Bearers of the Gospel: Previous Franciscan Activity in the New World

Reform in the Order and Missionary Ideals


In the second half of the fifteenth century Franciscan groups seeking a return to the original spirit of the Order had spread all over Europe. Of particular interest for us are those which flourished in Spain. From them many provinces were established in Spain, which for their part provided large groups to the New World.


Two important reform movements in Spain had, by the beginning of the sixteenth century, attained enough strength to influence missionary developments. Cardinal Francisco Ximénez de Cisneros was the zealous promoter of one of these reform efforts. A Franciscan himself, he had a clear idea of the significance of the original Franciscan charism. With all the authority he enjoyed as Archbishop of Toledo, the most important diocese in Spain, he strove to restore the strict observance of the Franciscan Rule in all the friaries of the kingdom. One of the most trusted counselors of Queen Isabel la Católica, he had a large part in the founding in I 505 of the first missionary province in the New World, that of Santa Cruz in Hispaniola (Dominican Republic), and in the selection of the early missionary group coming to this province. 6

Another reforming movement came from below, from small groups of friars who were looking for isolated and poor places where they might practice the cherished Franciscan ideals of a poor life, coupled with contemplation and preaching to the humble folk of towns and villages. Particularly important among these groups were those of southern Spain, some of whom – as the friars of La Rábida – became greatly involved in the activities of Columbus. There is no doubt that the reports from the lands recently discovered referring to the multitudes there waiting for the Christian Faith had a strong impact in some of the Franciscan communities of southern Spain.7

Possibly the best example of this influence is the case of the two sister-provinces of Extremadura in southern Spain. The Province of Los Angeles and that of San Gabriel were both renowned for their ideals of strict observance, and both became especially notable in the evangelization of the Americas. From the Province ofLos Angeles came one of the best-known promoters of the early missions in Mexico, Fray Francisco de los Angeles Quinones. Being about to embark in the first missionary group to that country, he was elected Minister General of the Order, and with the power of that office he was able to select very worthy friars for that mission. His hand-picked friars were from the Province of San Gabriel.8 Much of the later very notable Franciscan missionary activity in the Americas was undoubtedly due to the dedication and the exemplary life of these first missionaries in Mexico.

In Spain the Franciscan ideal for the renewal of the original spirit of the Order continued to be strong for most of the sixteenth century. Out of this movement there were born various provinces, the so-called discalceati provinces of stricter observance. The flourishing condition of the provinces in Spain was a strong factor for the numbers of friars coming to the Americas.9

See Jose Garcia Oro, "Santa Cruz de Indias: hombres e ideas de Cisneros en America," Actas del I Congreso Internacional sobre los Franciscanose en el Nuevo Mundo (Madrid: Editorial Deimos, S.A., I 987) 665-83.

See Juan Gil Fernandez, "Los Franciscanos y Colon," ibid., 77-110. The best documentary sources to study the relationship of the Franciscans of La Rábida and Christopher Columbus is: Angel Ortega, La Rábida, Historia documental critica, 4 vols.(Sevilla, 1925-26). A good study of the influence of Franciscan Spirituality on Columbus is Alain Milhou, Colón su mentalidad mesianica en el ambiente franciscanista español (Valladolid: Cuadernos Colombinos, 1983).

See Juan Meseguer Fernandez, "Contenido misionológico de la Obediencia e Instrucción de Fray Francisco de los Angeles a los Doce apóstoles de Mexico," The Americas 11 (1955): 473-500.

See Pedro Borges Moran, "Análisis sociológico de las expediciones de misioneros franciscanos a America," Actas del I Congreso Internacional, 443-72.

CREDIT: REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
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REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
The First Georgia Missions: Our Southern Catholic Heritage, Dr. Paul Thigpen and Katherine Ragan. Illustrations by Pamela Gardner, based on the retablo by Dan Nichols. This retablo is part of the parish patrimony of Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia

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