The author has a very specific purpose in view as she develops the theme of her study—to determine the early ecclesiastical territorial divisions insofar as they have a bearing on those adopted later on a national political basis. Actually the book and the seven accompanying maps present both less than the general title indicates and also considerably more: less, in that only three of the religious orders are represented and these very unequally and incompletely; more, in that the study frequently crosses over the chronological limit set in the title and also considers religious centers not directly linked with the apostolate of any of the three orders.
The three religious orders studied are the Franciscans, Augustinians, and Dominicans, with by far the greatest attention paid to the first. The Jesuits, although present in Mexico since 1572, are excluded because, in the opinion of the author, their main concern was with schools in the cities for the creoles and clergy, rather than with missionary work in the provinces for the natives (p. 11).
The time span coincides with that of Ricard in his Conquête spirituelle—from 1523, the year of the arrival of the first Franciscans, to 1572, which marks the coming of the Jesuits. As mentioned, the study not only goes beyond this time limit but even beyond that of the title itself.
The author first gives general data on each of the three orders and their pioneer presence in New Spain. This is paralleled by a detailed geographic study of the areas where each worked. Many scholars will find chapters IV and V the most helpful in the volume: “Expansión apostólica y distribución geográfica de la Nueva España” (pp. 51-96), and “División eclesiástica” (pp. 97-143). In the first she lists the monasteries (conventos) according to both the earlier designation and the modern name, localizing them by municipios, distritos, and estado, along with the year of foundation. In the latter chapter she draws up an analogous list of the parishes in the bishopric of Tlaxcala.
The author has drawn upon a large number of publications, mainly Spanish and English, cited in the numerous footnotes and brought together in the bibliography at the end of the volume. In order to say the last word—if such is ever possible—several years of research would be demanded, especially in Seville, where the detailed reports of the three religious orders on their apostolate are still preserved.
Not the least valuable part of the study is the series of seven excellent maps which accompany it: 1. Provincia del Santo Evangelio de México; 2. Provincia Franciscana de Michoacán; 3. Provincia Franciscana de Yucatán; 4. Provincia de Zacatecas ; 5. Provincia Franciscana de Guatemala; 6. Principales conventos en el siglo XVI; 7. Obispado de Tlaxcala.