Spanish missions in the Americas

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The Spanish missions in the Americas were Catholic missions established by the Spanish Empire during the 16th to 19th centuries in an area extending from Mexico and southwestern portions of what today are the United States to as far south as Argentina and Chile.


During the Age of Discovery; the Christian Church inaugurated a major effort to spread Christianity in the New World by converting indigenous peoples. As such, the establishment of Christian missions went hand-in-hand with the colonizing efforts of European powers such as Spain, France and Portugal. For these nations, "the colonial enterprise was based on the necessity to develop European commerce and the obligation to propagate the Christian faith."[1] According to Adriaan van Oss, "Catholicism remains the principal colonial heritage of Spain in America. More than any set of economic relationships... more even than the language... the Catholic religion continues to permeate Spanish-American culture today, creating an overriding cultural unity which transcends the political and national boundaries dividing the continent."[2]


Christian leaders and Christian doctrines have been accused of justifying and perpetrating violence against Native Americans found in the New World.[3][4] Michael Wood asserts that the indigenous peoples were not considered to be human beings and that the colonisers was shaped by "centuries of Ethnocentrism, and Christian monotheism, which espoused one truth, one time and version of reality.”[5] Jordan writes "The catastrophe of Spanish America's rape at the hands of the Conquistadors remains one of the most potent and pungent examples in the entire history of human conquest of the wanton destruction of one culture by another in the name of religion."[6]

According to Colin Calloway, the "Spanish missions also produced massive population decline, food shortages, increased demands for labor, and violence."[7]

Two facts that help properly evaluate missionary efforts in their historical context, and not from reverse vision, are that: according to Catholic theology of the time, there simply was no salvation, simply hell, for those not baptized – the possibility of "baptism of desire" was largely denied;[8] and the "cross and crown" came together, with the missionaries generally ameliorating the effects of the conquest.[9]

However, other scholars point out that the Catholic Church often defended the rights of Native Americans,[10] for example, Jesuits devoted themselves to the interests of Native Americans.[11][12]


In 1687 the Catholic Catalan Capuchin friars were given responsibility for religious conversions of the indigenous Amerindian residents of Trinidad and the Guianas. In 1713 the missions were handed over to the secular clergy. Due to shortages of missionaries, although the missions were established they often went without Christian instruction for long periods of time.

Between 1687 and 1700 several missions were founded in Trinidad, but only four survived as Amerindian villages throughout the eighteenth century - La Anuncíata de Nazaret de Savana Grande (modern Princes Town), Purísima Concepción de María Santísima de Guayri (modern San Fernando), Santa Ana de Savaneta (modern Savonetta), Nuestra Señora de Montserrate (probably modern Mayo). The mission of Santa Rosa de Arima was established in 1789 when Amerindians from the former encomiendas of Tacarigua and Arauca (Arouca) were relocated further west.

South America[edit]

Spanish missions in South America were established by both Spanish and Portuguese missionaries from the regular orders. Missions were established throughout the continent of South America and often were places where indigenous people worked and lived among the missionaries, at the start Spanish conquest in South America, missionaries learned native languages in order to communicate effectively while spreading the word of the Catholic church. As time passed, less cultural understanding was present. Missionaries forced indigenous people to abandon native languages and cultural practices which may have been linked to the spirituality of indigenous people, these efforts to eradicate the native practices helped Spanish conquistadors to enslave and colonize South America.[13]

Chiloé Archipelago[edit]

Nahuel Huapi Lake[edit]

Southern Chile[edit]

Paraguay and Misiones[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ ter Haar, Gerrie; Busuttil, James J. (2005). Bridge or barrier: religion, violence, and visions for peace. Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV. p. 125. ISBN 90-04-13943-5. 
  2. ^ van Oss, Adriaan C. (1986). Catholic Colonialism: A Parish History of Guatemala, 1524-1821. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-32072-0. 
  3. ^ Carroll, Vincent; Shiflett, David (2002). Christianity on trial: arguments against anti-religious bigotry. New York, New York: Encounter Books. p. 87. ISBN 1-893554-15-5. 
  4. ^ Hastings, Adrian (2000). A World History of Christianity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 330–349. ISBN 0-8028-4875-3. 
  5. ^ Wood, Michael (2000). Conquistadors. University of California Press. p. 20. ISBN 9780520230644. 
  6. ^ Jordan, Michael (2006). In the Name of God: Violence and Destruction in the World's Religions. Sutton. p. 230. ISBN 9780750941945. 
  7. ^ Calloway, Colin G. (1998). New worlds for all: Indians, Europeans, and the remaking of early America. The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 78. ISBN 0-8018-5959-X. 
  8. ^ "Salvation outside the Church - But why, then, evangelize?: Reflections from a Roman Catholic perspective". Fulcrum Anglican. 2010-01-21. Retrieved 2017-05-28. 
  9. ^ Woods, Charles M. Sr., et al. Years of Grace: The History of Roman Catholic Evangelization in Belize: 1524-2014. (Belize: Roman Catholic Diocese of Belize City-Belmopan, 2015).
  10. ^ Bunson, Margaret (26 August 2011). "The Church and the Native Americans". Catholic Answers. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  11. ^ "The Jesuit Missions in South America". Archived from the original on 26 December 2012. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  12. ^ Mooney, James (1910). "Guaraní Indians". The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  13. ^ A companion to Latin American history. Holloway, Thomas H., 1944-. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. 2011. pp. 76–78,162,163. ISBN 9781444338843. OCLC 659241109.