In his classic study of the Mexican Church, Father Mariano Cuevas, writing in the wake of the Mexican Revolution, gave an image of the sixteenth-century cathedral chapter as consisting of argumentative, petty, and garrulous clerics eager to throw off episcopal control.1 In other works a similar impression of the secular clergy, and the cathedral chapter in particular, has survived. Most of these studies have drawn heavily on correspondence from bishops in Mexico to the crown and the Council of the Indies. Further data have come from letters and chronicles of members of religious orders and correspondence of private citizens. Little or no use has been made of the records of the cathedral chapter itself. Drawing heavily on the cathedral archive, I hope to demonstrate that what Cuevas saw as clerics attempting to undermine their prelate was actually an important process whereby the checks and balances of the ecclesiastical system were defined.

When Spaniards began to build a society in New Spain, they transplanted many institutions from the Iberian Peninsula. The Catholic Church was important among these. Following the establishment of the Diocese of Mexico in 1527, many subsidiary ecclesiastical bodies came into existence. The most important of these was the cathedral chapter, or cabildo eclesiástico, which governed the capital church of the diocese.

Historians have often viewed the squabbles of colonial Latin American institutions as colorful, if unimportant, highlights in the period of colonial stability following the conquest and preceding Independence. In fact, such controversies helped to clarify the power, prestige, and role of the institutions in question in the society at large; and this was no less true of the Church than of other bodies. Three seemingly unimportant disputes that involved the cathedral chapter in Mexico served to resolve very important questions of power and prestige. The quarrels included a conflict between the chapter and bishop over his power of appointment, a persistent division within the chapter over the role of certain members, and a confrontation between the chapter and the crown over the relationship between the Inquisition and the clerical hierarchy. Specifically, these squabbles helped to reinforce the lines of authority between the chapter and the monarch, determine the status of each chapter member within the chapter, and establish the status of the chapter within the society. These questions were resolved in the course of the sixteenth century, as the institution of the cathedral chapter was modified to respond to the demands of the society and the bureaucracy within which it operated. The conflicts that erupted were the visible manifestations of the process of change.

Organization and Duties

Each diocese had as its constitution a document called the bull of erection.2 This papal document canonically created the diocese, endowed its officers with ecclesiastical powers, and defined their rights and obligations. In the case of Mexico, it provided for the formation of a cathedral chapter of twenty-seven members called prebendaries, or prebendados. The bull also stipulated the creation of a staff of eighteen minor officials. Those officials did not form part of the chapter, but worked in the cathedral and received their salaries from its revenues.

The cathedral chapter consisted of four ranks, and in general retains the same organization today. The five dignitaries, or dignidades, made up the highest rank. Each of these officials had the right to use the honorific title don and an additional title of office. In hierarchical order these were the dean, archdeacon (arcediano), precentor (chantre), schoolmaster (maestrescuela), and treasurer (tesorero). Following the dignitaries were the ten canons (canónigos) and then six racioneros and six medio-racioneros. Within each of these four ranks, length of service at that specific level determined the prebendado’s place in the hierarchy, his seating in the cathedral choir, and his placement within the group when it appeared at public events in the capital city.

Although the bull that created the diocese allowed twenty-seven members for the chapter, it recognized that until Spanish society developed more fully in Mexico, the local economy could support only a fraction of the whole. The bull then suppressed the dignity of treasurer, half of the canons, and all of the racioneros, both full and half.

The cathedral chapter had many duties specified by the bull and based on Spanish ecclesiastical tradition. The primary obligation of the chapter was the administration of the sacraments within the cathedral. The liturgical day included several ceremonies that the chapter observed corporately. Other tasks fell by rotation to the members within the ranks of the prebendaries. The chapter controlled the collection of the tithe, a 10 percent levy on all Spanish agricultural production. Last, in the absence of a prelate, the bishop or archbishop, the chapter assumed the government of the diocese. A period without a prelate was called sede vacante, meaning “the see being vacant.” Between 1536 and 1600 the see was vacant eighteen years. When the prelate governed, the chapter acted as his advisory council, occupying a position similar to that of the audiencia vis-à-vis the viceroy, but without formal judicial power.

The general obligations of the chapter dictated the individual duties of the prebendaries. Each chapter member had a specific role to play. The dean acted as the presiding officer, maintaining order and levying fines. The archdeacon assisted the prelate in his duties—visiting the parishes, examining candidates for the priesthood, and assisting in ordination, confirmation, and the administration of the see. The chantre controlled the musical portions of the church services and established the schedule by which members took turns in the celebration of the sacraments. The maestrescuela oversaw all schools in the diocese and offered courses in the cathedral. He also served as the chancellor of the local university. The treasurer administered the finances of the cathedral. He saw that the church was opened and closed daily and that each celebrant had rations of wine, hosts, and candle wax.3 While these were the official functions of each dignitary, in fact many of these tasks were taken over by employees of the chapter, leaving the dignitary with only religious duties. In general, the prebendaries often chose to pursue their own personal interests—in business, as professors in the university, or as salaried functionaries of the cathedral—thereby augmenting the stipends of their posts.4

The bull of erection required that the canons and dignitaries be priests.5 The canons rotated in celebrating the daily capitular mass. Ex officio, the canons also filled many of the minor administrative posts in the cathedral, such as those of chapel master or majordomo. The racioneros and medio-racioneros did not have to be priests, only members of the subdiaconate or diaconate. Nearly all had become priests, however. These clerics assisted at the celebration of the mass, according to the sixteenth-century liturgy. They also served the cathedral in many posts outside their liturgical obligations. Many lower prebendaries augmented their paltry wages by serving as special chaplains, overseeing tithe collection, or by taking on other tasks for the Church.

The king appointed all members of the cathedral chapter, exercising powers granted to him in the institutional bull and by the pope through the right of patronage. The first appointments to the chapter probably occurred before 1527. On December 12 of that year, the civil government of New Spain received the royal decrees creating the see and the diocese became a legal reality.6 Shortly thereafter, a semiofficial chapter seems to have existed, with first evidence of the activity of the prebendaries dating from 1528 when a newly appointed canon left Spain for Mexico.7 Although the king created the diocese and nominated all the cathedral chapter members and the bishop, none of these held his post formally until the papal bull erecting the diocese actually arrived in Mexico and was made public. These implementing documents finally reached Mexico in late 1533 and after their publication on December 28, 1533, the chapter became a canonically recognized body.8 The recorded minutes of the body indicate that it met officially for the first time on March 1, 1536.9 The delay either occurred because of continuing legal questions over the diocese or merely reflects faulty recordkeeping.

Prelates and Interim Appointments

The closest ally and main adversary of the cathedral chapter was the bishop, later archbishop. When confronting an outside opponent, the prelate and chapter, who shared power and thus often came into conflict, could find common cause and form a unified front. The first important conflict between the prelate and his chapter came over the question of who had the ultimate power to appoint prebendaries and thus, by extension, who held the ultimate control over the chapter. The question had implications for the balance of power between the bishop and chapter and, in general terms, for the prestige afforded the chapter members within the society. Under the provisions of the royal patronage, this power ultimately fell to the king alone. Slow or delayed communications with the Iberian Peninsula, however, meant that years might pass before a deceased prebendary was replaced. Since the chapter, which began in 1536 with only seven members, did not reach its full complement until 1580, the death or absence of any one of the members limited the ability of the body to perform its functions. As noted above, the constitutional bull suppressed several of the positions on the chapter until revenues could support the full complement of prebendaries. Thus, in the bull, the pope allowed the bishop to make interim chapter appointments, under the general discretionary powers allotted to him. From its inception, however, the Mexican chapter was jealous of its rights and powers. It was very much aware of Spanish precedents, by which several late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century cathedral chapters had even claimed their traditional right to elect bishops.10 In Spain, where the king held limited patronage rights, appointments to a chapter were normally made by the prelate after consultation with the chapter, thus allowing the chapter some control.11 It was unlikely that the Mexican chapter would sit quietly by while attempts were made to reduce its power and prestige below the levels enjoyed by its peninsular counterparts.

In 1537, after several years of experience with the daily problems of diocesan administration, the bishops of Oaxaca, Mexico, and Guatemala jointly petitioned the crown to reaffirm and clarify their episcopal authority to appoint interim chapter members.12 In their letter the bishops did not seek to question the king’s authority to make chapter appointments. They feared that the long delays between the death of one prebendary and the arrival of his successor would leave their chapters seriously understaffed. They contended that the cathedrals should be the example for the rest of the churches in the diocese and that this was not possible if there existed serious shortages of qualified personnel caused by death and delay.

The next year Charles I clarified this power of interim appointment in a letter to the bishops, limiting each bishop to four substitutions.13 The prelates interpreted this to mean a limit of four substitutes serving at any one time. Bishop Juan de Zumárraga, Mexico’s first prelate, used the power vested in him for the first time in 1539 when he named Comendador Juan Infante Barrios as interim archdeacon and Francisco Rodríguez Santos as a canon.14 When these first episcopal nominees arrived in the chapter seeking recognition of their appointments, the other prebendaries accepted them. In a subsequent letter to King Charles, Zumárraga explained his nominations and described the merits of each appointee; he also discussed the entire procedure of episcopal interim appointments, which he personally supported.15 He requested royal confirmation of his actions, since in this way alone could the appointees enjoy the full benefits of their offices. The king chose to reject the appointment of Infante Barrios, who had been a Franciscan friar before arriving in New Spain and who had left the order, but accepted and confirmed the appointment of Rodríguez Santos to the vacant canonry and later promoted him to treasurer.

On the pragmatic level, should any difference of opinion arise between the chapter and the bishop, the prelate had a powerful weapon in his ability to make appointments. Should any prebendary be absent, for whatever reason, the bishop could nominate an interim replacement. By extension, if the bishop could call in replacements, why then could he not fill the seats that the constitutional bull had initially suppressed because of insufficient ecclesiastical revenues?

Theoretically, through these machinations a bishop could use the chapter as an extension of his personal household, providing his retainers with sinecures. Since the Mexican chapter saw itself as a cohesive entity with specific rights and privileges to protect, not as an outgrowth of any bishop’s personal staff, as far as the chapter was concerned,16 this struck at the very heart of the relationship between it and the prelate. The second major point of controversy on this issue arose over income. One-quarter of the tithe collected in the diocese was earmarked for the chapter. The salaries of the prebendaries came from this fund, divided proportionally among all the members. The fewer members, the greater the amount each received. Thus, if the substitutes named by the prelate could collect the salaries of their posts, the amount the others received was decreased.

The cathedral chapter initially chose to accept Bishop Zumárraga’s appointments, although some members appealed to the royal audiencia for a legal opinion on the bishop’s right to make such nominations. This action fanned the coals of discord, and several questions surfaced. The audiencia was competent to hear cases involving the implementation of royal decrees, yet could it interfere in purely ecclesiastical matters? Did the audiencia have the proper authority to clarify the constitutional bull upon which episcopal privilege ultimately rested? What rights and privileges could interim appointees enjoy, if their nominations were valid, but not royally confirmed?

The audiencia ruled that it was the proper arbiter of questions arising from the implementation of the constitution of the cathedral as well as of cases involving the rights of royal subjects and thus would hear the chapter members’ appeal. In this case, the full members of the cabildo eclesiástico declared that their rights, mostly to revenues, had been undermined by the bishop’s interim appointments and that the king’s rights as patron were also threatened. Because the prelate controlled the local ecclesiastical court, that agency would be too deeply involved to ensure an impartial decision. The next higher ecclesiastical court was in Seville and, although it could arbitrate such cases, using it would involve considerable expense and time. Also, use of the Seville court presented a conflict of interest. Therefore, the audiencia sought to resolve the issue as an outside third party. When the audiencia finally ruled, it resolved that the bishop did indeed have powers of interim appointment. Furthermore, when the issue finally reached the king in Spain, he granted the audiencia the right to decide all subsequent questions concerning appointments or any other interpretations of the Church’s constitutional bull.17

After this initial confrontation between Zumárraga and the chapter, the bishop chose to exercise his privilege sparingly, making only eleven interim appointments between 1540 and his death in 1548. Since several persons refused the honor, his total fell below the four allowed by the king to serve at any one time.

In 1547 Mexico became an archdiocese no longer suffragan to Seville and with certain administrative control over the other dioceses of New Spain. Zumárraga’s successor, the Dominican don Fray Alonso de Montúfar, became Mexico’s first archbishop. Montúfar was a vigorous administrator who chose to make liberal use of the appointive power of the episcopate. The archbishop cherished power and attempted to consolidate as much authority as possible in his person and office. The chapter was likewise jealous of its own powers. Moreover, it had become accustomed to running things during the vacancy of the see and, as a result of the traditional rivalry between the secular and regular clery, was suspicious of the new archbishop.

From the beginning, relations between Archbishop Montúfar and the chapter were hostile. Upon consecration, Montúfar initiated a program to reduce the power of the cathedral chapter. During his first meeting with the chapter, on July 3, 1554, he named two priests to fill vacant prebends: Alonso Bravo as dean and P. Benavente as canon, setting the tone for his administration in no uncertain terms.18 These appointments were the opening salvos to the battle. He quickly followed with a decree that forbade prebendaries to leave the city or miss cathedral services.19 Then, as now, many Mexico City residents had homes outside the city center for use during short vacations. Montúfar’s decree curtailing these trips met with an unfriendly reception. It also provided the archbishop with the possibility of replacing permanent members of the chapter if they were found to have been absent without leave.

In the beginning Archbishop Montúfar chose to fill all vacancies in the chapter except that of maestrescuela, vacant since February 1554. He waited until March 1555 to fill it, and then appointed his nephew, Juan Cabello.20 The following September Montúfar made two more nominations. Five appointments in just over a year made the chapter question his exercise of this power. While accepting the prelate’s nominees, not all of whom chose to serve, the chapter retaliated by allowing the newcomers only the salaries and seats of their predecessors, and by denying them both the right to vote on capitular business and other perquisites.21 The secretary did not inscribe them on the official attendance register or mention them in the listing of members that preceded official resolutions. The chapter even resolved to pay the substitutes only a base salary so that they could not benefit from paid vacations or receive any special income that full-fledged members might enjoy.22

When Archbishop Montúfar appointed his next interim candidate, the chapter resolved to appeal the appointment to the audiencia. Montúfar responded by forbidding the chapter to meet at times other than those specified in the constitutional bull.23 In this way the archbishop attempted to ensure that he or his representative could attend all chapter sessions to forestall future confrontations and keep an eye on threatening adversaries. The appeals of the chapter, meanwhile, continued through the royal judicial system. Montúfar in turn made further appointments and opposed the chapter at every opportunity. In this fashion the conflict escalated.

This judicial process, begun in July 1557, lasted until October 1559.24 The suit hinged not on the prelate’s right to make appointments, but on which privileges the substitutes could enjoy. The chapter hoped to limit the rights and perquisites of the interim members. Specifically the suit addressed the rights to vote on capitular business and to collect special fees, which the chapter members enjoyed beyond their base pay. If it lost its case with regard to voting rights, the chapter feared that it would lose all autonomy from the archbishop. The prelate would be able to appoint enough substitutes to sway in his favor any decision of the chapter.

Archbishop Montúfar, on the other hand, argued that the base pay was insufficient to maintain his appointees in the manner to which they were accustomed, and that they needed the extra income from special fees. Furthermore, he declared that members of his personal staff, from which he chose these substitutes, should enjoy their full cathedral pay even when absent, a right even royal appointees did not have, and a right Montúfar had already denied the chapter. Last, the archbishop felt that the bull of erection allowed him to reserve two of the suppressed canonries for members of his personal staff. In response, the chapter declared that under no circumstances should the prelate’s retainers be appointed. The cathedral chapter was an important ecclesiastical institution, not a sinecure for the archbishop’s followers.

When the audiencia first heard the various suits, it decided that only the king, as patron of the Church in the Indies, could fully resolve the various points at issue. It further decreed that until it reached a resolution, the interim appointees would enjoy only their seats on the chapter and base pay. Nevertheless, in review the audiencia reversed its initial decision and allowed the substitutes to collect whatever special fees the archbishop deemed proper. Then the court further ruled that the interim members could receive their full pay, even if absent, as long as the absence was for official archiepiscopal business. In 1559 the Council of the Indies ultimately ruled, with royal approval, that the substitutes could collect all fees and other income when they attended services, but could not collect them when absent, even if they were on official business for the archbishop.

Archbishop Montúfar must have hailed this judgment as a minor victory. It did not please the chapter, which continued to press its suit to have the objectionable privilege of episcopal appointment eliminated completely. The cathedral chapter complained that Montúfar’s appointees all belonged either to his personal household or archiepiscopal staff. As such they missed most of the chapter meetings and cathedral ceremonies. Montúfar’s appointments failed even to fulfill the original purpose of naming interim prebendaries, which was to ensure that the cathedral would always be adequately staffed. The chapter further declared that Montúfar subjected its members to unjust retaliatory punishments and that he was unwilling to meet with representatives of the chapter to discuss the conflict.25 On several issues of substance during these years, at least three prebendaries demanded that the chapter secretary record their dissenting votes in the official minutes. Montúfar had originally appointed these three to interim positions on the chapter and the king ultimately had confirmed the action.26 Thus, the archbishop had in fact divided the chapter, even if he had not conquered it.

The final resolution of the appointment dispute came in 1567, after years of acrimonious wrangling. The king ordered the archbishop to cease appointing interim prebendaries except when fewer than four royally installed prebendaries still held their positions; then the archbishop could appoint sufficient clerics to bring the membership up to four.27 This royal decree effectively eliminated the archbishop’s appointive power over chapter positions since there were eighteen royally appointed prebendaries in 1567 and it was most unlikely that fourteen, or more, would die, resign, or become absent at any one time. Archbishop Montúfar died a few years after the promulgation of this decree and never mounted an effective counterattack. After his death the issue was dropped.

The confrontation between the cabildo eclesiástico and the archbishop on the question of interim appointments was of crucial importance for the ecclesiastical development of New Spain and the rest of Spanish America. Had the prelate gained unquestioned appointive power, his office and the chapter would have ceased to act as a check on each other’s power. The concept of balance of power, a basic characteristic of the government in the Indies, would thereby have been undone.28 The king confirmed this system of checks and balances when he denied the substitutes’ voting rights.

In social terms the distinction between prebendaries appointed by the king and those appointed by the archbishop was also very important. The controversy over the privileges accorded the substitutes demonstrated this. In order to maintain the social system, wherein royal appointees were treated with deference, it was essential that the substitutes be denied certain prerogatives. Again the issue of voting rights struck at the heart of this distinction, for by being denied the right to vote, the substitutes were clearly set apart from the rest of the chapter. Only when Montúfar’s appointees were confirmed individually by the king did they receive the right to vote. Thus, the privilege of voting was of crucial importance for political as well as social reasons. Its denial indicated that the members were not truly part of the body of the chapter and thus could enjoy neither the power nor the prestige of the institution.


While denial of voting rights was one clear means of discrimination within the chapter, there were others. Financial affairs occupied the chapter a great deal of the time. Individual members could be denied all or part of their salary for a whole range of offenses. Likewise, since the chapter was strictly hierarchical, denial to an individual of the deference due him served to set him apart. Thus, one’s status within the chapter, and, by extension, within the society, could be injured through the loss of voting rights, salary, or social deference.

These issues directly affected one entire group in the chapter, the racioneros. The institutional bull provided, according to canon law, that the racioneros, both full and half, be barred from capitular elections.29Racioneros had to attend all chapter meetings and corporate services. Although they could voice their opinions during the debates, they could not vote on any canonical or spiritual issues; neither could they participate in the election of a prelate. Originally the clause in the bull served to prohibit any person not ordained a priest from deciding questions of canon law. Because the racioneros were required only to have taken holy orders, cases might have arisen, it was argued, in which they passed judgment without competence. Nevertheless, as mentioned, all the racioneros in Mexico had entered the priesthood, a fact that ultimately led to serious divisions within the chapter. Likewise, the chapter did not elect the prelate; the king appointed bishops and archbishops. The controversy over voting rights struck at the very heart of the power of the chapter to govern itself and recognize differences among the various ranks of cathedral personnel. A determination had to be made as to which members constituted the real authority and which merely participated in capitular activities. Without voting privileges the racioneros would sink into a second-class category, helpless to influence the course of the chapter decisions. By denying or allowing the voting rights, the factions on the chapter could either exclude opponents or include supporters, depending on how the racioneros might vote.

One school of thought holds that racioneros were not, strictly speaking, members of the cathedral chapter, but rather a special type of chaplain.30 In light of events and practices, this argument does not stand. The racioneros shared many important characteristics with the dignitaries and canons; they were appointed directly by the king, holding lifetime appointments; their salary was based on a proportion of the tithe and was not a fixed sum; they filled administrative posts in the cathedral, such as majordomo. The chaplains, on the other hand, served at the pleasure of the chapter, received a fixed salary, and never held major appointive cathedral posts.31

The question of racionero suffrage first arose in the chapter meeting of May 15, 1560. The upper division of the cabildo eclesiástico requested that the two racioneros leave the chapter room since the rest of the body intended to discuss whether the racioneros could vote in the yearly elections of cathedral personnel. Although the chapter regularly asked persons involved in a question facing debate to leave the room, the two racioneros protested their exclusion and asserted that the action constituted a violation of their rights as prebendaries. After they had lodged their complaint and left the room, their colleagues decided to deny them voting rights.32 While the racioneros were allowed to vote on administrative matters, they could not participate in elections of officials. Part of the reason why the dignitaries and canons took this action was that the racioneros often voted with the supporters of Archbishop Montúfar. This action, then, served to diminish the archbishop’s power.

The issue would not die and conflict erupted again in January 1561, when the actual elections took place. It seems that the racioneros, almost inadvertently, were permitted to participate in the elections. After the first election, for majordomo, Canon Juan Juárez protested their participation. The two racioneros suggested that no breach of procedure had occurred since the vote dealt with an appointment and not a canonical issue,33 in spite of the decision of the previous May. They based their argument on the grounds that while perhaps racioneros could not pass on questions dealing with canon law or the statutes of the Church, they certainly could vote in the election of their own corporate officials. The latter lacked any overriding theological or canonical importance.

The racioneros formally complained of their exclusion from the subsequent elections and immediately appealed to the vicar general, who attended the meeting as the representative of the archbishop. The vicar general ruled that, since the dispute concerned the interpretation of the constitutional bull, the suit fell under the jurisdiction of the audiencia. Undaunted, the racioneros sought to have the archbishop intervene, at least until the king or audiencia could formally resolve the question. With no reply from the prelate, the elections continued, without the racioneros.

In January 1563, the racioneros were again denied the right to vote in capitular elections.34 The issue did not arise again until 1580. The long delay resulted from the time-consuming process of appeal to Spain. Until the king ruled to the contrary, the local decision would remain in effect, so long as the audiencia did not intervene, and it did not. Furthermore, the suit was difficult to press, since the racioneros as a group lacked the resources with which to pursue the issue. Finally, the number of racioneros involved initially was only three. By the time the suit was revived, ten racioneros actively served the cathedral, while the full complement of twelve had been appointed.

In 1580 the higher ranking prebendaries again found themselves battling with the racioneros. During the previous twenty years a deep antagonism had developed between the racioneros and the archdeacon, don Juan Zurnero, the president of the chapter for many years in the absence of a dean. In July 1580, racionero Juan Fernández incurred the wrath of Zurnero in an argument between the two. When debate began on an issue that directly involved Fernández, Zurnero requested that the racionero leave the chapter room, as was customary. Fernández flatly refused to leave. In the wake of the ensuing confrontation, Fernández and some other racioneros brought suit against the rest of the chapter over the old issue of voting rights, resurrecting the 1561 suit. They also added the complaint that capitular income was not being fairly distributed among all members. The suit was probably raised in an attempt to gain a working majority on the chapter to oppose the arbitrary rulings of Zurnero, who had heavily fined and punished his opponents on this and earlier occasions. Unfortunately for the racioneros, the audiencia found in favor of the canons and dignitaries.35

Less than a year later, Archdeacon Zurnero fined racionero Claudio de la Cueva fifty pesos and suspended him from the chapter for four months over yet another confrontation. It seems that Cueva and Canon Alonso López de Cárdenas had refused to occupy their proper seats in the choir during services. In the heated debate that followed in the chapter room, when Zurnero reprimanded the two, Cueva insulted the archdeacon personally and the chapter in general, according to Zurnero. Throughout the dispute López de Cárdenas backed Cueva. López de Cárdenas, in turn, received a twenty-peso fine and a two-month suspension. The chapter then voted to fine Zurnero ten pesos for having levied excessive fines and punishments against the other two, an indication of the fury of the exchange. Oddly, the chapter also voted to sustain the fines and punishments for which they had penalized Zurnero.36

The problem resurfaced two weeks later when racionero Juan de Aberruza sought to have the punishment lifted from Cueva and López de Cárdenas. The chapter again voted to support Zurnero’s original decrees. Led by the archdeacon, the chapter then proceeded to levy a twenty-peso fine on Aberruza and suspend him for two months for having insulted the group in the debate on his request.37 In early June 1581, more than two months after the initial confrontation, the chapter lifted all fines from Zurnero, Cueva, and López de Córdenas, although the suspensions remained in effect. The group offered to lift the punishment meted out to Aberruza, but he refused, preferring to press his case in the courts.38

During the first few days of 1582, the racioneros objected to their exclusion from the annual election of officers, and internal warfare again raged in the cathedral. On January 5, 1582, the chapter postponed the elections pending the resolution of the racionero question. On January 9, Archdeacon Zurnero called for the elections to be held and once again the racioneros cried out in opposition. Racionero Rodrigo Muñoz rose and appealed to the archdeacon to delay the elections until the audiencia could proceed to resolve the dilemma, even though each time the question came before it the audiencia found against the racioneros, barring them from voting in chapter elections. Now Zurnero recognized Muñoz’s point of order, but ruled that the elections should continue. He requested that the chapter members then debate the merits of each candidate and vote calmly, without interference or heated passions. No longer able to contain his anger, racionero Antonio de Salazar leaped to his feet and shouted that if passions flared, it was due to Zurnero’s imperious attitude and aggravating obstinacy. With that, the archdeacon declared that Salazar had offended him personally, offended the sanctity of the place, criminally disrupted the meeting, and more. Zurnero fined the racionero six days’ pay and suspended him from the chapter for a month.39

For perhaps the third time, the issue of racionero suffrage eventually reached the archiepiscopal court; and the audiencia too, later in 1582, made yet another ruling on the case. Following the dispute described above, the royal court, reversing its previous rulings, upheld the decision of the archbishop’s court. The oidores found that the racioneros could vote on all issues and in any elections. Nevertheless, the Council of the Indies ultimately excluded the racioneros from voting in cases of canonical institution, reception, or apostolic presentation of a prelate, and in the reception of any person under royal presentation or canonical institution.40 Thus, in most matters pertaining to the daily administration of the cathedral and in the election of capitular officers, the racioneros enjoyed full rights of suffrage.

The uncertain position of the racioneros was reflected in many ways. According to protocol, all chapter members carried the additional title of señor in documents, as in Señor Canónigo Alonso López de Cárdenas. In the early years of the Mexican cathedral, however, the racioneros did not enjoy the title. Finally in 1567, forty years after the creation of the cathedral, the chapter voted to accord the honor to the racioneros: “Since the racioneros are and have been part of the body of the chapter, and as such they deserve every honor and courtesy, from today hence we order that in all things señor be given to the racioneros as to other prebendaries.”41

The racioneros’ salary indicated their relative importance within the chapter. All capitular salaries came from the tithe. According to the bull that created the diocese, shares of the tithe went to each prebendary as follows: each canon received one whole share, each dignitary 1.3, full racioneros .7, and the medio-racioneros .35. Nevertheless, in 1545 the king approved a new apportionment first advanced by the chapter itself in which each canon still received one share, and the dignitaries 1.33; the racioneros enjoyed only .66, and the medio-racioneros .33.42 The change subtly shifted the monetary distinction in favor of the higher ranking prebendaries. Eventually, in the 1580s, the racioneros began to receive the full salary dictated by the constitutional bull. This had been a major issue along with the voting rights. The change parallels the growing importance of the racioneros in the life of the cathedral. While in 1545 there were only three racioneros, by 1578 the chapter had received its full complement of six racioneros and six medio-racioneros, although not all were serving.

This series of controversies served to establish and guarantee a secure and acceptable position for the racioneros in the chapter. The conflict and resulting decrees indicated that the racioneros were members of the body of the chapter and not special chaplains. As the lowest ranking members of the chapter, they still had to accept lower salaries and less prestigious posts, yet they were assured a secure place in the universally recognized hierarchy of the cathedral and as such enjoyed reasonable respect in society at large.


Yet another sixteenth-century confrontation threatened to change the composition of the cathedral chapter and to undermine its powers. In 1574, shortly after the creation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Mexico, Philip II decreed that one of the inquisitors should receive the pay of the dean of the chapter while the junior inquisitor received the chantre’s share, both the dignities being vacant at that point.43 In allowing the inquisitors to collect the cathedral salaries, the king hoped to save money, since the royal treasury usually paid Inquisition officials. Nevertheless, the royal decision created grave problems for the cathedral chapter.

Each chapter member, it will be recalled, had specific duties to perform within the cathedral. If a position were vacant, the other prebendaries would have to assume the additional responsibilities. Since the chapter members shared the total revenues according to the distribution outlined earlier, the fruits of the vacant posts went to all other members proportionally, as noted above. When the king allocated the salaries of the two vacant dignities to the inquisitors, the other chapter members actually lost potential income. To compound the matter, the inquisitors did not serve the cathedral or fulfill their capitular duties on the grounds that they were too busy with the duties of the Holy Office.

In response to this situation, the chapter filed a suit against the inquisitors personally for their failure to carry out their capitular duties and refused to pay them their cathedral salaries.44 The bull of erection stipulated that no one could enjoy a cathedral salary if he did not actively serve the post, thus prohibiting sinecures.45 To collect full salary one had to attend all cathedral services and chapter meetings. Salaries were prorated according to attendance. Thus, it was argued, the inquisitors could not collect salaries since they did not participate in capitular activities.

Neither the archbishop nor the viceroy fully approved of the king’s program in this instance. In their correspondence these two high officials of the crown suggested that perhaps the monarch might find a way to pay the inquisitors without causing such disruption and dissension in the cathedral.46 As the various suits progressed through the royal courts, however, it became clear that the cathedral would have to pay the inquisitors, whether or not they actually served their prebends. In 1580 part of the problem disappeared when one inquisitor received an appointment to the bishopric of Charcas. His successor seems to have enjoyed a salary from a source other than the cathedral. The other inquisitor-dignitary continued to draw his pay from the cathedral coffers until the early 1590s. Ultimately the Spanish crown resolved to pay the inquisitors directly from the royal treasury.

While economic matters appear to rank foremost in the dispute over the inquisitor-dignitaries, questions of authority and prestige also played key roles in the conflict. The inquisitors constituted an anomaly in the otherwise fixed cathedral hierarchy. Each chapter member recognized his place within that order. The inquisitors enjoyed the prestige of their functional office, as officers of the Holy Office, but received compensation destined to a clerical official. In this they breached the dividing line between the ecclesiastical bureaucracies. While both ecclesiastical bodies fell administratively under the crown, each had its separate hierarchy. The inquisitors rose in their own hierarchy, separate from that of the Church. Service in the Holy Office, like that in the Church, was service to the crown, and thus accumulated merit for the individual and the family to be considered by the crown when making future appointments. Yet when the inquisitors sat on the chapter, they came to enjoy some of the prestige of both worlds. Since the inquisitors also tended to be fresh from Spain, they represented a threat to the other chapter members who often had either close ties to the local society or years of experience in the Indian Church. This intrusion of the monarch represented a clear demonstration of his authority over the whole system, local interests and concerns aside. Thus, although the king usually favored institutional stability within his bureaucracies, on some occasions he brought about instability.

Social Composition of the Chapter

In all the disputes and cases studied here, one theme reappears, although often not explicitly. The representatives of local interests coveted power, although they never expressed it in those terms. To explore this point more fully one must consider the social composition of the cathedral chapter as it evolved in Mexico.47

The king of Spain made all appointments to the cathedral chapters of the New World. In conjunction with the Council of the Indies, the monarch considered many factors before making a nomination. Through the course of the sixteenth century, the Spanish crown issued several decrees outlining factors that would be emphasized. In general, royal appointments were seen as rewards for past service.

The first major pronouncement on the question of ecclesiastical appointments came in 1512 in the so-called Concordat of Burgos. In this document Ferdinand returned to the Church his right to collect and enjoy all New World tithe revenues. He then took the opportunity to outline his patronage rights. Ferdinand declared that all ecclesiastical posts that became vacant would be granted to the legitimate offspring of the inhabitants of the Indies, the children of the conquerors and first settlers. The New World dioceses received the right to use the locally generated revenues and they enjoyed a mandate to create a clerical hierarchy made up of individuals closely tied to the area.48 This same concept, worded similarly, appeared in the constitutional bulls of the New World dioceses, forming a canonical mandate for preference.49 With the passage of time, the crown found it necessary to restate its position concerning royal appointments. In the New Laws of 1542, in order to soften the blow of the abolition of the encomienda, Charles I created a new procedure to reward the conquerors and early settlers who either lost encomiendas or never had any.50 Specifically the laws defined the method through which an individual seeking a royal post could present information concerning his prior services and qualifications, a relación de méritos y servicios. Both the local audiencia and the Council of the Indies used these reports. The New Laws called for a policy of preference in royal patronage toward the conquerors and their offspring. While the laws seem to have applied only to civil positions, the colonists understood them to apply to all positions under royal patronage, including those in the Church. Further decrees repeated the policy of preference, clarifying and amending the New Laws, yet not excluding ecclesiastical posts from the preference system. The policy eventually covered all posts subject to royal patronage. Even clerics submitted relaciones in which they often mentioned that the information was being compiled in accordance with the New Laws.

The secular clergy grew rapidly in the decades of the 1560s and 1570s in Mexico as the regular orders entered into a period of stabilization and consolidation. Concurrently, the crown began reassessing its role as patron of the Church. Following the promulgation of several decrees in the late 1560s, Philip II announced his definitive order on patronage in the Ordenanza de Patronazgo of 1574.51 This ordinance attempted to organize into a single code the vast number of separate pronouncements on the question of patronage. Specific guidelines embodied in the law ensured the appointment of the best qualified priests. Clerics with prior experience in Indian parishes received first consideration for chapter positions; after that appointments went to the descendants of the conquerors and early settlers.

Contrary to their use of much other royal legislation, the Spanish monarchs seemed to respect their own guidelines on patronage. From the earliest years a significant number of prebendaries on the cathedral chapter of Mexico either were conquerors or had blood ties to the conqueror class.52 During the sixteenth century, eighty-one clerics served on the cathedral chapter of Mexico. Socially they belonged to three groups: peninsulars, creoles, and domiciliarios.53 Peninsulars were Spaniards born in Spain, while creoles were Spaniards born in the New World. The domiciliarios included those individuals who had left Spain and taken up formal residency in the Indies. Clerics who had dropped their affiliation to a peninsular diocese and had served in the New World before a cathedral appointment fell into this group, as did those peninsulars who were ordained in the Indies. Other members of the domiciliarios included those who had extensive family ties among the already established Spanish society of Mexico.54

It is difficult to ascertain the origins of many clerics. Using all possible indications, and placing all the dubious cases among the ranks of the peninsulars, of the eighty-one prebendaries known to have served on the Mexican chapter in the sixteenth century, it seems that thirty-two were peninsulars, twenty-nine creoles, and twenty domiciliarios,55 Some evidence exists for placing as many as five peninsulars into the ranks of either the domiciliarios or creoles. Thus, the group with ties to the New World (creole-domiciliario) constituted 60 percent of all prebendaries appointed in the sixteenth century. This proportion changed through the century. In 1552, of the eleven members of the chapter, eight (73 percent) were peninsular and three creole-domiciliario. By 1560 the structure had altered slightly, with five (33 percent) of the fifteen members coming from the local interest group and ten (67 percent) from Spain. The major change occurred about 1570. In 1573 only nine (41 percent) of the twenty-two chapter members came from Spain, while the remaining thirteen (59 percent) were creole-domiciliario. This trend toward creole dominance continued. In 1585 sixteen (70 percent) chapter members were from the local group with only seven (30 percent) from Spain.

Over the whole century, appointees with close ties to the Indies predominated, but those born in Spain constituted the majority (65 percent). In their appointment policy the Spanish kings kept the cathedral chapter fairly evenly divided, with the domiciliarios occupying a critical position: although born in Spain, they felt allied with the interests of the area they served.

The entire question of royal appointment policy centers on a paradox. Ostensibly the crown formulated its preference for local interests to reward those who had served in the conquest and pacification of the new lands. On the other hand, in many ways the conquerors and settlers forced the crown to grant them this measure of prestige in return for their continued support in the face of added controls placed on the encomienda, the obvious reward for having participated in the conquest and early settlement of the colony. It comes as little surprise, then, that the first two decrees on the question of preference, the Concordat and Laws of Burgos of 152 and the New Laws, appear with major restrictions on the encomienda. With no standing army, the crown depended very much on the goodwill of its subjects.

In general, no one regional faction could hold sway without the support of another. Thus progress often occurred through compromise. In the dispute over the interim appointive powers of the bishop, peninsulars supported the bishop since his appointments usually went to his own peninsular retainers. Yet the ecclesiastical issue was not in itself the cause of all the friction that developed. Those peninsulars who joined the fight against the bishop did so on principle, because the interim appointees, in bypassing the royal hierarchy, jeopardized the position of all royal appointees. In such cases, none of the considerations of preference as defined by the crown came into play. In this instance the domiciliarios had something to gain from the policy of preference because they had begun service in the New World and expected to advance within that hierarchy according to the criteria established by the crown. Francisco Rodríguez Santos, first canon and later treasurer, tended to support Montúfar, probably because Rodríguez Santos had himself first been appointed ad interim by Zumárraga. Montúfar’s staunchest supporters were all peninsulars, about whom very little is known. With the exception of Rodríguez Santos, none received a later advancement. Oddly, the racioneros of Montúfar’s time tended to support him, even though most were creoles. Perhaps they saw him, cutting across provincial origins, as an ally in their own conflict with the superior members of the chapter.

The early royal appointments of creoles were generally to lower posts in the chapter. The creoles first controlled the ranks of the racioneros, then of the canons, and, only late in the century, the dignities. On the other hand, the domiciliarios held positions at all levels at all times. The fight for racionero voting rights, and for the equitable distribution of tithe income, corresponded with the growth in power of the creoles. Although local interests always had a significant faction on the chapter, they did not control the majority until 1570. All except one of the racioneros and canons who were embroiled with the archdeacon in 1580-82 came from the ranks of the creole-domiciliario.56 As early as 1567, racioneros had received the title señor. Significantly, the racioneros received their partial voting rights in 1582, at just the time when local interests came to dominate the chapter as a whole.

The dispute over the inquisitors who enjoyed the fruits of chapter membership without serving in the cathedral also had repercussions in the balance of power between local interests and peninsulars. At this time all the high inquisitorial officers were peninsulars who had little previous experience in the Indies. In the sixteenth century, only one inquisitorial official, Dr. Dionisio de Ribera Flórez, ever received a regular appointment to the chapter. The presence of the two inquisitors on the payrolls of the cathedral caused two responses. The creoles and domiciliarios saw it as a threat to both the policy of preference and to the balance of power in the chapter. Creoles, domiciliarios, and peninsulars alike opposed the policy because it increased the work load and reduced the individual’s share in the tithe revenue. The conflict demonstrated the ability of the chapter to unify in pursuit of a common interest. Moreover, the conflict tended to demonstrate the independence of the chapter from the Holy Office. The chapter did not accept that it was in any way inferior to the Holy Office, and resented the use of its ranks as sinecures for the inquisitors.

The dichotomy between peninsular and local interests was by no means absolute. Most often the chapter could, and did, act as a unified whole to attack the problems of the day, but on many occasions the chapter divided along factional lines, often dictated by the regional origins of the various members. This usually occurred over questions concerning local prestige and standing within the local community. Of course, some peninsular members came to support local aspirations, usually late in their careers after decades of service in the New World. The best example of this type of behavior is that of Sancho Sánchez de Muñón, the maestrescuela for much of the century. He returned to Spain for seven years as an agent of the chapter at court. Throughout this career he actively supported local interests, and his own pursuits. The consideration of regional origin is, nevertheless, an important one. Many disputes that on the surface seem senseless, in fact represent the working out of conflict between local interests and outsiders. Most important, local interests, the creoles and domiciliarios, exercised far more power on the cathedral chapter of Mexico than has been recognized up to now.

The cathedral chapter of Mexico in the sixteenth century was far from a static institution. As time passed, it evolved in response to new pressures from without and within. On the outside the bishop or archbishop represented either allies or powerful adversaries. The king, too, could either reward the prebendaries or act against their interests. Finally, many factions and divisions appeared within the body itself, based on regional origin, social background, rank, and connections with other powerful groups.

Each of the controversies studied here served to clarify the power and authority of the chapter. Although all power came from the crown and pope, the actual authority evolved in response to particular needs. As a result of the clarifications of these disputes, the cathedral chapter became a different institution from the one created by the constitutional bull. Through the clash with the archbishop, the chapter was able to maintain its independence and thus serve as an adequate check on the prelate’s power. Similarly, the confrontation over the inquisitors’ salaries demonstrated that the chapter was a separate and distinct institution, thus maintaining a balance of power. Finally, the disputes over power and prestige determined that the racioneros could enjoy full membership in the chapter. Just as the contention over interim appointments helped to guarantee the chapter members’ standing in the local society, so the issue of racionero voting rights helped to establish that group’s place in the social structure. Each of these controversies was crucial in resolving important questions of power and social standing, reinforcing both the balance of power and the social structure. Ultimately one must study institutions through their actions and responses to conflict, not merely through legal codes and royal decrees. Although the latter can help to describe the institution, the reality lies in the former.


This paper is based on research in the Archivo General de la Nación of Mexico (AGN), the Archivo del Cabildo Eclesiástico de México (ACEM), and the Archivo General de Indias (AGI) in Seville, Spain. The minutes of the cathedral chapter, which form the core of this study, are housed in the ACEM and will be referred to as ACTAS. Mariano Cuevas, Historia de la iglesia en México, 5 vols. (Tlalpan, 1922), II, 106-129.


Copies of this document can be found in AGI, Escribanía de Cámara 163-B, fols. 8-13v. Printed editions of a later era include Francisco Lorenzana, ed., Concilium mexicanum provinciale III (Mexico City, 1770), second section, pp. 4-34; Basilio Galván Rivera, ed., Concilio III mexicano (Mexico City, 1859), pp. viii-xli. Cuevas, Historia, II, 106-109, described the erection as a document written by the prelate to create his chapter. Nevertheless, Cuevas later concluded that the Council of the Indies probably drew up the instrument. Juan de Solórzano y Pereyra, Política indiana (Madrid, 1972), Lib. IV, cap. IV, núm. 1, reasoned that the writing of the erection fell to the monarch as part of his rights of patronage. While theologians and scholars of canon law might argue Solórzano’s point, it reflects the reality of the event more than does Cuevas’s work. The Audiencia of Mexico drew up an earlier erection before the formal document had been submitted to the pope. This clearly demonstrated the authority the royal government felt it had with reference to this important document. Alberto María Carreño, Un desconocido cedulario del siglo XVI (Mexico City, 1944), pp. 74-77. This latter work comprises all of ACEM, leg. 41. All references will be made to the printed edition.


Many of these duties are defined in the constitutional bull, while many others developed through time and tradition. For Spanish precedents, see Tomás Villacorta Rodríguez, El cabildo catedral de León (León, 1974); Juan Ramón López-Arévalo, Un cabildo catedral de la Vieja CastillaAvila: Su estructura jurídica, s. xiii-xx (Madrid, 1966); and Juan Francisco Rivera Recio, La iglesia de Toledo en el siglo xii, 2 vols. (Rome and Madrid, 1966).


This process is further outlined in John Frederick Schwaller, “The Secular Clergy in Sixteenth-Century Mexico” (Ph.D. Diss., Indiana University, 1978), chap. 2, and Paul B. Ganster, “A Social History of the Secular Clergy of Lima During the Middle Decades of the Eighteenth Century” (Ph.D. Diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1974), chap. 2.


In the sixteenth century there were five levels, or orders, of the clergy. From lowest to highest they were: tonsure, minor orders, subdiaconate, diaconate, and priesthood; Galván Rivera, Concilio, pp. 36-38.


Fabián de Fonseca and Carlos de Urrutia, Historia general de real hacienda, 6 vols. (Mexico City, 1845-53), III, 145; Carreño, Desconocido, p. 43.


Cristóbal Bermúdez Plaza, ed., Pasajeros a Indias, 3 vols. (Seville, 1940-46), II, 97.


Joaquín García Icazbalceta, Don fray Juan de Zumárraga, primer obispo y arzobispo de México: Estudio biográfico y bibliográfico, 4 vols. (Mexico City, 1947), I, 115-116. As late as 1532 the chapter members still called themselves “Los presentados por Vra. Mag. desta yglesia de Mexico,” indicating that they lacked full canonical authority; AGI, México 280, Presentados to King, June 30, 1532.


ACTAS, Mar. 1, 1536, vol. I, fol. 1.


Tarsicio de Azcona, La elección y reforma del episcopado español en tiempo de los Reyes Católicos (Madrid, 1960), pp. 73-86, 187, 197.


Villacorta Rodríguez, León, pp. 193-205; Rivera Recio, Toledo, II, 27-29.


García Icazbalceta, Zumárraga, III, 98. Mariano Cuevas, Documentos inéditos del siglo xvi para la historia de México (Mexico City, 1914), pp. 75-76.


Carreño, Desconocido, p. 121.


ACTAS, Nov. 14-15, 1539, vol. I, fols. 21-23v.


García Icazbalceta, Zumárraga, III, 193-197. Cuevas, Documentos, pp. 99-102.


AGI, México 336-A, doc. 81, Dean and Cabildo to King, Jan. 27, 1558.


For the final cédula, see Carreño, Desconocido, pp. 147-149, or ACEM, 12, exp. 23, June 11, 1540. Solórzano y Pereyra, Política indiana, Lib. V, cap. III, núm. 20.


ACTAS, July 3, 1554, vol. I, fols. 100v-101v.


ACTAS, July 20, 1554, vol. I, fol. 102v. Montúfar’s attempts to increase the power of the episcopacy are further discussed in Richard Greenleaf, The Mexican Inquisition of the Sixteenth Century (Albuquerque, 1969), pp. 118-119 passim.


ACTAS, Mar. 29, 1555, vol. I, fol. 110v.


ACTAS, Sept. 3, 1555, vol. I, fol. 114; Feb. 24-Mar. 10, 1556, fols. 118v-120.


ACTAS, Dec. 4, 1556, vol. I, fol. 126.


ACTAS, July 20-30, 1557, vol. I, fols. 135-141. Both the chapter and the archbishop made decrees concerning conduct during services and in the choir. An example of these decrees, called ordenanzas or estatutos, was attributed to Montúfar and supposedly published in 1570; Fr. Alonso de Montúfar, Ordenanzas para el coro de la catedral mexicana (Madrid, 1964). There is no specific mention in the ACTAS of Montúfar’s having written or published such a collection. In fact, the chapter resolved on Aug. 24, 1563, to collect all its own decrees on these matters, to be taken to the archbishop for approval; ACTAS, vol. II, fol. 108. Similarly, shortly after the consecration of Moya de Contreras, the chapter collected again these decrees for approval; ACTAS, Sept. 30, 1575, vol. II, fol. 315. Last, in anticipation of the Third Provincial Council (1585) the chapter charged the maestrescuela Sancho Sánchez de Muñón to review all the collected and individual decrees on conduct; ACTAS, Mar. 3, 1584, vol. III, fol. 192. The estatutos published with the canons of the council are most likely those collected by Sánchez de Muñón; Galván Rivera, Concilio, pp. xlii—cxlviii.


This discussion comes from the judicial distillation written in the final court records and royal decree. ACEM, 12, exp. 2, and Carreño, Desconocido, pp. 264-280; AGI, Justicia 157, núm. 4, Deán y cabildo de México contra el arzobispo de México, 1557.


ACTAS, June 14-July 8, 1561, vol. II, fols. 55-56v; Francisco del Paso y Troncoso, ed., Epistolario de Nueva España: 1505-1818, 16 vols. (Mexico City, 1939-42), IX, 110-118, Carta al Rey del Deán y Cabildo de México, Feb. 14, 1561. The letters contained in the sixteen volumes of this collection are held in the AGI. Specifically letters from the bishops and archbishops of Mexico can be found mostly in AGI, México 336, while the letters from the chapter generally come from AGI, México 339. I shall cite the printed


ACTAS, July 29, 1561, vol. II, fol. 58; Jan. 8, 1563, vol. II, fols. 93v-94, to cite only two examples.


Carreño, Desconocido, pp. 293-294.


In his discussion of the cathedral chapter, Father Cuevas assumed that the bishop had clear-cut authority over the chapter; Historia, II, 113-125. He cited numerous documents to support the view that the chapter members were unruly, self-seeking, and petty. Oddly enough, every document came from the hand of a prelate or his assistant, with but one exception. What one sees in reality was a process whereby a balance of power was being created between the prelate and chapter, moderated by the crown.


Hereinafter racionero will refer to both full and half. Galvan Rivera, Concilio, p. xxxvi. As noted earlier, in Spain before this time, chapters had the responsibility of choosing the bishop, as well as deciding many important matters of doctrine. The clause excluding racioneros most likely came from this tradition and these are probably the specific elections to which it refers. In all likelihood the intention was never to exclude racioneros from deciding administrative matters within the cathedral, such as electing cathedral employees. In León, for instance, racioneros could vote at this time on administrative matters; Villacorta Rodríguez, León, pp. 299-301.


Cuevas, Historia, II, 112.


Schwaller, “The Secular Clergy,” pp. 102-103, 136-141; Solórzano y Pereyra, Política indiana, Lib. IV, cap. XIV, núms. 5-10.


ACTAS, May 15, 1560, vol. II, fol. 32.


ACTAS, Jan. 7, 1560, vol. II, fol. 44.


ACTAS, Jan. 5, 1563, vol. II, fol. 92.


ACTAS, July 1, 1580, vol. III, fol. 98 and AGI, México 336-B, doc. 158, Archbishop of Mexico to King, Mar. 20, 1582.


ACTAS, Mar. 31, 1581, vol. III, fol. 113v.


ACTAS, Apr. 14, 1581, vol. III, fols. 114v-115.


ACTAS, June 6, 1581, vol. III, fol. 120v.


ACTAS, Jan. 5-9, 1582, vol. III, fols. 135v-138.


While records remain for three suits (1560, 1561, and 1580-83) more may have been raised. AGI, Escribanía de Cámara 162-A, Racioneros de México contra el Deán y Cabildo, 1582.


ACTAS, Jan. 10, 1567, vol. II, fol. 206v.


Galván Rivera, Concilio, p. xxviii; Carreño, Desconocido, pp. 109, 162, and 197; ACTAS, Jan. 5, 1545, vol. I, fol. 66. This tends to reinforce the position that the crown, not the pope, had final authority over clarifying and amending the erection.


AGI, Indiferente General 2859, Lib. I, fol. 65, Apr. 27, 1574.


AGI, México 218, doc. 14, Lic. Bonilla, Inquisidor Appo. [apostólico] sobre se le haga cierta merced, Sept. 18, 1585.


Galván Rivera, Concilio, pp. xviii-xxix. This had been one of the arguments against Montúfar’s substitutes.


AGI, México 20, doc. 19-A, Viceroy to Council, Apr. 12, 1579; Paso y Troncoso, Epistolario, II, 210, Archbishop to Council, Oct. 20, 1574; II, 232, Archbishop to Council, Dec. 20, 1574.


A more detailed discussion of this procedure appears in a paper presented by this author at the 92nd Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association, Dallas, Dec. 1977, “Royal Policy and the Social Composition of the Secular Clergy in Sixteenth-Century Mexico.” This discussion is based upon the arguments put forward by the clerics themselves in their requests for appointments. See note 55.


W. Eugene Shiels, King and Church: The Rise and Fall of the Patronato Real (Chicago, 1961), pp. 123-124.


Compare the Concordat; Shiels, King and Church, p. 321; and Galván Rivera, Concilio, pp. xxxii-xxxiii. For a fuller legal discussion of the question, see Solórzano y Pereyra, Política indiana, Lib. IV, cap. XIX, esp. núms. 12-13.


Antonio Muro Orejón, ed., Las leyes nuevas (Seville, 1961), pp. 16, 18.


Carreño, Desconocido, pp. 314-322; Robert C. Padden, “Ordenanza de Patronazgo of 1574: An Interpretive Essay,” The Americas, 12 (Apr. 1956), 333-354.


Among the conqueror-prebends, one finds Diego Velázquez, a relative of the governor of Cuba of the same name, who arrived in Mexico with the Narvaez expedition. Juan González, generally known for his saintly life, a canon at the cathedral, was the brother of Ruy González, conqueror and regidor of Mexico City. In Puebla the first arcediano, D. Francisco León, was the brother of conqueror Alonso Gutiérrez Coronado.


A similar distinguishing system has been seen by Mark Burkholder and D. S. Chandler, From Impotence to Authority: The Spanish Crown and the American Audiencias, 1687—1808 (Columbia, Mo., 1977), p. vi, in which those born in Spain, but with close local ties, were designated radicados. A similar distinction also occurred in the Franciscan order where friars born in Spain, but admitted to the order in the New World, carried the designation hijos de provincia; Francisco Morales, Ethnic and Social Background of the Franciscan Friars in Seventeenth-Century Mexico (Washington, D.C., 1973), pp. 54-55.


Galván Rivera, Concilio, p. 243. Canon law dictated that priests keep a legal residence and subject themselves to the authority of the bishop of that area. The process whereby this residency was established forced the peninsulars to break ties with the mother country and bind themselves to the new land. Furthermore, clerics needed special licenses to travel to and from the Indies. The extent to which this inhibited such travel is still open to speculation for the sixteenth century. Within New Spain, however, the clerics showed a remarkable degree of mobility.


These figures come from royal appointment records held in AGI, Indiferente General 2858, 2859, and 2862. These appointments were checked against attendance records found in the ACTAS to ascertain which persons actually took possession of the Mexican prebendaries. I have used relaciones de méritos and informaciones de parte y oficio to determine social groupings. These are held in AGI, México 95-118, 203-223, and 280-294, as well as in other parts of the archive.


The lone peninsular was Claudio de la Cueva, a medio-racionero who ultimately became an inquisitor in Cuenca, Spain. The creoles were Juan de Aberruza and Antonio de Salazar, sons of early settlers. The domiciliarios included Canon López de Cárdenas, son of the alcalde de crimen; Juan Fernández, who had served almost a decade in parishes before his appointment to the chapter; and Muñoz, who had served sixteen years before receiving the prebend.

Author notes


The author, Assistant Professor of History and Languages and Linguistics at Florida Atlantic University, thanks Professors Robert E. Quirk and John V. Lombardi for their assistance in the early stages of this research, and the Rev. Stafford Poole and Professor Paul Ganster for their comments during later stages. The investigation on which this paper is based was partially funded through Fellowships from the Mexican Government, the Organization of American States, and the U.S. Office of Education Fulbright-Hays Commission.