Carmelite Chronicles: Other Carmelites in Spanish America

August 12, 2014 |

In spite of the fact that the Order was not permitted to make a permanent foundation in Spanish America, individual Carmelites continued to make their way there. Not all who crossed the seas were driven by thirst for souls. Some saw in the Indies a welcome haven where they could carry on their irregular lives with less interference from authority.

The extent of the activity of the Carmelites in Spanish America is a matter that remains to be investigated. Some facts, however, are known.

John Baptist Caffardi granted patents for the Indies to John de Magdalena (1579), John and Francis Nieto (1586) and Diego Velázquez (1586). In 1581, the Carmelite John de Mexia is found in the company of the Dominican bishop of Tucumán, Francis de Vitoria. In 1584, Melchior de Portes was given permission by the king to cross over to Peru to collect an estate (hacienda). Francis de Villafuerte, of Madrid, taught at the university of Mexico City, where he died in 1608. In 1590, the king ordered the Viceroy, Anthony de Mendoza, to collect the Carmelites and Trinitarians found in Quito without proper permission. The viceroy protested the difficulty of the task, for these friars “are scattered in the most remote parts of these realms, some are very rich, others favored by the bishops.” Three years later he repeated the order. In 1600, the prior general, Henry Silvio, granted faculties to Master Louis Ruiz Cavallero, procurator general in Spain, to erect houses in the Indies, clothe candidates in the habit, and recover goods of friars deceased there for the construction of Traspontina.

Under the successors of Philip II (d. 1598) the search for renegade Carmelites continued. In 1600, Philip III requested Archbishop Toribio Mogrovejo to seek out Carmelites having estates (haciendas) and assist the viceroy in sending them home. In 1611, the king instructed the Marqués de Montesclaros to send back to Spain all Carmelites found without authorization. In 1617, the prior general, Sebastian Fantoni, wrote to Fray Angel de León, vicar general of Peru and New Spain, to round up stray Carmelites and to take possession of the property of those who had died. The property was to be applied to the construction of Traspontina. Fantoni wondered that he had not heard from Fray Angel, especially since he knew that the late Diego Reinel, of the province of Catalonia, had left property. On October 24, 1640, all Carmelites found without permission in Guadalajara and Zacatecas were ordered to be sent back to Spain. In 1633, their convents had been ordered torn down, but the audiencia had protected the friars who had been remiss in presenting their licenses.

In 1642, the prior general, Theodore Straccio, granted a license to Master Ambrose Rocca to go to the West Indies, if His Catholic Majesty consented. The general chapter of 1645 instructed the procurator general in Spain to obtain permission from the king or his council for Carmelites to go to the West or East Indies. In 1655, John de la Plata, of Seville, is found in Concepción de el Viejo, Nicaragua, where he assured the Franciscans that their statue of the Virgin had been donated by St. Teresa. Fray John wrote a history of the Carmelites (Seville, 1639) and a work against John IV of Portugal (Alcala, 1641).

Carmelite Chronicles are taken from The Mirror of Carmel by Joachim Smet, O. Carm.

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