Drought-driven falling levels of Chiapas‘ Grijalva River have presently revealed the mid-16th century Temple of Santiago. Normally drowned in 100 feet of water, the church was built in 1564 by Friar Bartolome de las Casas. He was the celebrated advocate of the abolition of slavery in the Americas. In 1966, when the Mexican government created the NezaThualcoyotl reservoir, the Dominican temple and surrounding villages, towns and historically valuable archaeological sites all disappeared.
The re-appearance of the Dominican-created temple and surrounding communities stirs historic memories of the disaster of Spanish subjugation of Mexico’s indigenous population, which saw it as a “divine desertion.”
That time also calls up Fray Diego Duran’s keen perception of the psychic and material destruction of the Aztec capital, today’s Mexico City. Yet that disaster of the “cosmic undoing” of the world was little noted by the Spanish occupiers.
Born in Spain around 1537, Duran was brought to Mexico as an infant by his family. Tetzcocan Nahuatl was quickly added to his childhood vocabulary. By the time he was ten, he found the ruined city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan a vast educational playground. He soon became a child-aged ethnographer at a time when written Spanish history, especially about this new world, tended to be lazy, egotistic and woefully uninquisitive. He became a young historian of a people his race and class was taught to despise, pillage and slaughter. As an adult, he became a Roman Catholic priest who knew more about pagan philosophies, rituals and the psychology of New Spain than most men – then and now.