1492 was an eventful year for the Kingdom of Spain. It was the year they defeated the Moors once and for all at Grenada. It was also the year that they funded Cristoforo Colombo in his exploratory journey to the West.
It’s no coincidence that Columbus’ ship was called the Saint Mary (and the real name of the Niña was the Santa Clara; Niña was a joke, based on the last name of the owner of the boat, which was Niño). Fernando and Isabel were the Catholic Kings, and the colonization of the Americas quickly became an evangelistic effort.
Of course, as we saw yesterday, evangelism could be carried out by many means. The Spaniards believed that if they could baptize the native people before killing them, this would count as a conversion. History records that they would christen natives, give them “Christian” names, then execute them. Sometimes they were killed in groups of thirteen, to symbolize Jesus and the twelve apostles. Accounts are told of the Spanish baptizing babies, then killing them immediately to assure these children went to heaven.
Bartolomé de las Casas (16th century), a Domincan friar, became a defender of the American people and documented many of the atrocities. Here he describes the killing of Hatuey in Cuba:
“The Spaniards told the Indians that they had a disease that only gold could heal. They demanded that the Cuban cacique Hatuey reveal the location of the gold. He denied that he had any hidden gold and as a result he was ordered to be burned alive.
When the cacique was bound to the post, a Franciscan friar … told him some of the matters of our Faith, which the chieftain had never before heard. . . . The padre told the cacique that if he wished to believe these things, he would go to Heaven … but if not, he would go to Hell and suffer eternal torment and sorrow. The cacique … asked the friar if Christians went to Heaven, and was told that the good ones did. The cacique, without further thought, said that he did not wish to go to Heaven but to Hell, so as not to be with Spaniards or see such cruel people.”(Bartolomé de Las Casas, The Devastation of the Indies: a Brief Account, p. 45)
Part of Christianizing the natives involved destroying as much of native culture as possible. Fray Luis de Landa worked among the Mayans on the Yucatán peninsula. He describes the destruction of a vast Mayan library:
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.
Landa was surprised at the regret and affliction the Mayans felt at seeing their culture go up in flames. Three documents survived.
Not all Christianization efforts were as ungodly as what I’ve described. However, this is a part of history that needs to be told. And remembered.