Francisco Javier Clavijero

Francisco Javier Clavijero

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Francisco Javier Clavijero Echegaray (sometimes Francesco Saverio Clavigero) (September 9, 1731 – April 2, 1787), was a Novohispano
New Spain
New Spain, formally called the Viceroyalty of New Spain , was a viceroyalty of the Spanish colonial empire, comprising primarily territories in what was known then as 'América Septentrional' or North America. Its capital was Mexico City, formerly Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec Empire...

Society of Jesus
The Society of Jesus is a Catholic male religious order that follows the teachings of the Catholic Church. The members are called Jesuits, and are also known colloquially as "God's Army" and as "The Company," these being references to founder Ignatius of Loyola's military background and a...

 teacher, scholar and historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

. After the expulsion of the Jesuits
Society of Jesus
The Society of Jesus is a Catholic male religious order that follows the teachings of the Catholic Church. The members are called Jesuits, and are also known colloquially as "God's Army" and as "The Company," these being references to founder Ignatius of Loyola's military background and a...

 from Spanish colonies (1767), he went to Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, where he wrote a valuable work on the pre-Columbian
The pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during...

 history and civilizations of Mesoamerica
Mesoamerica is a region and culture area in the Americas, extending approximately from central Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, within which a number of pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 15th and...

 and the central Mexican altiplano
Mexican Plateau
The Central Mexican Plateau, also known as the Mexican Altiplano or Altiplanicie Mexicana, is a large arid-to-semiarid plateau that occupies much of northern and central Mexico...



He was born in Veracruz
Veracruz, Veracruz
Veracruz, officially known as Heroica Veracruz, is a major port city and municipality on the Gulf of Mexico in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The city is located in the central part of the state. It is located along Federal Highway 140 from the state capital Xalapa, and is the state's most...

The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

) of a Spanish
Spanish people
The Spanish are citizens of the Kingdom of Spain. Within Spain, there are also a number of vigorous nationalisms and regionalisms, reflecting the country's complex history....

 father and a Criolla mother. His father worked for the Spanish crown
Spanish monarchy
The Monarchy of Spain, constitutionally referred to as The Crown and commonly referred to as the Spanish monarchy or Hispanic Monarchy, is a constitutional institution and an historic office of Spain...

, and was transferred with his family from one town to another. Most of the father's posts were to locations with a strong indigenous
Indigenous peoples of Mexico
Mexico, in the second article of its Constitution, is defined as a "pluricultural" nation in recognition of the diverse ethnic groups that constitute it, and in which the indigenous peoples are the original foundation...

 presence, and because of this Clavijero learned Nahuatl growing up. The family lived at various times in Teziutlán
Teziutlán is a small city in the northeast of the Mexican state of Puebla. Its 2005 census population was 60,597. It also serves as the municipal seat for the surrounding municipality of the same name. The municipality has an area of 84.2 km² and a population of 88,970.Teziutlán is located at...

, Puebla
Puebla officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Puebla is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 217 municipalities and its capital city is Puebla....

 and later in Jamiltepec, in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca
Oaxaca , , officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Oaxaca is one of the 31 states which, along with the Federal District, comprise the 32 federative entities of Mexico. It is divided into 571 municipalities; of which 418 are governed by the system of customs and traditions...


Clavijero's biographer, Juan Luis Maneiro, wrote:

From the time of his boyhood, he had occasion to deal intimately with the indigenous people, to learn thoroughly their customs and nature, and to investigate attentively the many special things the land produces, be they plants, animals or minerals. There was no high mountain, dark cave, pleasant valley, spring, brook, or any other place that drew his curiosity to which the Indians did not take the boy to in order to please him.


He began his studies in Puebla, at the college of San Jerónimo for grammar, and the Jesuit college of San Ignacio for philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

, Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 and theology
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

. Upon completion of these studies, he entered a seminary in Puebla, Puebla
Puebla, Puebla
The city and municipality of Puebla is the capital of the state of Puebla, and one of the five most important colonial cities in Mexico. Being a planned city, it is located to the east of Mexico City and west of Mexico's main port, Veracruz, on the main route between the two.The city was founded...

 to study for the priest
A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...

hood, but he soon decided to become a Jesuit instead. In February 1748 he transferred to a Jesuit college in Tepotzotlán
Tepotzotlán is a city and a municipality in the Mexico state of Mexico. It is located 115 km northeast of Mexico City about a 45-minute drive along the Mexico City-Querétaro at marker number 41. In Aztec times, the area was the center of a dominion that negotiated to keep most of its...

, State of Mexico. There he continued to study Latin and also learned ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

, French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

, Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

, German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

, and English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

. In 1751 he was sent back to Puebla for further studies in philosophy. Here he was introduced to the works of such contemporary thinkers as Descartes
René Descartes
René Descartes ; was a French philosopher and writer who spent most of his adult life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed the 'Father of Modern Philosophy', and much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day...

, Newton
Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...

, and Leibniz
Gottfried Leibniz
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was a German philosopher and mathematician. He wrote in different languages, primarily in Latin , French and German ....


Next he was sent to Mexico City
Mexico City
Mexico City is the Federal District , capital of Mexico and seat of the federal powers of the Mexican Union. It is a federal entity within Mexico which is not part of any one of the 31 Mexican states but belongs to the federation as a whole...

, to complete his theological and philosophical studies at the Colegio de San Pedro y Pablo
San Pedro y San Pablo College (Museum of Light)
The San Pedro y San Pablo College complex has seen a lot of changes since it was built in late 16th and early 17th centuries, and today the church portion of the complex is home to the Museo de la Luz sponsored by the National Autonomous University of Mexico...

. Here he joined with other students of stature, including José Rafael Campoy, Andrés Cavo
Andrés Cavo
Andrés Cavo was a Jesuit and historian of New Spain.Andrés Cavo was born in New Spain in 1739. He entered the Society of Jesus and became a priest in 1760. He was involved in the missions to the Indians in Nayar in 1767 when the order for the expulsion of the Jesuits was enforced...

, Francisco Javier Alegre
Francisco Javier Alegre
Francisco Xavier Alegre was a Jesuit scholar, translator, and historian of New Spain.-Life:Alegre was born in Veracruz, New Spain. He studied philosophy in the Royal College of San Ignacio in Puebla, then canon and civil law in Mexico City and theology in Angelópolis...

, Juan Luis Maneiro and Pedro José Márquez, a group known today (along with others) as the "Mexican humanists
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

 of the eighteenth century". While still a student, he began teaching, and was made prefect of the Colegio de San Ildefonso. Later he was appointed to the chair of rhetoric in the Seminario Mayor of the Jesuits, an exceptional appointment as he had yet to be ordained
In general religious use, ordination is the process by which individuals are consecrated, that is, set apart as clergy to perform various religious rites and ceremonies. The process and ceremonies of ordination itself varies by religion and denomination. One who is in preparation for, or who is...

 as a priest.

Priestly vows, teaching and historical investigations

In 1754, Clavijero was ordained a priest. He began to teach at the Colegio de San Gregorio
Colegio de San Gregorio
The Colegio de San Gregorio is a historical building in Valladolid, Spain, currently housing the National Museum of Sculpture. It is one of the best examples of architecture in the period of the Catholic Monarchs in Spain , and was founded as a Theology College for the Dominican order....

, 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
Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora
Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora was one of the first great intellectuals born in the Spanish viceroyalty of New Spain. A polymath and writer, he held many colonial government and academic positions.-Early career:...

. 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
Puebla, Puebla
The city and municipality of Puebla is the capital of the state of Puebla, and one of the five most important colonial cities in Mexico. Being a planned city, it is located to the east of Mexico City and west of Mexico's main port, Veracruz, on the main route between the two.The city was founded...

, also dedicated to the education of Indian youth. He taught there for three years. In 1764 he was transferred again, to Valladolid (now Morelia
Morelia is a city and municipality in the north central part of the state of Michoacán in central Mexico. The city is in the Guayangareo Valley and is the capital of the state. The main pre-Hispanic cultures here were the P'urhépecha and the Matlatzinca, but no major cities were founded in the...

), 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
Guadalajara, Jalisco
Guadalajara is the capital of the Mexican state of Jalisco, and the seat of the municipality of Guadalajara. The city is located in the central region of Jalisco in the western-pacific area of Mexico. With a population of 1,564,514 it is Mexico's second most populous municipality...

. It was in Guadalajara that he finished his treatise Physica Particularis, which, together with Cursus Philosophicus, sets out his scientific and philosophical thought.

The expulsion of the Jesuits and Clavijero's work in Italy

The Jesuits were expelled from all the Spanish dominations on June 25, 1767, on orders of King Charles III
Charles III of Spain
Charles III was the King of Spain and the Spanish Indies from 1759 to 1788. He was the eldest son of Philip V of Spain and his second wife, the Princess Elisabeth Farnese...

. When Clavijero left the colony, he went first to Ferrara
Ferrara is a city and comune in Emilia-Romagna, northern Italy, capital city of the Province of Ferrara. It is situated 50 km north-northeast of Bologna, on the Po di Volano, a branch channel of the main stream of the Po River, located 5 km north...

, Italy, but soon relocated to Bologna
Bologna is the capital city of Emilia-Romagna, in the Po Valley of Northern Italy. The city lies between the Po River and the Apennine Mountains, more specifically, between the Reno River and the Savena River. Bologna is a lively and cosmopolitan Italian college city, with spectacular history,...

, Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, where he lived the rest of his life.

In Italy he devoted his time to his historical investigations. Although he no longer had access to the Aztec codices, the reference works, and the accounts of the first Spanish conquistadors, he retained in his memory the information from his earlier studies. He was able to write the work he had always intended, La Historia Antigua de México (ISBN 968-6871-20-9). In Italy a work by the Prussian Cornelius de Pauw
Cornelius de Pauw
Cornelius Franciscus de Pauw or Cornelis de Pauw was a Dutch philosopher, geographer and diplomat at the court of Frederick the Great of Prussia.-Biography:...

 came to his attention. It was entitled Philosophical Investigations Concerning the Americans. This work revealed to Clavijero the extent of European ignorance about the nature and culture of pre-Columbian Americans, and spurred his work to show the true history of Mexico.

He worked for years on his history, consulting Italian libraries and corresponding with friends in Mexico who answered his questions by consulting the original works there. Finally his work was ready. It consisted of ten volumes containing the narrative of Mexican culture from before the Spanish conquest. The original manuscript was in Spanish, but Father Clavijero translated it into Italian, with the help of some of his Italian friends. The book was published at Cesena
Cesena is a city and comune in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, south of Ravenna and west of Rimini, on the Savio River, co-chief of the Province of Forlì-Cesena. It is at the foot of the Apennines, and about 15 km from the Adriatic Sea.-History:Cesena was originally an Umbrian...

 in 1780-81, and was received by scholars with great satisfaction. It was soon translated into English and German. It was also translated back into Spanish, and went through numerous editions in Mexico. Much later (1945) the original was published in Spanish.

His works

La Historia Antigua de México begins with a description of Anáhuac
Anahuac is an ancient name for a Mesoamerican, particularly Aztec, area or areas, usually identified as located within or even coterminous with the Valley of Mexico...

, 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
Cuauhtémoc was the Aztec ruler of Tenochtitlan from 1520 to 1521...


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 conquistador
Conquistadors were Spanish soldiers, explorers, and adventurers who brought much of the Americas under the control of Spain in the 15th to 16th centuries, following Europe's discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492...

s. 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
    Miguel Venegas
    Miguel Venegas was a Jesuit administrator and historian, producing a standard geographical, historical, and ethnographic description of Baja California, Mexico -- a region he never personally visited....

    , Juan María Salvatierra, Eusebio Francisco Kino, Juan de Ugarte
    Juan de Ugarte
    Juan de Ugarte was a Jesuit missionary-explorer in Baja California Sur, Mexico, and the successor to Juan María de Salvatierra as head of the peninsula's missions.Ugarte was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras...

    , Francisco María Piccolo
    Francisco María Piccolo
    Francisco María Piccolo was one of the first Jesuit missionaries in Baja California Sur, Mexico. His letters and reports are important sources for the ethnography and early history of the peninsula....

    , 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
    Our Lady of Guadalupe
    Our Lady of Guadalupe , also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe is a celebrated Catholic icon of the Virgin Mary.According to tradition, on December 9, 1531 Juan Diego, a simple indigenous peasant, had a vision of a young woman while he was on a hill in the Tepeyac desert, near Mexico City. The lady...

  • 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.


Father Francisco Javier Clavijero died in Bologna April 2, 1787, at 4 in the afternoon. He was 56 years of age. He did not live to see the publication of Historia de la Antigua o Baja California.

On August 5, 1970, the remains of Father Clavijero were repatriated to Veracruz, the place of his birth. They were received with the honors due to an illustrious son. He is now interred in the Rotonda de los Personajes Ilustres in the Pantheon Dolores in Mexico City.
Schools, libraries, botanical gardens, avenues and parks throughout the Republic of Mexico have been named for him, including:
  • Biblioteca Francisco Xavier Clavigero, a private library of the Universidad Iberoamericana
    Universidad Iberoamericana
    The Ibero-American University is a Mexican private institution of higher education sponsored by the Society of Jesus...

    , in Mexico City
    Mexico City
    Mexico City is the Federal District , capital of Mexico and seat of the federal powers of the Mexican Union. It is a federal entity within Mexico which is not part of any one of the 31 Mexican states but belongs to the federation as a whole...

  • Clavijero Botanical Garden
    Clavijero Botanical Garden
    The Jardín Botánico Clavijero is an important botanical garden in the city of Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. The garden is dedicated to Francisco Javier Clavijero, who was a Novohispano Jesuit teacher, scholar and historian....

    , Xalapa
    Xalapa-Enríquez, commonly Xalapa or Jalapa, is the capital city of the Mexican state of Veracruz and the name of the surrounding municipality. In the year 2005 census the city reported a population of 387,879 and the municipality of which it serves as municipal seat reported a population of...

External links

Fondo de Cultura Económica - Francisco Javier Clavijero