Saturday, January 21, 2017

Cholula and the historical Franciscan Library

Cholula is definitely a magical town. Estela and I went there last month, and we would like to share our wonderful experiences with Fray Francisco Morales, at the Franciscan Library (Biblioteca Franciscana) with our friends and followers of our blog Road of Faith and Art.
From left to right, Patrick and Estela Kavanagh
and Fray Francisco Morales of the Biblioteca
Franciscana of Cholula

For those not familiar with the history nor the geography of Mexico, Cholula was the last major city Cortés conquered on his way in 1519 up across the volcanoes Popocatepetl and Izlacihuatl to Tenochtitlán and the conquest of the Aztec empire. Today Cholula is a sleepy satellite town of Puebla, which lies 120 kilometers east of Mexico City, on the highway connecting Mexico with the Port of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico. Cholula has gained importance as an important university city as the campus of the Universidad de las Americas.

The old Franciscan Cloister now
 part of the Library
The most delicious dish in this region of Puebla is undoubted the “mole”, a mixture of ground chiles and chocolate, used to baste chicken, that takes hours of preparation over the stove. The history of the Conquest of New Spain is somewhat like a “mole”, in as much as it is a delicious but confusing mixture of many ingredients.

This church of Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios
now crowns the hilltop of what once
was the top of the pyramid of Tlachihualtepetl,
which in Nahuahtl means "hand-made hill"
Some speak of the Battle of Cholula, which was more than anything a bloody ambush, where the Tlaxcatlecas, allies of Hernán Cortés, in the middle of a peaceful religious ceremony hosted by the peoples of Cholula, pulled out their arms and massacred men, women and children.

Felix Parra, "Scenes of the Conquest" (1877).

For years there had been a feud between these two neighboring civilizations.
Remnants of the ancient pyramid.
The Tlachihualtepetl is the pyramid
with thelargest base (400 meters
 on each side) in the world

When Hernán Cortés arrived to Cholula, its great pyramid, Tlalchihualtepetl (hill made by human hands). was already a hill, on top of which the Franciscans built a beautiful sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin of Good Remedy.

Splendid collection of baroque sacred art at the
Biblioteca Franciscana of Cholula

The more than 24,000 books were originally from the Franciscan Convents of  Santa Úrsula Coapa and San Juan Bautista Coyoacán in Mexico City, San Andrés Calpan, San Francisco y San Gabriel Cholula in the state of Puebla and finally San José de Gracia at Orizaba, Veracruz.
San Gabriel Church belfry
overlooks the Franciscan Library
The Franciscan Library houses a collection of books printed, for the most part either in Spain or in Mexico, in the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Most of the books are in Spanish, while some are in Latin and French.

Baptismal fountain carved out of a
single piece of stone with native
The majority of the collection are books on religious subjects, such as the Holy Scriptures, Philosophy, Canon Law, Liturgy, Theology, Catechisms, Sermons as well as on the Lives of the Saints. However, there are fine collections of books on Mathematics, History, and even with such a fine collection of books on Astronomy, that the nearby National Observatory of Tonantzintla has organized an exhibit which is still currently running until the end of January in the entrance hall of the library on these books the Franciscans had in their monasteries here in Mexico, as well as other artifacts, such as telescopes and other instruments, they used in their teaching and research.

Graves of important parishioners
were imbedded into the sidewall
of the Franciscan Monastery.

Why should you visit a library of ancient books, where you cannot take the books out on a loan? People that work at libraries like the Franciscan Library are trained professionals, and they know about good books and good reading. On our visit here, Fray Francisco suggested a half a dozen of books and authors, on a variety of subjects on the history of the conquest of Mexico and the work of the first missionaries.

Fresco painting depicting the Crucifixion
 decorate the walls of the archways
 of the Franciscan cloister
The Franciscan Library as we know it today, is the result of a strategic alliance between the Franciscan Monastery of San Gabriel and the Universidad de las Americas Puebla. The director of the library is  Dra. Circe Hernández, with Israel Lopez Luna as the category librarian: a capable, helpful and enthusiastic young man, who has helped me in my research. The Franciscan Library is online as a part of the University website:, and through this site researchers are invited to check out  over 100 books available in digital form.

One of my favorites is "La Milagrosa Intervención del Un Tesoro Escondido" (The Miraculous Intervention of a Hidden Treasure") by Francisco de Florencia, a 17th  century Jesuit, which tells the story of an image of Our Lady of Good Remedy, that was carried by one of the fellow soldiers of Hernan Cortes, and hidden in a field after their defeat in the battle of Noche Triste (Sad Night).

"La Milagrosa Intervención
 del Un Tesoro Escondido"
 can be found in the
Franciscan Library

There is also a copy of one of the first editions of Miguel Cabrera's Mirabilia Americana, from the mid 18th century. The Franciscan Library has through the University of the Americas, its own publishing house and you can obtain some of their publications at the library.

This is a guide to some of the
most important books, some by
European authors, others by
authors of New Spain,
published by the Franciscan
Library and the Universidad
de las Americas Puebla

The Franciscan Library sponsors conferences and exhibits  and features a small but beautiful art gallery of baroque sacred art and is open to the general public, and the entrance is free of charge.

A fountain at the center of the cloister courtyard
 of the Franciscan Monastery
Visit Puebla! Visit Cholula! Visit the beautiful Churches and ex convents! And visit the Franciscan Library! Enjoy a delicious lunch under the archways of the central plaza! A great plan to satisfy body, mind and soul!
Stella at lunch under the
plaza archway.



No comments:

Post a Comment