Facts About The Jesuit Missions Of The Chiquitos For You | Kidadl


Facts About The Jesuit Missions Of The Chiquitos For You

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Jesuits were members of the Roman Catholic Church order of religious men, who were members of the Society of Jesus.

The main goal of Jesuits was to spread the Catholic belief of Christianity against Protestantism by converting people across the world to Catholicism. A secondary goal was to propagate European culture along with the Christian beliefs.

Jesuits were also instrumental in developing the amalgamation of the architectural styles of European churches and residential complexes. Let us find out more about Jesuits and the remains in this article.

Discovery And History

The Jesuits founded settlements of Christianized Indians in Latin America known as ensembles of reduction. They were inspired by the 'ideal cities' of the 16th-century philosophers. Between 1696 and 1760, six such ensembles in the former territory of the Chiquitos in eastern Bolivia were established. These sites are now heritage sites representing the coalition between Catholic architecture and the local traditions of that time. The six ensembles are named, San Francisco Javier, Concepción, Santa Ana, San Miguel, San Rafael and San José.

Christianity was introduced to native American indigenous communities in the 16th century by the priests of mainly two missionaries, the Franciscans and the Jesuits. They appeared in the towns of Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Chiquitania. They gathered nomadic indigenous people in large numbers to Christianize them. These large communities gathered were called the reductions with buildings and design following largely European architecture. European missionaries from their colonial background believed that local 'Indians' were minor and were needed to be protected. By wit or will, these reductions were then used to force the natives further to adopt and accept the Christian religion and European lifestyle and culture. The Jesuits cared that they created a 'state within a state' where reductions were autonomous from the Spanish crown and other colonists.

Cultural Heritage

The ensembles of reduction were missionaries that converted the locals of native Americans into Christianity. With conversions came the culture and traditions of the Europeans. The already existing traditions and culture of the local tribes in the Chiquitos at the time, are not now known and are often debated.

The reductions protected the tribes from slavery, that was happening to other native Americans due to the colonialism of the era. The purpose of the reductions was to create cities of harmony with land common to all, and the church was autonomous and people self-sufficient. 

The reductions mostly consisted of people from local communities. Two Jesuit priests, the town council, also known as 'Cabildo,' and the tribal leader known as 'Cacique' played a major role in forming and functioning the reductions or the Chiquitos missions. The inhabitants were anywhere between 2000-4000 in number. The conversions were either wilfully accepted or forcefully imposed on the locals and were often debated as Utopias or theocratic regimes of terror. No foreigner was allowed to stay with the locals for more than three days. 

The ethnic diversity of the Jesuit missions was an attraction as many local tribes congregated in one place. The Jesuit missionaries needed to learn the local languages for better communication with the people, and thus for the success of the missions. The majority of the locals spoke Chiquitano, while other languages such as Otuquis, Arawak, Zamucos, Guaran, and Chapacura were also tribal languages of the area. Hence, for better communication, locals too learned Chiquitano as their second language at the missions, formally known as Gorgotoqui, which became the common language of all. Together the locals were unified culturally under the Chiquitano ethnic group. And gradually, because of the forced Hispanicization or Castilianization, the local languages lost their identity.

Archaeological Excavations

Jesuits believed and got inspired by the 'ideal cities' that were illustrated in the books such as 'Utopia' and 'Arcadia,' which were written by Thomas More and Philip Sidney. They were English philosophers of the 16th century. The constructions of the settlements in the Chiquitania by Jesuits were made of wooden columns and adobe, with access to plenty of water, but with no danger of flooding. The reductions were also located in areas with rich soil for agriculture.

These sites come under the UNESCO World Heritage Site list, located in the country of Bolivia. Other World Heritage Sites in Bolivia include ancient architecture in Santa Cruz and the city of Sucre. These sites popular among heritage and history lovers as they leave a remarkable impact on the traveler's mind. The reductions, or the conversion towns, reflected the European, American, and native Indian construction styles. The six reduction layouts are similar to each other. One can see a church, bell tower, parish buildings along with the cemetery. On the courtyard around were workshops, and orchards were grown. Each reduction was built around a beautiful church that overlooked the central plaza, with a large porch roof over the west gallery. And though almost similar, each had its touch of the local traditional aesthetics.

The ruins of the Jesuits churches in Bolivia are a UNESCO's World Heritage Site.

Site Attraction

The Spanish America reductions or Jesuit Chiquitos missions were many in numbers, but six of them became major tourist attractions with UNESCO recognition. Here is a list of these six reductions and the mission churches built in each location, which are the main attraction of the site in Bolivia and make up a living heritage of the area. Churches are a unique example of a blend of European architecture to local traditions and conditions. Carved wooden columns divide the interior aisles and exterior galleries.

Jesuit Mission of San Francisco Xavier:

Established in the year 1691, the San Francisco Xavier is the first mission on the list of World Heritage Sites. In the year 1696, the mission was relocated to the San Miguel River and further moved nearer to Santa Cruz in the year 1698, and again shifted in the year 1708. The first time it was moved because of the Paulistas movement from Brazil, and the last time the reason was to protect the locals from the Spaniards. The Pinoca tribe of the native land were the first occupants of San Xavier. A Swiss Jesuit, who was also an architect, took the lead in the design and construction of the church. His name was Fr. Martin Schmid. The construction took place for three years between 1749 and 1752 including the church, school, and residential complexes, which can be seen even today. The Swiss architect Hans Roth took up the renovation of the site between the years 1987 to 1990.

Jesuit Mission of San José de Chiquitos:

Established in 1695, San Rafael de Velasco is second on the list of World Heritage Sites. Fr. Juan Bautista Zea and Fr. Francisco Hervás were the founder Jesuits in San José de Chiquitos is well known city in Mexico under the province of Chiquitos. Even this mission was relocated multiple times like the other ones in 1701 and 1705. The church, which can now be seen, was constructed under the guidance of Fr. Martin Schmid. Again this church was restored under Hans Roth's project. 

San Miguel Mission of Jesuit:

Established in 1632, the Spanish Jesuit mission church was initially known as the San Miguel Arcángel and later renamed the São Miguel das Missões mission. A proposal by the architect Lucio Costa resulted in the remains of the church, including the religious images, to be installed in a museum built on the site. IPHAN and SPHAN were the initiatives that worked to protect, restore and renovate the historical and artistic heritage.  

Jesuit Mission of Concepción:

Established in the year 1709, the Jesuit Mission of Concepción is also listed at a World Heritage Site. Even this mission was relocated from three times in a row. The locals, known as the Chiquitanos, were the first occupants of this mission. They were the largest tribe. Two missionary priests took the construction of the Concepción between the years 1752 to 1756. They were Fr. Martin Schmid and Fr. Johann Messner. The mission suffered damage over the centuries and was reconstructed and renovated between the years 1975 and 1996 under the guidance of Hans Roth.

Jesuit Mission of Santa Ana de Velazco:

Established in the year 1755 by Fr. Julian Knoller, this site church was constructed completely by the locals. The last of the six recognized World Heritage Sites in Santa Ana de Velazco was first occupied by the local tribes known as the Covareca and Curuminaca. The name of the architect instrumental in the construction of the church is not known. The ideal cities inspired the reductions in the scriptures, and this particular site construction was very near to the idea of the original plan, with a church and its bell tower along with sacristy and grassy plazas around the residential complexes. Though there has been damage to the original constructions over the centuries, it is very well restored.

San Rafael Mission of Jesuit:

Established in 1695, the mission church was not alone for long. It was later merged with Santa Rosa de Los Lucas. It is said to be one of the oldest reductions or mission towns. The founders of this mission were Fr. Juan Bautista Zea and Fr. Francisco Herbás. Richly decorated with frescos, the church became one of the six World Heritage Sites. Interestingly, this church did not suffer much over the centuries and retained most of the original construction. The cane sheathing roof and music-themed entrance wall represent the original construction idea of reductions.


Q: What were the Jesuit missions?

A: Jesuit missions were worldwide missions to spread Catholic belief. Jesuits traveled around the world to convert non-Christians to Christianity. It could be said that Jesuit missions stopped the spread of Protestantism by the priests or teachers, who were trained in classical studies and theology. Found by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the year 1534, Jesuits missions went on to become successful for centuries to come, spreading Christianity around the world through Jesuits converting the locals.

Q: How many years was there a Jesuit mission in La Paz?

A: Established in the year 1720 by Jesuits Juan de Ugarte and Jaime Bravo, the La Paz mission lasted for a few decades. La Paz was the capital city of Baja California Sur. No Jesuit mission was able to establish itself for long in this area because of the retaliation and reluctance of the locals. Harsh climatic conditions and a reduction in local population due to diseases were added disadvantages. La Paz bay, famous for pearl diving, and the area known for its mines, continued attracting Spanish interests, but Jesuits missions could not last long here.

Q: What happened to the Jesuit missions in South America?

A: Pope Benedict XIV was losing his powers by the mid 18th century. In the year 1758, the Portuguese leadership took steps to suppress and expel the Jesuits under the leadership of Joseph-I. Jesuits were deported and relocated from South America within a year. Later, King Carlos III of Spain signed similar orders in 1767. The complete suppression of the Society of Jesus in many of the European countries became the base of the expulsion of the Jesuits from the missions.

Q: What was the role of Jesuit missionaries in the Americas?

A: By the 17th century, Jesuit missionaries arrived in America to spread Christianity by converting the local populations. They targeted the local settlements and congregated the native populations into communities, and helped to protect them from the ills of colonialism. The Jesuits quickly learned the local languages and communicated well, making their missions successful. These missionaries also instilled European culture into the New World.

Q: What were Jesuit missionaries called?

A: Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, and Jesuits were the order of the members of this society, and each one had a different role to play.

Q: Why did Spain expel the Jesuits?

A: Jesuits started to become more loyal to the Pope of Rome. Over a while, it became a cause of concern. The powers of Pope Clement XIV waned by the end of the 18th century, and he had to disband the Jesuits under political pressure by the Spanish king, not only from Spain but also from Portugal, France, and other European countries.

Q: Why were Jesuits expelled from Brazil?

A: The Jesuits were reluctant to succumb to political absolutism and discouraged colonial suppression and slavery of the locals. This did not go well in the political circles, and hence they were expelled from Brazil as well.

Q: Where did the Jesuits establish missions?

A: Jesuits established missions all over the world, including the New World. They converted the locals to Christianity and taught them to practice European culture.

Q: Who set Jesuit missions?

A: The religious apostolic community known as Jesuits was loyal to St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder and first missionary of the Society of Jesus.

Q: What were the two goals of the Jesuits?

A: The main goal of Jesuits was to spread the Catholic belief of Christianity against Protestantism by converting the locals across the world to Christianity. And the second one was to propagate the European culture along with it.

Written By
Sridevi Tolety

<p>With a Master's degree in clinical research from Manipal University and a PG Diploma in journalism from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Sridevi has cultivated her passion for writing across various domains. She has authored a wide range of articles, blogs, travelogues, creative content, and short stories that have been published in leading magazines, newspapers, and websites. Sridevi is fluent in four languages and enjoys spending her spare time with loved ones. Her hobbies include reading, traveling, cooking, painting, and listening to music.</p>

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