An Excerpt from my “Gringo Guide to Mexican History”.
The Religious Conquest of Mexico
In 1529, Don Juan de Zumárraga, first Bishop and Archbishop of México, wrtoe in a report to the King:
“We are very busy with our continuous and great work in the conversion of the infidels of whom…over a million people have been baptized, five hundred temples of idols have been razed to the ground and over 20,000 images of devils that they adored have been broken to pieces and burned…And…the infidels of this city of México, who in former times had the custom of sacrificing each year over 20,000 human hearts to their idols, now make their offerings to God instead of to the devils…. Many of these children, and others who are older, know how to read, write, sing, and sound the proper pitches for singing…. They watch with extreme care to see where their parents hide their idols, and then they steal them and faithfully bring them to our friars. For doing this, some have been cruelly slain by their own parents, but they live crowned in glory with Christ…. Each one of our monasteries has next to it a house in which children are taught and where there is a school, a dormitory, a dining hall and a chapel for devotion…. Blessed be the Lord for everything….”
(You read it, in five short years they had baptized over a million people. The friars had destroyed 500 temples of idols, and 20,000 images of idols!)
Also among the missionaries first chores was to study the native languages and dialects and to compile vocabulary lists and other linguistic guides, and finally, dictionaries to aid them in teaching the natives the elements of faith, preparing them for baptism. And they baptized hundreds of thousands of the Indians they encountered during their lifetimes. They taught the people how to live better, helped them learn trades, and improved their artistic abilities.
These friars walked about barefoot with only their heavy woolen habits to cover them. They slept on the ground and begged for food in the Indian markets, sometimes even eating tortillas with whatever fruits and berries they could gather. The robes they brought with them from Spain were the only clothes they possessed and were soon worn out. (Clothing was a big problem for everyone in those days.) A legend persists to this day:
Don Martín, an Indian Cacique, Chieftan, of the village of Guacachula, seeing the disgraceful condition of his friars robes, sent several skilled artisans out to work for a newly arrived Spaniard who was weaving cloth on his imported looms and selling all he could produce. These spies were able to learn the trade in a short time and carefully took measurements of all the parts of the looms they worked on. Returning to the village they built their own looms and were soon producing sackcloth for the friars as well as for themselves.
The obvious difference between the humble friars and the conquistadores who built themselves fine homes and gorged themselves with all the best, was all too obvious to the poor Indians.