For many years there has existed in the Department of Health and Welfare (Secretaría de Salubridad y Asistencia) in Mexico City a large and important series of colonial manuscripts.1 It is housed at 39 Calle Donceles, within walking distance of the Archivo General de la Nación, but very few persons have known of its existence. The archives of this Department has never been open to investigators, and the author apparently is the first historian to examine the manuscripts thoroughly. So far as I have been able to ascertain, none of them has ever been cited in any published work. The only other historian who is known to have seen them is Rómulo Velasco Ceballos, but none is cited in any of his numerous publications, mainly on medical history.2 Since Velasco’s death in 1948 the archives has remained closed and seemingly forgotten.3

While searching for manuscripts for a study on “The Viceregal Fight Against Epidemic Disease” I inquired at the Department of Health and Welfare about the possible existence there of colonial medical records. I was informed that a number of old records remained but that official permission to inspect them would be required. On my subsequent application, Dr. Miguel Bustamante, the Sub-Secretary for Health, and a prominent medical historian,4 very kindly gave personal instructions that I be allowed to consult any colonial manuscripts which might still exist in the archives of the Department.

The principal offices of the Department of Health and Welfare are located at the corner of Lieja and Reforma streets near the main entrance to Chapultepec Park. To see the “old” papers, however, I was taken to a branch office located at 39 Calle Donceles near the capital’s main plaza, or zócalo. At this location the Department maintains an archives of its non-current modern records, most of which date from the years 1900-1940. No staff is maintained in this archives, and ordinarily it remains closed. It was here, however, that I found the remainder of the Department’s historical archives. To my considerable surprise I found not the few bundles of inconsequential papers I had expected, but nearly one thousand volumes of leather-bound manuscripts. They appeared to have been semiabandoned for many years. Most of them were stacked on the floor; others were scattered about on tables, inside drawers, or on the window-sills. The volumes were utterly lacking in orderly arrangement. No remnant of their original institutional order still existed, although it was immediately apparent that most of them dated from the colonial period. After so many years of oblivion the volumes were coated with a thick layer of dust but, once cleaned, they proved to be in an excellent state of preservation, as nearly all retained their original protective covers.

Several days of sorting and arranging were needed before the unexpected nature of their contents began to be revealed. As the manuscripts are in the custody of the Department of Health and Welfare, I had expected to find only medical records. Some were found, but these, as well as almost all others, are records of religious institutions. Because most colonial hospitals, such as the Hospital Real de Indios, were run by religious institutions, it is not surprising that papers concerning medical matters are mixed with others concerning the religious orders themselves.

Why these numerous manuscripts from colonial religious organizations have been forgotten for so many years in the Department of Health and Welfare remains a mystery. The building where they are stored was, in the colonial period, the Hospital del Divino Salvador for demented women, but none of the documents relate to this institution. This apparently illogical location may explain why the records have remained unknown for so many years.

The major group of records in this archives is the approximately five hundred volumes from the Royal Convent of Jesús María, founded in 1579. In the opinion of Professor Josefina Muriel de González Mariscal, author of Conventos de monjas en la Nueva España,5 these records were thought to have been destroyed a century ago at the time of the Reforma. The manuscripts still extant at the Department of Health and Welfare, however, are nearly complete for this convent for the last hundred years of the colonial period. Several volumes for this convent also exist from the last twenty years of the sixteenth century and approximately fifty remain from the seventeenth century. Most of the Jesús María manuscripts are related to financial matters.

There is one series of volumes from the Jesús María collection that requires special mention. The volumes from this series are entitled instrumentos de comprobación. They are receipt books, or ledgers, devoted almost exclusively to architectural records. As a general rule about four-fifths of each volume contains records of payments for oficiales, peones y materiales, plus occasional progress reports signed by the architect-in-charge and his assistants. In most cases the work was not being done on the convent itself, but on one of its numerous properties. This may account for the surprising number of architects who are represented here. Including certain manuscripts from institutions other than the convent of Jesús María, the archives contains documents related to at least thirty-nine architects. A special index of the volumes containing references to architects is provided in  Appendix “B”.

Many of the greatest architects of eighteenth-century New Spain are well represented, including Lorenzo Rodríguez, architect of the church of the Sagrario of Mexico City and first master of the eighteenth-century baroque style in New Spain. Others include Antonio and Manuel Álvarez, Miguel Espinosa, Ildephonso de Yniesta, and the most brilliant of New Spain’s native architects, Guerrero y Torres, whose mastery can still be enjoyed in such works as the Pocita chapel at the shrine of Guadalupe and the great palace which now houses the National Bank of Mexico. Documents which were found here concerning this last artist cover an uninterrupted period of twenty-three years from 1769 to 1792.

The manuscripts from the convent of Jesús María, of which the architectural papers comprise a substantial part, are so numerous that only a selected few could be included in this list. The instrumentos de comprobación are all listed, as are also the complete records for the convent for the years 1770-1771 and 1792. The volumes from these three years are reasonably representative of the remainder of the Jesús María manuscripts which could not be listed. In the opinion of Rev. Fr. Ernest J. Burrus, S. J., a member of the Jesuit Historical Institute, Rome, Italy, the Jesús María documents represent “to my knowledge the most extensive documentation of any such institution in Mexico and perhaps in all Latin America. Given the wholesale destruction that has befallen such organizations, these documents will afford a unique opportunity for key research in this area in order to fill in considerable gaps in the knowledge of the economic, social and religious details of such an important type of institution.”6

Another institution represented by numerous manuscripts is the Congregación de San Pedro, a religious-social association to which influential priests in various parish-churches and the University of Mexico belonged. On at least one occasion an archbishop served as the Abad (Superior) of this group. The Congregación helped support a college and hospital (both named San Pedro) and various papers exist for both institutions. The cabildo records of the Congregación—perhaps the most important documents in the archives— exist for the years 1629-1695, 1711-1724, 1770-1776 and 1799-1822.

The most numerous medical records are those from the Hospital de San Pedro, especially for the first half of the eighteenth century. Most of these are of a financial character. Few other papers have survived elsewhere for this hospital. Several volumes of financial records also exist for the Hospital del Amor de Dios. These manuscripts, which date from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, are among the earliest extant for any hospital of New Spain.

Another institution represented by important manuscripts is the Archicofradía de la Santísima Trinidad, which was located in the church of the same name. A highly important item from the records of this association is number eight in this list, which contains abstracts of all documents which still existed in the archives of this archicofradía as of the year 1805. The earliest of these copies is dated 1593. Most, if not all, of the originals have since been lost.

The papers of this archicofradía represent one opportunity for clarifying the complicated, and as yet imperfectly understood, relationship between gremios (guilds) and cofradías (lay brotherhoods). For example, three associations which were affiliated with this archicofradía, and whose records survive here in part, are the gremio de sastres (tailors) and two cofradías of sastres. Two other institutions with important representation are the Casa de Niños Expósitos (Foundling’s Home) and the Congregación de Santísimo Cristo de Burgos, an association which Rev. Fr. Burrus describes as “previously unknown.” A complete “Institutional Index” is provided in  Appendix “C”.

The author has arranged in chronological order and numbered all manuscripts in the historical archives of the Department of Health and Welfare through 1800. Since the present list is necessarily selective, and because not the slightest trace of the original institutional order still existed, the chronological method of arrangement was employed for all of the records which were classified. Approximately six hundred volumes were classified for the years 1564-1800. In addition, approximately four hundred more remain unclassified for the years 1801-1860. None of the modern records, which are stored in the same room but are clearly distinguishable from the older documents, has been included in this total of nearly one thousand volumes. The list, as mentioned, contains only a small part of the Jesús María collection but, except for a few minor omissions related to properties owned by the hospital of San Pedro, is complete through the year 1800 for all other institutions. Most of the unclassified items after 1800 pertain to Jesús María. Several important items from these years have been listed in  Appendix “A”.

The author, with the generous assistance of Rev. Fr. Burrus, who extended the use of a portable microfilming machine belonging to St. Louis University, arranged for the filming of many of the more important documents from this archives. All of the architectural manuscripts through 1792, plus many other items, including all of the medical records and the cabildo records of Nuestra Congregación de San Pedro, have thus been made available for use by scholars. These films, comprising nineteen rolls, are now at Yale University.7 Interested persons should contact Dr. George Kubler of the Department of the History of Art. In those cases where an item has been filmed its roll number is given in the list.

The officials of the Department of Health and Welfare have indicated that henceforward all responsible persons will have access to the manuscripts. Persons desiring to use these records should write to, or call at, the office of the Secretario of the Secretaría de Salubridad y Asistencia, Lieja y Reforma, México, D.F. It would be highly advisable to send or bring several letters of introduction. Once the written permission of the Secretary of the Department of Health and Welfare has been obtained, the Director of the Departamento de Correspondencia y Archivo, at the same address, will make special arrangements for opening the archives.


APPENDIX “A” Unclassified items after 1800

APPENDIX “B” Index of Architects10

APPENDIX “C” Institutional Index


The research for this article, including classification of the manuscripts, was completed while a Fellow (1959-1960) of the Doherty Charitable Foundation. The list was completed while holding a University Fellowship from the University of Texas. I am greatly indebted to both institutions for their support.


He is best known for editing La administración de d. frey Antonio Maria de Bucareli y Ursua, cuadragesímo sexto virrey de México (2 vols.; Mexico City, 1936), which deals only incidentally with medicine. Others include the important documentary collection, La cirugía mexicana en el siglo XVIII (Mexico City, 1946); El hospital Juárez, antes hospital de San Pablo (Mexico City, 1934); El niño Mexicano ante la caridad y el estado (Mexico City, 1935); and Visita y reforma de los hospitales de San Juan de Dios de la Nueva España en 1772-1774 (2 vols.; Mexico City, 1945), which is also a documentary collection.


The archives is mentioned, in identical references, in two works of Agustin Millares Carlo. The first of these is entry 280 in Repertorio bibliográfico de los archivos Mexicanos y de las colecciones diplomáticas fundamentales para la historia de México (Mexico City, 1948). José Ignacio Mantecón is co-author of this work. The second is entry 588 of Repertorio bibliográfico de los archivos Mexicanos y de los Europeos y Norteamericanos de interés para la historia de México. (Mexico City, 1955.) Through no fault of Señor Millares Carlo some of the information given in these two entries is not correct. It was obviously impossible for Millares Carlo, in the preparation of his excellent bibliographies, to visit personally each of the many archives listed. His information about the archives at the Department of Health and Welfare is taken from the prologue of Visita y reforma . . . by Velasco Ceballos. The archives does not, contrary to the statement in the two entries, contain any documents from the Asilo de Pobres or the Hospital de San Andrés. There are only two minor items, both relating to financial affairs, from the Hospital de San Lázaro. Nor have any documents been transferred to this archives from the Archivo General de la Nación.


Dr. Bustamante is author of La fiebre amarilla en México y su origen en América (Instituto de Salubridad y Enfermedades Tropicales, monograph no. 2; Mexico City, 1958). He is one of four co-authors of the handsome and informative Historia de la salubridad y de la asistencia en México (4 vols.; Mexico City, 1960).


Josefina Muriel [de González Mariscal], Conventos de monjas en la Nueva España (Mexico City, 1946). The Jesús María collection was unknown when this book was published.


Letter from Rev. Fr. Ernest J. Burrus, S. J., to Mrs. Helen M. Daugherty, Asst. See., Doherty Charitable Foundation, New York City, September 27, 1960.


The Department of the History of Art at Yale University felt that the materials on architects were so important to the future study of viceregal art in Mexico that it provided all funds necessary for microfilming. The nineteen rolls are numbers three through twenty-one in the “Burrus-Kubler” series. Rolls one and two in this series, filmed by the author at the same time, are additional architectural records. They are from the municipal archives (Ex-Ayuntamiento) of Mexico City. Margaret Collier of Yale is using part of the architectural records for a study on Lorenzo Rodríguez. Richard Greenleaf of Mexico City College is reading the cabildo records of San Pedro in connection with his studies of the church in sixteenth century New Spain.


The original spelling and capitalization of the manuscripts have been retained, except in certain cases where abbreviations have been extended. Modern rules for accenting have been observed, and the umlaut has been added to the word “qüenta.”


These classification numbers have been assigned on the basis of chronology. The first part (two digits) represents the century. The second part represents the decade within the century, while the third represents the chronological position of a particular item within the decade. Number 17-0-9, for example, stands for the ninth item within the first decade of the seventeenth century. Number 18-9-114 stands for the one-hundred-and-fourteenth item in the decade of the nineties of the eighteenth century.


Each man listed was working as an architect, although some may not have been formally licensed as such.


These numbers refer not to the classification numbers which identify documents within the archives, but to the entry numbers of this list. The archival classification number of each item is giving immediately after its entry number.



Author notes


The author is assistant professor of history at Oklahoma State University.