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The College of Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco

The College of Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco

The College of Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco was founded by Franciscan friars in 1533 to educate the children of Indigenous elites in liberal arts, Spanish, Latin, and Christian theology. The left image is a twentieth-century sketch depicting the college, and the right image is a detail from a map of Mexico City from circa 1550 (full version below) that shows its location.

Ca. 1550 map of Mexico City.

Many of the sources presented in this exhibition were produced at the college, including the first Indigenous herbal of the Americas, the Cruz-Badiano Codex, as well as the Florentine Codex. The latter is a monumental work that sought to record all of Nahua history and worldviews, written in large part by the college’s students and directed by Professor Bernardino de Sahagún. Such ambitious works were inspired by the classical works available at the college’s state-of-the-art library, like Pliny’s Naturalis Historia. Similar to European friaries, there were infirmaries and hospitals next to the college, where Indigenous healers provided healthcare to the community.

The college, like the entire region, was deeply affected by dozens of devastating epidemics. In 1545, an epidemic of cocoliztli, a deadly hemorrhagic fever, reduced the students from one hundred to twenty, and Professor Sahagún claimed to have buried ten thousand victims and fell ill himself. In the cocoliztli outbreak of 1576, Sahagún and his collaborators isolated themselves at the college, seeking refuge from the unstopping illness as they hurried to finish their oeuvre. Their work, as many others written during these tragic times, was never completed, as supplies dried out and many of the authors fell ill and died.

 

Image Sources

  • Emily Walcott Emmart. “Concerning the Badianus Manuscript, an Aztec Herbal, ‘Codex Barberini, Latin 241’ (Vatican Library).” Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 94, no. 2 (1936): plate 4. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives.
  • Alonso de Santa Cruz. Map of Mexico City. Ca. 1550. Uppsala University Library.

Further Reading

  • Díaz, Lily, Jyrki Messo, and Lisha Dai. Map of Mexico 1550, A Digital Facsimile. Systems of Representation Research Group, Department of Media, Aalto University, 2015. Accessed August 16, 2021. http://sysrep.aalto.fi/demo2015/mexico.html.
  • Magaloni Kerpel, Diana. The Colors of the New World: Artists, Materials, and the Creation of the Florentine Codex. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2014.
 

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