Article ID: CBB306808729

Jennifer Scheper Hughes. The Church of the Dead: The Epidemic of 1576 and the Birth of Christianity in the Americas. (2022)


John Charles (Author)

American Historical Review
Volume: 127
Issue: 1
Pages: 523-524
Publication date: 2022
Language: English

In 1576, the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún and his Nahua associates raced to complete the ­Florentine Codex, America’s first encyclopedic work of Mesoamerican history, culture, and society. An unthinkable epidemic had already consumed most of the native population in the Valley of Mexico and continued unabated, placing their own lives in jeopardy and rendering their thirty-year project a monument to a civilization at risk of collapse. Around a half century after the Europeans’ arrival in Mexico City, Sahagún feared that the Franciscans’ goal of creating a New World Jerusalem was all but lost and, in a hurried footnote to the manuscript, scrawled a prayer for mercy to God. The friar’s lament constitutes one of many arresting scenes of theological reflection that appear throughout The Church of the Dead, Jennifer Scheper Hughes’s history of the calamity facing priests and converts in late sixteenth-century Mexico.

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