Aztec Obsidian Deity Superseded by a Black Crucifix

A More Subtle Form of Conquest

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519. SARDO, Joaquín. Relacion historica y moral de la portentosa imagen de N. Sr. Jesucristo crucificado aparecida en una de las cuevas de S. Miguel de Chalma, hoy real convento y santuario de este nombre, de religiosos ermitaños de N.P.G. y Doctor S. Agustin, en esta Nueva España, y en esta provincia del santisimo nombre de Jesus de Mexico. Con los compendios de las vidas de los dos venerables religiosos legos y primeros anacoretas de este santo desierto, F. Bartolome de Jesus María, y F. Juan de San Josef. Nuevamente escrita por el R. P. predicador jubilado y prior actual de este real convento Fr. Joaquin Sardo. Quien la dedica á su M. Illrê. y sagrada Provincia. Mexico: Impresa en Casa de Arizpe, Con las licencias necesarias, 1810. [14], 1-386 pp., a few woodcut text ornamentations, copper-engraved plate: Aparicion del Santo Christo de Chalma (showing the moment in the sacred cave of Chalma when the Catholic priests and Natives encounter the miraculous replacement of the indigenous black stone statue with an icon of a crucified black Christ). 4to (21 x 15.5 cm), contemporary full tree sheep, pale olive green gilt-leather leather spine label. Minor shelf wear to binding which has a few small wormholes, label chipped, lower right corner of upper board bumped. Interior with scattered light foxing and a few stains. Engraving with marginal browning, but image fine and strong. Rare.

     First edition of an important source on an outstanding example of the fusion of a Native American deity and a Roman Catholic image as an aid to religious conversion and “national unity.” Beristain 3:123-124. Mathes, La Ilustración en México colonial (Register No. 875). Medina, México 10516. Palau 302085. Romero de Terreros, Grabados y grabadores de la Nueva España, p. 452. Sabin 76936. Stevens, Bibliotheca Histórica 1833, p. 163: “The Apparition of the Santo Cristo de Chalma...occurred in Mexico in 1539, and from that day to this, its history has been interwoven with the ecclesiastical, and is sometimes inseparable from the political, history of Mexico, especially so far as the management and education of the Indians entrusted to the missionaries of the Order of St. Augustine are concerned. The large number of the earliest and rarest books relating to New Spain, referred to and quoted in this work, renders it indispensable to the historian. It is furthermore replete with biographical notes and references, not easily found elsewhere.”

     This is the most important publication of Augustinian Sardo (1760?-1823) of Puebla who served as prior of the Santuario del Sr. de Chalma from 1800-1810, during which time he published this work, the most extensive such history of the miracle at Chalma up to that time and still consulted today. Chapter IX contains a discussion comparing the Christ of Chalma with the Virgin of Guadalupe. Like the Virgin of Guadalupe, the black crucifix at Chalma represents a melding of the Native American past with sixteenth-century Spanish Catholicism to create a concept that likely would be accepted by Native Americans. The publication of the present work in Mexico in 1810 suggests a thoughtful timing for promoting a spiritual basis for a national unity among Native Americans and mestizos. “Sardo celebrated the Christ of Chalma and the Virgin of Guadalupe as connected signs that Mexico was a chosen realm, both images appearing to humble Indians at places sacred to pagan mother and father deities, with the Christ at Chalma making his timely appearance several years after his mother, Guadalupe (1531 and 1539)” (William B. Taylor, “The Virgin of Guadalupe in New Spain: An Inquiry into the Social History of Marian Devotion” in American Ethnologist, Vol. 14, No. 1, February 1987, p. 23). The second half of the book contains biographies of two Augustinian priests, Bartolomé de Jesús María and Juan de San José, early hermits of Chalma instrumental in spreading devotion to the shrine.

     Chalma, after the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, is the second most visited Mexican pilgrimage site. At the time of the Conquest, a cave on the Chalma site was venerated by the Ocuilteca, who worshipped the life-size black statue in the cave (conjectured by some to be an altered stalagmite) of the Aztec deity commonly known as Oxtoteotl, the Dark Lord of the Cave, reputed to have numerous forms and magical and healing powers. The conquering Aztecs had already overlain the original legend with their own agenda by the time two priests approached the cave in 1539, eight years after the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe, whose story miraculously smoothed the way for indigenous acceptance of the Catholic faith. As time passed, a church was built and the image moved inside in 1683.

     The well-composed, unusual copper-engraved plate shows the moment in the sacred cave of Chalma when the Catholic priests and Natives encountered the miraculous replacement of Oxtoteotl, the indigenous obsidian statue of a central Aztec deity, with an icon of a crucified Black Christ. Satan and a serpent flee at the upper right, the statue of Oxtoteotl is broken into pieces below the crucifix, and the foreground is populated by amazed onlookers.


Auction 23 Abstracts

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