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Viceregal and Ecclesiastical Mexican Collection

Identifier: Manuscripts-Collection 01

Scope and Contents

1534-1919. Some 3,000 dossiers relating principally to late colonial Mexico (1770-1820), originating in the offices of the Viceroy, Real Audiencia, and bishops of New Spain. Included are church records and inventories, censuses, notarial files, laws and decrees, civil and ecclesiastical suits, and land disputes, with many documents that concern Indian affairs and problems with the church.

A new and updated introduction to the collection by Michael A. Polushin can be found clicking on the following link: Introduction to the Viceregal and Ecclesiastical Mexican Collection

The Viceregal and Ecclesiastical Mexican Collection consists of manuscripts relating to the colonial or viceregal period, with emphasis on the years 1770-1820. It is composed of documents of the Catholic Church and records of government which apparently had their origin in the archives of the viceroys, archbishops, and bishops of the New Spain. Types of documents include church records, petitions, litigation records, notarial files, letters, reports, investigations, maps, illustrations, architectural plans, and printed edicts and proclamations.

Beyond the limits defined by the name of the collection are a certain number of documents of the later national period of Mexico, consisting principally of government decrees. Some documents come from places other than Mexico - Spain, the Phillipines, Guatemala, Cuba, Colombia, Italy - but all are within the time limit of the Spain colonial period. Most documents are in Spanish. Some official church documents are in Latin or Italian, while Nahuatl and other Indian languages are also found. The subject matter of the collection touches on many aspects of life in the Spanish colony, from the administration of government by the viceroy, Real Audiencia, and local officials to the all pervasiveness of the Church from archbishop to parish priest. There is material relating to the role of the Indian, the social customs of the people, and the development of education, agriculture, mining, and trade.

Certain subject areas have large concentrations of documents. There are hundreds of marriage documents from the diocese of Monterrey/Linares, which contain much statistical information on population, social castes, and church practices. The inventories of the estates of bishops, required upon their death, provide data on the furniture, clothing and books of the times. Comprising almost a separate collection in itself are files of Jesuit vows which date from 1587. Many documents are related in some way with the Inquisition, either by way of the prosecution of someone who has offended the Church, or providing testimony on the purity of blood of those aspiring to a position in the institution.

A large part of the collection consists of litigation records. Many lawsuits are concerned with conflict between Indians and their priests over such grievances as church fees and obligations. Others relate to land disputes, or are carried on between the clergy and civil officials involving a conflict of authority. Another type of litigation is concerned with the prosecution of priests and nuns by the Church for alleged wrongdoing, including various sex offenses or breaches of bows. There are also many histories and constitutions of cofradías , religious fraternal organizations, submitted to the viceroy for later approval by the king.

Through the course of many separate expedientes it is possible to trace the treatment of Indians, the position and condition of women, the administration of criminal justice, administrative procedures, the imposition of various types of taxes, health problems and medical treatments, the secularization of the parishes and conflict between the secular and regular clergy. Many documents deal with the filling of vacant church posts, particularly in the rural parishes, and in the exchange of parishes between dissatisfied priests. Included are financial reports from various schools, hospitals, convents, and churches, documents relating to specific religious orders, especially the Dominican and Franciscan, and repeated mention of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Apart from their content the manuscripts have other values. They may be studied for the paleography of the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, watermarks, illustrations, architectural plans, and maps, which show varying degrees of academic training, as well as for examples of popular poetry and poems of political satire.

Because there is a large and varied mass of material in the collection and because the processing was always undertaken piecemeal, one legajo at a time, instead of considering the collection as a unit - indeed, it would have been all but impossible to do otherwise - there has never been an attempt to organize, rearrange or classify the collection as a whole. Material within individual legajos has sometimes been reassembled, grouping similar documents together, but one legajo may contain documents from three different centuries, on many different subjects.


  • 1770-1820

Conditions Governing Access

Restricted use of the originals because of their fragile condition. Copies and microfilm open to the public for consultation.


3000.00 Pieces

Arrangement Note

144 Hollinger boxes and oversize folders

Several finding aids are available to researchers for approaching the collection:

1. The shelf list, which consists of descriptions of all expedientes within the legajos. Cards in the shelf list give the dates of the documents, basic content, type of manuscript (i.e. D.D. or A.D.S.), size and number of leaves and number within the collection. Cards are arranged numerically in legajo-expediente order.

2. The chronological file, in which each expediente card is interfiled with date cards from all other LAL Manuscript Collections.

3. The central dictionary card catalog, which contains entries referring to proper names, places, and subjects. These correspond as closely as possible to the subject entries of the Library of Congress. In this catalogue the subjects and added entry cards from this collection are interfiled with those from other collections.

4. An in-house authority file of subject entries used in the catalog.

5. A sSearchable guide created for the microfilm set.
Archon Finding Aid Title
Ruth Olivera, December 1980
Description rules
Other Unmapped
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Latin American Library at Tulane Repository

7001 Freret Street
Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, 4th floor
Tulane University
New Orleans Louisiana 70118 US
(504) 865-5681