), 170-178.


See Robert J. Knowlton, “Some Practical Effects of Clerical Opposition to the Mexican Reform, 1856-1860,” HAHR, XLV (May 1965), 246-256.

Author notes


The Author is Instructor of History at Roosevelt University.