Mexican Catholicism: A Syncretism of Christianity and Indigenous Faiths

For our final project, we will be investigating the origins and traditions of Catholicism in Mexico. We are most interested in studying the different Mexican saints and virgins, as well as their cultural significance. For example, we might talk about La Virgen de Guadalupe or La Santa Muerte.

According to a Pew study referenced in this article, about 80 percent of Mexicans identify as Catholic. However, as explained in this article, much of the Catholicism followed by many Mexicans has strong influences from pre-Hispanic traditions. For example, about half of Mexico’s Catholic population claims that they have “medium” to “high” levels of engagement with indigenous beliefs and traditions. Included in these are beliefs in reincarnation, witchcraft, sorcery, magic, communication with spirits, and the evil eye.

In the article, “Mexican Catholicism: Conquest, Faith, and Resistance”, Jessica Frankovich briefly discusses the significance and predominance of Catholicism in Mexico. The author begins by discussing how one of Mexico City’s most impressive tourist attractions is The Metropolitan Cathedral in the Zocalo (town center). She goes into a detailed description of how large the building is and how beautiful its architecture is. Apparently,  the construction of the building took over 200 years to complete and is incredibly beautiful on the inside as well. It is also the oldest church in Latin America and serves as a demonstration of the arrival of Spanish conquistadores to Central America. When the Spaniards conquered the Aztec land of Tenochtitlan, they renamed it Mexico City and created a massive cathedral.

With this came the tragic elements of colonization such as kidnapping, forced conversions of Indigenous children, the eradication of Indigenous traditions, the murder of native civilians and leaders. Part of why the cathedral was built in the middle of the city and on top of destroyed Aztec temples was to assert dominance.

Interestingly though, despite the immensely destructive effects of the church in Mexico, Catholicism and Indigenous traditions found a way to merge – just like Candomblé was created in Brazil from Catholic and Yoruban faith influences. A Mexican equivalent is Dia de Los Muertos, which while originating from pre-Hispanic traditions surrounding reincarnation and customs of venerating death, often has rosaries as well as images of La Virgen de Guadalupe and La Santa Muerte.

Discussion question: Do you know of any North American Indigenous traditions or beliefs that have melded with Catholicism in similar ways?

2 Replies to “Mexican Catholicism: A Syncretism of Christianity and Indigenous Faiths”

  1. HI!
    I know exactly the cathedral you’re talking about in Zocalo, in the plaza they have these clear floors where you can actually see ruins beneath and around the cathedral. I think this is an important topic and I really hope it goes well. Talking about the Virgin de Guadalupe story is critical for this project. I think it would be really interesting to look into how the younger generations in Mexico view these catholic traditions and what trends theremay be!

  2. Hey there!

    This is a fascinating topic, and I’m impressed at all the bases you have and will cover! I find it very interesting how Catholicism and Indigenous traditions have blended in some ways, and produced different faiths like Candomblé. I would be really interested in learning more about how Catholic roots have permeated and influenced Latin American culture, traditions and religious practice- this is a great start to a really cool project:)

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