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Eschatological and Biblical Inspiration in the Franciscan Architecture of New Spain

The discovery and evangelization of the Novus Orbis in the early sixteenth century coincided with renewed interest in prophesy, biblical studies, and eschatological expectations fostered by a Franciscan and geopolitical rereading of the work of the medieval thinker Joachim of Fiore. The encounter with strange peoples and exotic places needed to be explained not only in terms of geography and racial origins, but in a biblical and providentialist light. It also provided an opportunity for “thinking big” about the enterprise of evangelization in the euphoric first decades. The Franciscans and other mendicants developed an architectural plan for their conversion centers that harkened back to biblical prototypes but also forward to latter-day hopes. At the same time, their buildings were eminently practical as stage sets for catechesis, liturgy, visual and verbal inculturation, and the geo-eschatological project. Once the end-time dreams faded, the plan continued to prove useful when adapted with more humble materials for the second wave of evangelization in the American Southwest.

Jaime Lara, University of Notre Dame