Hernán Cortés, the forgotten colonizer|

Last week, President López Obrador asked Spain to apologize for the atrocities perpetrated by the Spanish during the colonial period

Hernán Cortés, the forgotten colonizer
Hernán Cortés massacred and colonized the Aztec Empire - Photo: File Photo/EL UNIVERSAL
English 31/03/2019 14:59 AFP Mexico City Actualizada 15:06
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The body of Hernán Cortés, the colonizer who introduced three centuries of Spanish rule in Mexico, is forgotten inside a church in Mexico City.

The story of how his body was laid to rest in Mexico is a dramatic one. Cortés was a witty and smart adventurer from a poor family, who sailed from Spain to colonize the Aztec Empire.

Once he reached his destination, he destroyed his own ships to force his army to stay and fight to colonize the natives.

With the help of smallpox, horses, swords, and guns, as well as by forming alliances with Indigenous groups, Cortés massacred and defeated the Aztecs in 1521.

He died in Spain in 1547, sick and in debt.

In his deathbed, he asked his family to build a convent in the south of Mexico City and to bury him there. That never happened.

His descendants buried him in a mausoleum in Sevilla and three years later, his remains were relocated to a nearby tomb because a noble was laid to rest in the mausoleum.

But that was just the beginning...

Journalist and chronicler Héctor de Mauleón explains that “his remains were taken from one place to another.” Cortés' family sent his body to New Spain in 1566, and he was buried near his mother in a church in northern Mexico City.

In 1692, Cortés' last male heir died and the colonial government ordered that he would be buried next to the colonizer in a Franciscan monastery in Mexico City.

In 1970, the remains were moved to a church next to the Jesus Hospital, the first hospital in America, which Cortés ordered to build.

Nevertheless, in 1810 Mexico declared its independence from Spain, which was achieved after 11 years of war.

In 1823, Mexico City was full of pamphlets that demanded to persecute the Spanish “and that the remains of Cortés are exhumed, dragged on the streets, and kicked,” says de Mauleón.

The writer and conservative historian Lucas Alamán decided to act. He entered the church and retrieved the remains, and for over a century, their location was unknown.

In 1946, a Spanish refugee who had fled the civil war in Spain and a Cuban student invited historian Francisco de la Maza to a secret meeting. They told him they had a letter written by Alamán, with a map that explained where Cortés' remains were.

They were in the same church from where Alamán had removed them, sealed into the walls of the church.

With an official permit, De la Maza led a secret excavation and found the remains but the find was quite different from the image people have of the colonizer.

“He only had one tooth left, he had many war wounds, and somehow his bones were weakened by the action of venereal disease,” says de Mauleón.

The Mexican government ordered that the body was returned to the same place where it was found and place a discreet plate: "Hernán Cortés, 1485-1547."


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