Savannah Esquivel: Walking among the Dead in the Monastery: Silences and (In)visibilities in Sixteenth Century New Spain

This project addresses conceptions of monastic space in sixteenth-century Novohispanic Franciscan chronicles. Focusing on Gerónimo de Mendieta’s ca. 1595 account of a ghost at the Franciscan monastery at Tlaxcala, I trace the pathway of the protagonists through the monastery to reconstruct the symbolic topography of the Franciscan mission, demonstrating the traditional emphasis on the documentary qualities of mendicant chronicles obscures their powerfully rhetorical dimensions. The importance of viewing mendicant chronicles from multiple perspectives becomes particularly apparent when Mendieta’s ghost story is contextualized within Franciscan liturgical practice in Novohispanic monasteries: a close, doctrinal reading of the account would suggest a moralizing tale about the salvific rewards of regulating the senses and praying the Divine Office, but a position within the Franciscan legislative corpus draws attention to narrative discrepancies that compromise Franciscan ideals. Such incongruities, I claim, highlight tensions between the friars and Indigenous users of the monastery.

Savannah Esquivel is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago where she focuses on religious conversion, mural painting, and Indigenous visual cultures in colonial Latin America. Her dissertation, “The Absent Viewer in Colonial Mexican Mural Painting,” reconstructs the Indigenous and mendicant viewers’ liturgical and phenomenological encounter with Christian art at Franciscan monasteries in central Mexico. It argues that the Indigenous experience of the Catholic liturgy impacted the design of missionary art and architecture and transformed Franciscan spirituality in New Spain. Her other research focuses on early-modern Franciscan architecture, and cultural preservation in contemporary Mexico. She received a BA in art history and religious studies with honors from the University of Iowa, and a Master’s degree in art history from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research has been supported by grants from the Society of Architectural Historians, the Newberry Library, and the Fulbright-Hays program. Savannah teaches at the University of Chicago where she is a Lecturer and Preceptor in the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities.


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