05 November 2020, The Tablet

Reconsidering the conquistador

by Fernando Cervantes

The Spanish empire

Reconsidering the conquistador

Statue commemorating the first Bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumárraga


In 2015 Pope Francis apologised for the Church’s complicity in atrocities against the Incas and other Indigenous peoples. As the Mexican president demands an apology for the Aztecs, one of his learned compatriots says it’s time to look again at this much contested story

That Christianity was imposed by force in Latin America is one of those commonplaces that seem almost axiomatic. The Spanish conquistadores were ruthless and rapacious men who used Christianity as the perfect excuse to perpetrate their atrocities. Driven by an unquenchable thirst for gold and glory, they decimated innocent civilisations in the name of God and the Spanish monarchy, setting up tyrannical regimes that lasted for more than three centuries and from which the often unstable republics that exist today only began to emerge in the early nineteenth century.

Encouraged by the Napoleonic invasion of Spain in 1808, the anti-Spanish leaders of the wars of independence dreamed of a bright future, but unfortunately irreparable damage had already been done. It is small wonder that the Latin American republics still struggle to shake off the heavy shackles of religious bigotry, superstition and inefficiency that have weighed them down since the time of the Spanish conquest.

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