Memories of 1932: Saintly Apparitions and the Apocalyptic Imaginary


A vignette showing the battle of Acatzinco from a reproduction of the original Lienzo de Tlaxcala, 1552. Mesolore: A Cybercenter for Research and Teaching on Mesoamerica. 
In El Salvador in 1932 Indians and others appealed to their saints for protection from revolutionary insurgents and the heavy state repression that put down the rebellion.  Saintly figures appearing on large white horses are remembered as having saved the villages of Tepecoyo and Nahuilingo in Sonsonate(To Rise in Darkness, Gould 249).  This memory of a saintly apparition on a white horse is reminiscent of the apocalyptic imaginary rooted in the biblical figure of St. James that emerged during the Conquest of the Americas as well as in the Reconquista of the Spanish peninsula.  How has the memory of the Saintly apparition on a white horse that appeared in 1932 in El Salvador been transferred through a repertoire that has its roots in the Spanish peninsula and took hold in the Americas during the Conquest?  
Detail of Santiago Matamoros from a carta ejecutoria, c. 1575-1599.  Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 058.
PENINSULAR ROOTS: SAINT JAMES AND MOHAMMED
Saint James the Greater, known in the Spanish-speaking world as Santiago, is one of the twelve apostles who worked to spread the Gospel.  In the ninth century, the belief in a living Santiago became urgent given the expansion of Moorish dominance in Spain (Castro 406).  According to medieval legend, a hermit discovered Santiago’s tomb in 814 in what is now Santiago de Compostela (Quinn 5).  One of the first records of the site of the tomb is in a document from 885 in which King Alfonso III grants land to monks living near the remains (Castro 409).  The miraculous appearance of Santiago on a white horse armed with a sword and backed by a legion of white knights in the Battle of Clavijo in 822 marks Santiago’s metamorphosis from a peaceful Apostle into Santiago Matamoros, the patron saint of Spanish soldiers who appealed to him in the battles of the Reconquista (Quinn 10).  All written accounts of Santiago’s intercession in the Battle of Clavijo originate many centuries later, which suggests that Santiago’s intervention in the battle had become legendary (Castro 409).  Alfonso el Sabio’s Crónica general, for example, is a 13th century account that narrates the apparition of the Apostle at the Battle of Clavijo:
Et fueronles ferir, llamando todos a vna uoz “Sanctiago!”, et a las vezes “Castiella!” Et començaron a entrar por medio de las azes de los moros, quebrantando lugo la primera, desi la segunda et la terçera, desi todas, asi vnas en pos otras, fasta que todas siete las pasaron, matando et derribando et faziendo grant estruyçion en ellos… Et dizen, asi commo los moros mismos afirmauan despues, que paresçio y Santiago en vn cauallo blanco et con senna blanca en la mano et con vn espada en la otra, et que andaua y con vna ligion de caualleros blancos; et aun dizen que angeles vieran andar sobre ellos por el ayre; et que andaua estos cavalleros  blancos les semeiaua que les estroyen mas que ninguna otra gente.[1]  (Sabio Alfonso X 727)
Américo Castro proposes that Santiago Matamoros emerges in response to the Muslim icon of Mohammed and the military success of the Muslims in Spain.  The Muslims found inspiration in Mohammed and this Apostle became a focal point for their valor and morale in war.  In Santiago, the Christians found a comparable symbol of celestial help that would stand up against the militant faith of the Moors and their enemy’s appeals for the divine assistance of “Mohammed” (Castro 406).  In the 12th century Poem of El Cid, for example, Santiago is a symbol of divine intervention that protected and favored the Christians and functioned as a foil for Mohammed: “Los moros llaman: ¡Mafómat!, e los cristianos: ¡Santi Yagüe!” (l.731) (Cited in Castro 411).  In these representations of Santiago Matamoros from the Spanish Middle Ages, Santiago was depicted as a warlike saint typically engaged in battle on a white horse trampling over the felled and often dismembered bodies of Moors and usually carrying a banner and armed with a sword [fig.1](Navarette 63).

In the 16th century, indigenous accounts emerge in both México and Perú of Santiago Matamoros appearing on behalf of the Spanish conquistadors.  These continue into the 17th century with the well-known accounts of Guaman Poma de Ayalá and El Inca Garcilaso.  As a case study, I will focus on the painted account of the conquest in the Lienzo de Tlaxcala as reconstructed in Mesolore: A Cybercenter for Research and Teaching on Mesoamerica (Bakewell and Hamann 2010).  The Lienzo de Tlaxcala is an example of how Native Americans depicted and transformed Santiago Matamoros into Santiago Mata-indios.  In their petitions for favor to the Crown, the Tlaxcalans appropriated peninsular images of Santiago to demonstrate their Christian identity, their support for the Spanish in the Conquest and to distinguish themselves from other indigenous groups who they hoped to represent as the “true” subalterns.    
 
Vignettes including the conversion of the Tlaxcalans and the battle of Cholula from a reproduction of the original Lienzo de Tlaxcala, 1552. Mesolore: A Cybercenter for Research and Teaching on Mesoamerica. 
TLAXCALA AS A SPACE IN-BETWEEN
The Lienzo de Tlaxcala (1552) is a painted-history of Tlaxcala’s alliance with Cortés and the Spanish and their joint defeat of the Aztec empire.  The Lienzo was commissioned by the Tlaxcala town council for Emperor Charles V and was to be sent to Europe with a delegation of Tlaxcalans (Bakewell 172).  The Lienzo is divided into two main parts: a scene at the top depicting the structure of Tlaxcala and a seven by thirteen grid of smaller scenes depicting the battles leading up to the conquest of the Aztecs.  The main scene is dominated by the coat of arms granted by Charles V to Tlaxcala in 1535 showing that Tlaxcala is subject to the Hapsburg Empire.  At the top center Tlaxcala’s Christian identity is represented in a scene in which indigenous and European men work together to erect a cross.  In the battle scenes of the Lienzo, the Tlaxcalans are depicted as faithful and loyal allies of the Spanish.  Notably, all history of Tlaxcalan resistance to the Spanish conquistadors is repressed in the Lienzo. 

During the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, Tlaxcalans supplied the Spanish with warriors, shelter and food that were critical for the defeat of the Tenochtitlan.  As a result of their collaboration with Spain, Tlaxcala was in a unique position after conquest as a city in-between the colonized and the colonizer.  In the Lienzo de Tlaxcala, the Tlaxcalans assume the burden of proving their alliance with the Spanish and of distinguishing themselves from the conquered indigenous population.

This representation of Tlaxcala as a faithful and noble Christian city conforms to the interests of Tlaxcalan indigenous leaders who emphasized the Tlaxcalan-European alliance in order to obtain privileges over other indigenous groups.  Tlaxcala stood to gain the specific legal status as a “Leal ciudad”, the right to conduct autonomous trade and commerce, the right to be exempt from the encomienda, to right to limited evangelization, the right for missions from the local cabildo to appeal directly to the King, the right to a reduced tribute, and the right to elect indigenous representatives.  In sum, in order to survive as a community, it was critical for Tlaxcala to establish their role in the defeat of the Aztecs and their Christian identity  (Zamora). 
 
A vignette showing the battle of Apozolco from a reproduction of the original Lienzo de Tlaxcala, 1552. Mesolore: A Cybercenter for Research and Teaching on Mesoamerica. 
CONCLUSIONS
In is interesting to consider how memories of Santiago Matamoros and Santiago Mata-indios, tied to apocalyptic moments of the Reconquista and the Conquista, surface in the collective memory of 1932 in El Salvador.  Christian iconography clearly provides a frame for remembering the past.  I wonder if the memory of the saintly apparition in 1932 in El Salvador had a similar rhetorical function as in the Lienzo de Tlaxcala, to set one indigenous group apart from another in a time of injudicious and extreme repression.  
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[1] Chapter 1044 of Alfonso el Sabio X’s Crónica general about the battle of Clavijo and the defeat of the Moor Abenhut.