Francisco Javier Clavijero

Francisco Javier Clavijero bigraphy, stories - Historians

Francisco Javier Clavijero : biography

September 9, 1731 – April 2, 1787

Francisco Javier Clavijero Echegaray (sometimes Francesco Saverio Clavigero) (September 9, 1731 – April 2, 1787), was a Novohispano Jesuit teacher, scholar and historian. After the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spanish colonies (1767), he went to Italy, where he wrote a valuable work on the pre-Columbian history and civilizations of Mesoamerica and the central Mexican altiplano.

Priestly vows, teaching and historical investigations

In 1754, Clavijero was ordained a priest. He began to teach at the Colegio de San Gregorio, founded at the beginning of the colonial era to teach Indian youth. He spent five years there. Again, quoting from his biographer, Juan Luis Maneiro:

In those five years he examined with great curiosity all the documents relating to the Mexican nation that had been collected in large numbers in the Colegio de San Pedro y San Pablo, and with great determination extracted from them precious treasures that later were published in the history he left for posterity.

Nevertheless, his time at San Gregorio was not without problems. In a letter dated April 3, 1761, Father Pedro Reales, vicar general of the Jesuits, rebuked him in a letter for

having completely shaken off the yoke of obedience, responding with an "I don’t want to" to those who assigned you duties, as occurred yesterday, or at the very least this answer was given to the superior, who in truth did not know what path to take so that Your Reverence would fulfill and embrace your duty. Relocating you is hardly a solution, and Your Reverence’s life and example have provided no satisfaction, almost completely removing the unique purpose of those who live in this college, and handing over to others jobs and studies that you fill.

It seems clear that these "other jobs and studies" of Father Clavijero referred to the Aztec codices and the books of the period of the Conquest that had been given to the college of San Pedro and San Pablo by Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora. Clavijero followed Sigüenza as an example in his investigations, and was very pleased with Sigüenza’s benevolence to and love of the Indians. He also admired much of the culture of the Indians before their contact with Europeans. Clavijero never ceased to try to read the ideograms in the codices.

Clavijero was transferred to the Colegio de San Javier in Puebla, also dedicated to the education of Indian youth. He taught there for three years. In 1764 he was transferred again, to Valladolid (now Morelia), to teach philosophy in the seminary there. More of a rationalist in philosophy than his predecessors, he was an innovator in the field. Good work in Valladolid got him promoted to the same position in Guadalajara. It was in Guadalajara that he finished his treatise Physica Particularis, which, together with Cursus Philosophicus, sets out his scientific and philosophical thought.

His works

La Historia Antigua de México begins with a description of Anáhuac, and continues with the story of the Aztec wanderings. It treats of the politics, warfare, religion, customs, social organization and culture of the Aztecs. It establishes for the first time the chronology of the Indian peoples, and concludes with the history of the Conquest up to the imprisonment of Cuauhtémoc.

In contrast to many of his contemporaries, Clavigero promoted a view of the Indigenous as peaceful and good, while heavily criticizing the actions of the Spanish conquistadors. Clavigero’s work is seen today as overly sentimental and unreliable, but it is still read by many historians who seek detailed information about early American daily life.

In addition to La Historia Antigua de México, Father Clavijero published these works:

  • Historia de la Antigua o Baja California, Venice, 1789. Four volumes. This is a summary of the works of the Jesuit missionaries in Baja California, including Miguel Venegas, Juan María Salvatierra, Eusebio Francisco Kino, Juan de Ugarte, Francisco María Piccolo, Fernando Consag and others. English translations were published in San Francisco in 1864 and in Los Angeles in 1938. This is a forerunner of modern historical scholarship, with much attention to sources.
  • Physica particularis. Essay.
  • Cursus philosophicus. Dissertation.
  • A history of the apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
  • Frutos en que comercia o puede comerciar la Nueva España. Essay.
  • Many letters, essays and dissertations dealing with Mexican culture, natural science, philosophy, and other subjects.