San Cristóbal de las Casas

San Cristóbal de las Casas during colonial times has been largely described as in Thomas Benjamins’ A Time of Reconquest: History, the Maya Revival, and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas, a “small Spanish island” within a vast sea of indigenous culture (Benjamin, 423). The cobblestone paved streets and two-story buildings with iron balconies, adorned colorfully with flowers, creates a picturesque Euro-charmed atmosphere in addition to the opportunity presented in experiencing the culture of the surrounding villages outside the municipality. Nestled in the pine-forested Valley of Jovel, the city is a crown jewel in culture, of its people, and history.


Similar to the excitement of a hidden gem unearthed is the mural of Bartolomé de las Casas by artist, Carlos Jurado. Donated as a gift to the University of Chiapas, this mural is beautifully part of a collection displayed in the hallway of the law school building or Facultad de Derecho. Bartolomé de las Casas, portrayed in the mural as protecting Mayan natives from Spaniards and their rapacious dogs, is an important historic figure. His story is one the city San Cristóbal, 1848, deemed righteous having appropriated his name to as San Cristóbal de las Casas.


Bartolomé de las Casas, sixteenth century friar and bishop, became known as “Defender of the Indians.” In 1502, he arrived to the island of Española (or Hispaniola) where he joined the military campaigns against the Tainos. For his contribution of the island’s conquest he was rewarded with a substantial encomienda of tribute paying natives. Yet, to many a Spaniard’s dismay, while reading a passage in Ecclesiastes 34 preparatory for a sermon dated 1514, he experienced an epiphany. The passage pertaining to God’s refusal of offerings made by ill-gotten gains was as de las Casas wrote in retrospect, “removing the blinders from his eyes,” as quoted from Davd Carrascos’ The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures. Following conviction, he renounced his encomienda in devoting the rest of his years, until 1566, to protecting natives from the greed and abuse of the encomendero class.


Via writing, de las Casas asserted his position defending the humanity of native populations by works such as The Only Way advocating peaceful catechization and perhaps most famous writing, A Brief History of the Destruction of the Indies. This work in particular, addressed to King Charles V and dedicated to Prince Philip of Spain, exposed the abuses directed by encomenderos. It was purposely provocative for reasons to intensify one’s reaction, wherein producing enough rage by accounts revealed, so enough sympathy be generated for the natives and ultimately, bringing justice. By relating the abuses, de las Casas provided a voice leading to reformation where the Crown passed the New Laws of 1542. Paper-wise, these laws required a gradual elimination of the encomendero's holdings.


De las Casas is by Carrasco’s description a “theologian-jurist-activist” and no place befits more for the mural than that of the law school. The city echoes his legacy with a statue of built and his legacy continues, more importantly, by the people who find inspiration. In 1974 at the town hall was the first Indigenous Congress event where 1,200 delegates representing 300 communities met marking first time a uniting of various linguistic populations. In this meeting plights over land, commerce, lack of education and health were expressed by groups inclusive of the Tzeltales, Tzotziles, Choles, and Tojolabales. Each having identified a shared struggle, one delegate rose to state as in the recorded, Testimonios del Congreso Indigena quoted in Benjamins’ A Time of Reconquest: History, the Maya Revival, and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas, “All of us together can be Bartolomé” (Benjamin, 427).

Images

This school was originally founded in 1681 as Colegio de San Francisco Javier by the Jesuits. Purposed for educating the sons of Spanish elite the school had been taken over when in 1767 the Jesuits were expelled from Spanish territories. In 1975 the school became re-founded as the Autonomous University of Chiapas and the building presented, Facultad de Derecho, was the original building by the Jesuits. The hallway showcases murals that face openly to the centered courtyard and is welcome for visitors to see. This law school is placed on the block where to the east is the street Andador Miguel Hidalgo, to the west Crescensio Rosas, Ninos Heroes on the south, and Cuautemoc to the north. View File Details Page

In the words of Bartolom© de las Casas, he described of the relations between greed driven encomenderos and the natives as, “into this sheepfold…there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening beasts…” Accounts existed of natives being subject to excessive tribute demands so as to create a perpetual state of poverty and instances documented Spaniards having raised dogs accustomed to the taste of human blood as way to intimidate or punish severely, other times kill. Bartolom© de las Casas is titled as “Defender of the Indians” and embodies that of moral courage and sincere conviction. Until 1566 when he passed away, he sought to improve for natives their conditions in defending their dignity as a human being and working to create peace. View File Details Page

Taken here is a picture of the street view. The city is filled with many a vibrant colors. Cobblestone streets add to the picturesque of this beautifully unique city that blends both Euro and indigenous cultures. The history of this city™s foundation rather began off the lowland banks of Grijalva River and was named, Villa Real de Chiapa de los Espanoles, by Captain Diego de Mazariegos, 1528. However, after finding the highlands cooler, within a month the settlement was moved into now present day site where it sits at an approximate altitude of 7,200 feet. Undergoing various name changes, it was finally settled as San Cristobal de las Casas in commemoration of his actions for the native Mayans. View File Details Page

En route to San Juan Chamula, located 10 kilometers northwest of San Cristobal de las Casas, is the beautiful and massive open square market arranged by the Tzotzil people. The Tzotzil are brilliantly talented in the arts and bring to this market their artisan crafts from clothes, blankets, woodcarving, to as seen in the picture, hand sewn stuffed animals. The market is also the place where seen are great varieties of foods such as different kinds of chile, live animals like chickens for sale, and a great and lovely variety of flowers which indeed perfumes the air amidst the other scents of food dishes prepared. For any who truly desires to embrace the culture at its finest is where the market is. To the visitor one may note of the culture from the crafts and goods presented as also to the dress wear. Men wear white or black wool tunics and women wear cotton or maybe satin blouses embroidered, shawls, and long skirts. For these people, the market is where each makes their living selling their work by which much care has been poured into its making. It is also the opportunity where the community comes together. View File Details Page

While at San Cristobal de las Casas, we had been as a group invited to a lady™s house located outside the main municipality into the village. Her name is Juana, a descendant of the Maya, and she most graciously welcomed us to learn a practice in weaving, from traditional wear to rebozos. Con permiso we were allowed to take pictures and here, she presented along with her two wonderful children present about the process and work entailed in making a skirt by hand. This skirt or la falda, in which she begun, is said to take up to two weeks and that being before embroidery! The family we got to meet is one of much kindness and patience, and traditions are given attentions to preserve from one generation to the next. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Michelle N. Balliet, “San Cristóbal de las Casas,” HistoricalMX, accessed November 14, 2018, http://historicalmx.org/items/show/27.

Share this Story