Exemplarity and Experimentation: Images in Unsuccessful Canonization Campaigns from the Viceroyalty of Peru

Francisco Sylverio de Sotomayor, Portrait of Mariana de Jesús of Quito, 1732. Engraving, 10.9 x 8.1 cm. Image courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Providence, Rhode Island.

This subproject looks at the multiple roles of images in unsuccessful campaigns to canonize saints from the Viceroyalty of Peru in the long seventeenth century. The key evidence is the visual apparatus undergirding the cults of men and women who gained saintly reputations in the Andes but were not recognized officially by the Roman Curia.

A vast set of South American territories colonized by the Spanish in the sixteenth century formed the Viceroyalty of Peru. Converting the numerous indigenous nations of the Viceroyalty to Christianity was not only a focus of missionary efforts by individual religious orders, but a cornerstone of Spanish imperial and cultural policy. The beatification and canonization of Saint Rose of Lima (1586-1617), the first officially recognized Saint of the American continent, became a high-profile success story in both the Papacy and the Spanish crown’s universalizing missionary endeavors. Yet many other candidates from Viceregal Peru did not receive offical sainthood, and thus expose the competing agendas involved in the veneration and recognition of saints in a global context.

Within the larger GLOBECOSAL framework, this subproject offers both a counterpoint to the successful case of Saint Rose of Lima and a dynamic set of comparisons with unsuccessful canonization campaigns originating in Asia. In the Andean context, images were at once potent adjuncts to Christian evangelization efforts and focal points for veneration reflecting local Andean needs and intentions. By focusing on the visual and material remnants of unofficial saintly figures and their cults, this subproject draws on a hitherto underexplored body of historical evidence. The very nature of images, and the disputed ways in which they could broker a relationship between reality and representation, were topics of urgent debate in this period. Images thus played a vital part in cross-cultural negotiations of value, within what this project frames as global economies of salvation.

Researcher: Hannah Joy Friedmann