Diego de Landa

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Most Reverend

Diego de Landa
Bishop of Yucatán
Diego de Landa.jpg
Church Catholic Church
Diocese Diocese of Yucatán
Predecessor Francisco de Toral
Successor Gregorio de Montalvo Olivera
by  Cristóbal Rojas Sandoval
Personal details
BornNovember 12, 1524
Cifuentes, Alcarria, Spain
DiedApril 29, 1579

Diego de Landa Calderón, O.F.M. (12 November 1524 29 April 1579) was a Spanish bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Yucatán. [1] Many historians criticize his campaign against idolatry. In particular, he burned almost all the Mayan manuscripts (codices) that would have been very useful in deciphering Mayan script, knowledge of Maya religion and civilization, and the history of the American continent.

Order of Friars Minor male order in the Catholic Church

The Order of Friars Minor is a mendicant Catholic religious order, founded in 1209 by Francis of Assisi. The order adheres to the teachings and spiritual disciplines of the founder and of his main associates and followers, such as Clare of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, and Elizabeth of Hungary, among many others. The Order of Friars Minor is the largest of the contemporary First Orders within the Franciscan movement.

A bishop is an ordained, consecrated, or appointed member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight.

Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Yucatán archdiocese

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Yucatán is the diocese of the Catholic Church based in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico; the Campeche and the Tabasco are its suffragans. Its area is that of the state of the same name, covering an area of 17,204 square miles.


Conversion of Maya

Born in Cifuentes, Guadalajara, Spain, he became a Franciscan friar in 1541, and was sent as one of the first Franciscans to the Yucatán, arriving in 1549. Landa was in charge of bringing the Roman Catholic faith to the Maya peoples after the Spanish conquest of Yucatán. He presided over a spiritual monopoly granted to the Catholic Franciscan order by the Spanish crown, and he worked diligently to buttress the order's power and convert the indigenous Maya. His initial appointment was to the mission of San Antonio in Izamal, which served also as his primary residence while in Yucatán.

Cifuentes, Guadalajara Place in Guadalajara, Spain

Cifuentes is a municipality located in the province of Guadalajara, Spain. According to the 2007 census (INE), the municipality has a population of 2,044 inhabitants. The historic Church of San Salvador stands in the town.

Guadalajara, Spain Municipality in Castilla–La Mancha, Spain

Guadalajara is a Spanish city in Castilla–La Mancha, the capital of the Province of Guadalajara. Located roughly 60 kilometres northeast of Madrid, the city straddles the Henares River. As of 2018 it has a population of 86,222 which makes it the region's second most populated municipality.

Maya peoples People of southern Mexico and northern Central America

The Maya peoples are an ethnolinguistic group of indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. They inhabit southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. "Maya" is a modern collective term for the peoples of the region, however, the term was not used by the indigenous populations themselves since there never was a common sense of identity or political unity among the distinct populations, societies and ethnic groups because they each had their own particular traditions, cultures and historical identity.

He is the author of the Relación de las cosas de Yucatán in which he catalogues the Maya religion, Maya language, culture and writing system. The manuscript was written around 1566 on his return to Spain; however, the original copies have long since been lost. The account is known only as an abridgement, which in turn had undergone several iterations by various copyists. The extant version was produced around 1660, lost to scholarship for over two centuries and not rediscovered until the 19th century. In 1862, French cleric Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg published the manuscript in a bilingual French-Spanish edition, Relation des choses de Yucatán de Diego de Landa.

<i>Relación de las cosas de Yucatán</i> book by Diego de Landa

Relación de las cosas de Yucatán was written by Diego de Landa around 1566, shortly after his return from Yucatán to Spain. In it, de Landa catalogues Mayan words and phrases as well as a small number of Mayan hieroglyphs. The hieroglyphs, sometimes referred to as the de Landa alphabet, proved vital to modern attempts to decipher the script. The book also includes documentation of Maya religion and the Mayan peoples' culture in general. It was written with the help of local Maya princes. It contains, at the end of a long list of Spanish words with Maya translations, a Maya phrase, famously found to mean "I do not want to." The original manuscript has been lost, but many copies still survive.

Maya religion Beliefs of the ancient Maya people

The traditional Maya religion of Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras, and the Tabasco, Chiapas, and Yucatán regions of Mexico is a southeastern variant of Mesoamerican religion. As is the case with many other contemporary Mesoamerican religions, it results from centuries of symbiosis with Roman Catholicism. When its pre-Spanish antecedents are taken into account, however, traditional Maya religion already exists for more than two millennia as a recognizably distinct phenomenon. Before the advent of Christianity, it was spread over many indigenous kingdoms, all with their own local traditions. Today, it coexists and interacts with pan-Mayan syncretism, the 're-invention of tradition' by the Pan-Maya movement, and Christianity in its various denominations. It also includes some ties to polytheist religions.


Suppression of Maya and destruction of all but a handful of written Mayan language documents

After hearing of Roman Catholic Maya who continued to practice idol worship, Landa ordered an Inquisition in Mani, ending with a ceremony called auto de fé . During the ceremony on July 12, 1562, a disputed number of Maya codices (according to Landa, 27 books) and approximately 5000 Maya cult images were burned. Only three pre-Columbian books of Maya hieroglyphics (also known as a codex) and, perhaps, fragments of a fourth are known to have survived. Collectively, the works are known as the Maya codices.

Idolatry idol worship, any reverence of an image, statue or icon

Idolatry is the worship of an idol or cult image, being a physical image, such as a statue, or a person in place of God. In Abrahamic religions, namely Christianity, Islam and Judaism, idolatry connotes the worship of something or someone other than God as if it were God. In these monotheistic religions, idolatry has been considered as the "worship of false gods" and is forbidden by the core value system of the Ten Commandments. Other monotheistic religions may apply similar rules. In many Indian religions, such as theistic and non-theistic forms of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, idols (murti) are considered as symbolism for the absolute but not The Absolute, or icons of spiritual ideas, or the embodiment of the divine. It is a means to focus one's religious pursuits and worship (bhakti). In the traditional religions of ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Africa, Asia, the Americas and elsewhere, the reverence of an image or statue has been a common practice, and cult images have carried different meanings and significance.

Inquisition group of institutions within the Catholic Church whose aim was to combat heresy

The Inquisition was a group of institutions within the Catholic Church whose aim was to combat heresy. The Inquisition started in 12th-century France to combat religious dissent, in particular the Cathars and the Waldensians. Other groups investigated later included the Spiritual Franciscans, the Hussites and the Beguines. Beginning in the 1250s, inquisitors were generally chosen from members of the Dominican Order, replacing the earlier practice of using local clergy as judges. The term Medieval Inquisition covers these courts up to mid-15th century.

Maní, Yucatán City in Yucatán, Mexico

Maní is a small city in Maní Municipality in the central region of the Yucatán Peninsula, in the Mexican state of Yucatán. It is about 100 km to the south south-east of Mérida, Yucatán, some 16 km east of Ticul. The village of Tipikal lies 6 km to the east.

Landa's Inquisition showered a level of physical abuse upon the indigenous Maya that many viewed as excessive and was, at the very least, unusual. Scores of Maya nobles were jailed pending interrogation, and large numbers of Maya nobles and commoners were subjected to examination under "hoisting." [2] During hoisting, a victim's hands were bound and looped over an extended line that was then raised until the victim's entire body was suspended in the air. Often, stone weights were added to the ankles or lashes applied to the back during interrogation.


The strappado, also known as corda, is a form of torture wherein the victim's hands are tied behind their back and suspended by a rope attached to the wrists, typically resulting in dislocated shoulders. Weights may be added to the body to intensify the effect and increase the pain. This kind of torture would generally not last more than an hour, without rest, as it would likely result in death.

Some contemporary observers were troubled by this widespread use of torture. Crown fiat had earlier exempted indigenous peoples from the authority of the Inquisition, on the grounds that their understanding of Christianity was "too childish"[ citation needed ] for them to be held culpable for heresies. Additionally, Landa dispensed with much of the extensive formal procedure and documentation that accompanied Spanish torture and interrogation.


Scholars have argued that Mexican inquisitions showed little concern to eradicate magic or convict individuals for heterodox beliefs [3] and that witchcraft was treated more as a religious problem capable of being resolved by confession and absolution. Landa, however, perhaps inspired by intolerant fellow Franciscan Cardenal, Cisneros, from the same Toledo convent, was "monomaniacal in his fervor" [4] against it. Landa believed a huge underground network of apostasies, [5] led by displaced indigenous priests, were jealous of the power the Church enjoyed and sought to reclaim it for themselves. The apostates, Landa surmised, had launched a counteroffensive against the Church, and he believed it was his duty to expose the evil before it could revert the population to their old heathen ways.

Landa claimed that he had discovered evidence of human sacrifice and other idolatrous practices while rooting out native idolatry. Although one of the alleged victims of said sacrifices, Mani Encomendero Dasbatés, was later found to be alive, and Landa's enemies contested his right to run an inquisition, [6] Landa insisted a papal bull, Exponi nobis , justified his actions. [5]

However, Lopez de Cogolludo, Landa's chief Franciscan biographer, wrote of Landa's firsthand experiences with human sacrifices. When Landa first came to the Yucatán, he made it his mission to walk the breadth of the peninsula and preach to the most remote villages. [7] While passing through Cupules, he came upon a group of 300 about to sacrifice a young boy. Enraged, Landa stormed through the crowd, released the boy, smashed the idols and began preaching with such zeal and sincerity that they begged him to remain in the land and teach them more. [8]

Landa was remarkable in that he was willing to go where no others would. He entered lands that had been only recently conquered, where native resentment of Spaniards was still very intense. Armed with nothing but the conviction to learn as much of native culture as he could so that it would be easier for him to destroy it in the future, [9] Landa formulated an intimate contact with natives. Natives placed him in such an esteemed position they were willing to show him some of their sacred writings that had been transcribed on deerskin books. [10] To Landa and the other Franciscan friars, the very existence of these Mayan codices was proof of diabolical practices. In references to the books, Landa said:

We found a large number of books in these characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they (the Maya) regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction. [11]

Landa's insistence of widespread cults throughout the Yucatán is backed by ample evidence. Rituals the Spanish conquerors could not understand were labeled as idolatry, superstition, or even devil worship. One such ritual involved clay idols that were used in a strange combination of Catholicism and indigenous religion. [11] During the ceremonies, individuals would be crucified and then have their hearts removed from their chest and their blood smeared onto the idols. Such ceremonies were practiced throughout the Yucatán up to 45 years after the arrival of the Spaniards.

Landa always believed in his inquisition. Whether magic and idolatry were being practiced or not, Landa was almost certainly "possessed" by fantasies of demonic power in a new land. [12] Landa, like most other Franciscans, subscribed to millenarian ideas, [13] which demanded the mass conversion of as many souls as possible before the turn of the century. Eliminating evil and pagan practices, Landa believed, would usher the Second Coming of Christ much sooner.

Many historians believe there can be little doubt old traditions would continue even during Spanish rule, and because of "the resilience of the old social order, and the determination of its custodians to sustain the old ways, some human killings persisted into the post-conquest period...." [14]

While it was likely that Landa did coerce exaggerated confessions by torture, he believed so fully that human sacrifice was occurring around him that he was willing to kill a handful of sinners to save the overall community. [15]

Landa’s Relación De Las Cosas De Yucatán is about as complete a treatment of Mayan religion as is ever likely. [16] While controversy surrounds his use of force in the conversion process, few scholars would debate the general accuracy of his recordings. Allen Wells calls his work an " ethnographic masterpiece," [17] and William J. Folan, Laraine A. Fletcher and Ellen R. Kintz have written that the account of Maya social organization and towns before conquest is a "gem." [18] The writings are the main contemporary source for Mayan history, [16] without which the knowledge of Mayan ethnology would be devastatingly small. [19]

Consecrated as bishop

Landa was sent back to Spain by Bishop Toral, to stand trial for conducting an illegal Inquisition. His actions were strongly condemned before the Council of the Indies. That resulted in a "committee of doctors" being commissioned to investigate Landa's alleged crimes. In 1569, the committee absolved Landa of his crimes. Bishop Toral died in Mexico in 1571, allowing King Philip II of Spain to appoint Landa as the second bishop of Yucatán.

Landa and contemporary Mayanist studies

Image of the page from Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan in which Landa describes his Maya alphabet, which was to prove instrumental in the mid-20th-century breakthrough in Maya hieroglyphics decipherment. De Landa alphabet.jpg
Image of the page from Relación de las Cosas de Yucatán in which Landa describes his Maya alphabet, which was to prove instrumental in the mid-20th-century breakthrough in Maya hieroglyphics decipherment.

Landa's Relación de las cosas de Yucatán also created a valuable record of the Mayan writing system, which, despite its inaccuracies, was later to prove instrumental in the decipherment of the writing system. Landa asked his informants (his primary sources were two Maya individuals descended from a ruling Maya dynasty who were literate in the script) to write down the glyphic symbols corresponding to each of the letters of the (Spanish) alphabet, in the belief that there ought to be a one-to-one correspondence between them. The results were faithfully reproduced by Landa in his later account, but he recognised that the set contained apparent inconsistencies and duplicates that he was unable to explain. Later researchers reviewing this material also formed the view that the "de Landa alphabet" was inaccurate or fanciful, and many subsequent attempts to use the transcription remained unconvincing. It was not until much later, in the mid-20th century, when it was realized and then confirmed that it was not a transcription of an alphabet , as Landa and others had originally supposed, but was rather a syllabary. That was confirmed only by the work of Soviet linguist Yuri Knorozov in the 1950s and the succeeding generation of Mayanists.

Related Research Articles

At the time of the Spanish conquest of Yucatán (1527-1546), Ix Tab, or Ixtab, was the indigenous Mayan goddess of suicide by hanging. Playing the role of a psychopomp, she would accompany such suicides to heaven. No certain depictions of Ixtab are known.

Itzamna deity

Itzamna was, in Maya mythology, the name of an upper god and creator deity thought to reside in the sky. Although little is known about him, scattered references are present in early-colonial Spanish reports (relaciones) and dictionaries. Twentieth-century [[Lacandon people|Lacandon]. lore includes tales about a creator god who may be a late successor to him. In the pre-Spanish period, Itzamna, represented by the aged god D, was often depicted in books and in ceramic scenes derived from them.

Bacab in Mayan religion, any of the four deities of the interior of the earth and its water deposits

Bacab is the generic Yucatec Maya name for the four prehispanic aged deities of the interior of the earth and its water deposits. The Bacabs have more recent counterparts in the lecherous, drunken old thunder deities of the Gulf Coast regions. The Bacabs are also referred to as Pauahtuns.

Chaac Mayan rain deity

Chaac is the name of the Maya rain deity. With his lightning axe, Chaac strikes the clouds and produces thunder and rain. Chaac corresponds to Tlaloc among the Aztecs.

Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg French Mesoamericanist

Abbé Charles-Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg was a noted French writer, ethnographer, historian and archaeologist. He became a specialist in Mesoamerican studies, travelling extensively in the region. His writings, publications, and recovery of historical documents contributed much to knowledge of the region's languages, writing, history and culture, particularly those of the Maya and Aztec civilizations. However, his speculations concerning relationships between the ancient Maya and the lost continent of Atlantis inspired Ignatius L. Donnelly and encouraged the pseudo-science of Mayanism.

Francisco Hernández de Córdoba (Yucatán conquistador) conquistador, explorer

Francisco Hernández de Córdoba was a Spanish conquistador, known to history mainly for the ill-fated expedition he led in 1517, in the course of which the first European accounts of the Yucatán Peninsula were compiled.

Jerónimo de Aguilar O.F.M. (1489–1531) was a Franciscan friar born in Écija, Spain. Aguilar was later involved with the 1519 Spanish conquest of Mexico, and with La Malinche he assisted Hernán Cortés in translating the indigenous language to Spanish.

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De Landa alphabet

The de Landa alphabet is the correspondence of Spanish letters and glyphs written in the pre-Columbian Maya script, which the 16th-century bishop of Yucatán, Diego de Landa recorded as part of his documentation of the Maya civilization. With the aid of two Maya informants familiar with the script, de Landa made an attempt to provide a transcribed "A, B, C" for the Maya script with the intent of providing a key to its decipherment and translation. Despite its inaccuracies, the information provided by him would much later prove to be crucial to the mid-20th century breakthrough in the decipherment of the Maya script, starting with the work of the Soviet epigrapher and Mayanist Yuri Knorozov.

Maya music

The music of the ancient Mayan courts is described through native and Spanish 16th-century texts and is depicted in the art of the Classic Period. The Maya played instruments such as trumpets, flutes, whistles, and drums, and used music to accompany funerals, celebrations, and other rituals. Although no written music has survived, archaeologists have excavated musical instruments and painted and carved depictions of the ancient Maya that show how music was a complex element of societal and religious structure. Most of the music itself disappeared after the dissolution of the Maya courts following the Spanish Conquest. Some Mayan music has prevailed, however, and has been fused with Spanish influences.

Sacred Cenote

The Sacred Cenote refers to a noted cenote at the pre-Columbian Maya archaeological site of Chichen Itza, in the northern Yucatán Peninsula. It is located to the north of Chichen Itza's civic precinct, to which it is connected by a 300-metre (980 ft) sacbe, or raised and paved pathway.

Francisco de Toral, O.F.M. (1502–1571) was a Franciscan missionary in New Spain, and the first Bishop of Yucatán.

Maya priesthood religious practice

Until the discovery that Maya stelae depicted kings instead of high priests, the Maya priesthood and their preoccupations had been a main scholarly concern. In the course of the 1960s and over the following decades, however, dynastic research came to dominate interest in the subject. A concept of royal ʼshamanismʼ, chiefly propounded by Linda Schele and Freidel, came to occupy the forefront instead. Yet, Classic Maya civilization, being highly ritualistic, would have been unthinkable without a developed priesthood. Like other Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican priesthoods, the early Maya priesthood consisted of a hierarchy of professional priests serving as intermediaries between the population and the deities. Their basic skill was the art of reading and writing. The priesthood as a whole was the keeper of knowledge concerning the deities and their cult, including calendrics, astrology, divination, and prophecy. In addition, they were experts in historiography and genealogy. Priests were usually male and could marry. Most of our knowledge concerns Yucatán in the Late Postclassic, with additional data stemming from the contemporaneous Guatemalan Highlands.

The Franciscan Missions to the Maya were the attempts of the Franciscans to Christianize the indigenous peoples of the New World, specifically the Maya. They began to take place soon after the discovery of the New World made by Christopher Columbus in 1492, which opened the door for Catholic missions. As early as 1519 there are records of Franciscan activity in the Americas, and throughout the early 16th century the mission movement spreads from the original contact point in the Caribbean to include Mexico, Central America, parts of South America, and the Southwestern United States.

Spanish conquest of the Maya Conquest dating from 1511 to 1697

The Spanish conquest of the Maya was a protracted conflict during the Spanish colonisation of the Americas, in which the Spanish conquistadores and their allies gradually incorporated the territory of the Late Postclassic Maya states and polities into the colonial Viceroyalty of New Spain. The Maya occupied a territory that is now incorporated into the modern countries of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador; the conquest began in the early 16th century and is generally considered to have ended in 1697.

Francisco de Montejo (the Nephew) Mexican politician

Francisco de Montejo , was a Spanish conqueror.

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Francisco de Montejo y León, known as "El Mozo" was a Spanish conquistador, who in 1542 founded the city of Mérida, capital of State of Yucatán, Mexico. The son of Francisco de Montejo, ca. June 1527 at age 26 he sailed with his father and his cousin Francisco de Montejo "the Nephew" from Sanlúcar de Barrameda to Cozumel, launching the first military campaign of the conquest of Yucatán.

Antonio de Ciudad Real was a Franciscan friar, born 1551, in Castilla La Nueva, Spain. At the age of 15, he joined the Convent of San Francisco, in Toledo, Spain. In 1573, he accompanied Diego de Landa, on his second trip to Yucatán, in the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Between 1584 and 1589, he accompanied Alonso Ponce, the commissary general of the Franciscan Order, on his trip from Mexico to Nicaragua, visiting the Franciscan convents of New Spain. A record of this long trip is contained in his work Tratado curioso y docto de las grandezas de la Nueva España. In 1603 he was elected provincial of the Franciscan order. He died on July 5, 1617, in Mérida, Yucatán, Nueva España.


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