Saint of the Day – 1 October – Blessed Juan de Palafox Mendoza (1600–1659) Bishop, Spanish politician, Administrator, Prolific Writer, defender of the Mexican peoples – born Juan de Palafox y Mendoza on 24 June 1600 in Fitero, Navarra, Spain and died on 1 October 1659 in Osma, Soria, Spain of natural causes. Patronages – Dioceses of Puebla de los Ángeles and Osma-Soria. Palafox was the Bishop of Puebla (1640−1655) and the interim Archbishop of Mexico (1640−1642). He also held political office, from 10 June 1642 to 23 November 1642 as the Viceroy of New Spain. He lost a high-profile struggle with the Jesuits in New Spain, resulting in a recall to Spain, to the minor Diocese of Osma in Old Castile. Although a cause was opened for his Beatification shortly after he died in 1659, he was not Beatified until 2011.
Blessed Juan was born in Navarre, Spain, Juan Palafox de Mendoza was the natural son (“a child of transgression”) of Jaime de Palafox, the Marquis of Ariaza, of the Aragonese nobility. His mother became a Carmelite nun. He was taken in by a family of millers who gave him the name “Juan” and raised him for ten years, after which his father recognised him and had him educated at Alcalá and Salamanca.
In 1626 he was a deputy of the nobility in the Cortes de Monzón and later a prosecutor at the Council of War and a member of the Council of the Indies, the chief administrative body for administration of the overseas territories of the Spanish Empire.
He was ordained in 1629 and became the chaplain of Maria of Austria, Holy Roman Empress, the sister of King Philip IV of Spain. He accompanied her on her various trips around Europe.
In 1639 Philip IV nominated him and Pope Urban VIII appointed him, as Bishop of Puebla de los Ángeles in viceroyal Mexico. Puebla de los Ángeles was the second largest city in the Viceroyalty of New Spain (vice-royal México) then and is the present day City of Puebla. He was consecrated at Madrid on 27 December 1639.
As bishop, Palafox arrived in Veracruz on 24 June 1640. He was in the company of the new Viceroy of New Spain, Diego López Pacheco, 7th Duke of Escalona, whom he had gotten to know during the voyage. Palafox was also named Visitador (royal inspector, representative of the king), to investigate the two previous viceroys. He served as Bishop of Puebla from 1640 to 1655 and as interim Archbishop of Mexico from 1642 to 1643.
Palafox is known for being a prolific writer, a political thinker, a defender of the Mexico’s indigenous people during Colonial times, and a fair yet deeply religious man. “Historians highlight Palafox’s intelligence, integrity, activity, intellectual preparation and will, defining him as ‘one of the most brilliant men of his generation,’” says Jorge Fernández Díaz, third vice president of the Congress of Deputies, the lower house of Spain’s legislature. His writings were published in 15 volumes in Madrid in 1762.
“[Palafox is] probably the most interesting and maybe the most important figure in the whole history of 17th century Mexico.”
In Puebla, Palafox made his mark in both church and state affairs. He established the Dominican convent of St Agnes, the colleges of St Peter and St Paul and the girls school Immaculate Conception. He pushed for administrative reform within the diocese and for the completion of the city’s Cathedral, which was dedicated 1649. He also held several political offices, including that of the viceroy of New Spain in 1642.
“He was a superior man for his century, a classic in our language [Spanish] whose numerous texts were written with an elegant and eloquent style and have resulted in twelve thick volumes,” notes University of Salamanca researcher Águeda Rodríguez Cruz in a 2010 bulletin for the International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean. Quoting her colleague, professor Antonio Heredia, she adds: “[Palafox] was robust in his work, although of a sensitive condition, a spender but mean with it, legalistic, while with an ascetic of sensitive piety, an expert and executor in law and politics, while at a mystic at the same time, a man of war and noise, while pacific and fond of silence, active, while contemplative; indebted, while punctual with his duties … a man of great contrasts, like life itself.”
His greatest legacy is a secular one – the Palafox Library in Puebla. Founded in 1646, the Biblioteca Palafoxiana was the first public library established in the Americas. Located inside what was once the seminary of St. John’s College — now home to Puebla’s cultural centre — the library preserves 45,058 volumes dating from just before until just after the Colonial era. Many of its works are of global importance. These include original copies of Hartmann Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), which charts human history according to the Bible in words and more than 2,000 illustrations – Andreas Vesalius’s On the Fabric of the Human Body (1555), a seven-volume tome that revolutionised the study of anatomy with detailed diagrams based on actual observation and dissection and books printed in Mexico before 1600, including Alonso Molina’s Vocabulary in Castilian and Mexican, essentially the earliest New World dictionary.
The bookshelves consist of finely carved cedar, wild sunflower and white pine. The library is also noteworthy for its sheer beauty. The bookshelves, commissioned by Bishop Francisco Fabián y Fuero in 1773 (and expanded to include a third level in the 1800s), consist of finely carved cedar, wild sunflower and ayacahuite, a native white pine. A three-story gold altar at the far end of the room features an oil painting of Virgen of Trapani, which is believed to be modelled after the 14th-century sculpture attributed to Italian sculptor Nino Pisano.
In 1981, the Mexican government declared the library a historic monument. In 2005, UNESCO added the Biblioteca Palafoxiana to the Memory of the World list, formally recognising its international significance. In 2010, after five years of work by 30 specialists, the first digital catalogue of the library’s complete contents was released, some 3,000 copies of the interactive disk were distributed to other libraries, universities, and research institutions. At the time, Elvia Carrillo Velázquez, a director for ADABI, the national book-preservation group that helped to create the archive, told El Universal newspaper that the interactive disc “provides access to culture and, above all, makes public knowledge part of the history of the printed word.”
This seems to be exactly what Palafox intended. A sign at the library’s entrance bears his words from 1646: “He who finds himself benefiting without books, finds himself in solitude without comfort, on a mountaintop without company, on a path without a walking stick, in the darkness without a guide. This gave me the desire to leave the library of books I’ve collected since I served his majesty the King, which is one of the best I’ve seen in Spain, ancillary to those of the church and in part and in public form, so that it may be used by all professions and people.”
Blessed Juan was Beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on 5 June 2011. His recognition celebrated at the Cathedral of La Asunción, El Burgo de Osma, Spain by Cardinal Angelo Amato.