with additional comments by Dr. Joseph L. Allen
It is well accepted within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that Christopher Columbus was inspired of God and driven by the Holy Ghost to find the New World. In fact he was prophesied in the Book of Mormon. However what is not recognized by the church or elsewhere to my knowledge is that Hernando Cortez was also inspired of God and driven by the Holy Ghost to destroy the Aztec Empire and open the way for Christianity to be preached in Mesoamerica.
It is my intention to set forth facts and argument to the effect that Hernando Cortez was also inspired of God and driven by the Holy Ghost to do what he did and that he was protected repeatedly by the Hand of Providence so that he could accomplish his mission.
In his final letter to Charles V, King of Spain, Cortes wrote, “My hardships and vigils are sufficiently recompensed by God, in that He chose me for this, His work, and though people may attribute some merit to me, it will be clearly seen that not without reason did Divine Providence choose the meanest instrument for its greatest work, so that to God alone might be the glory.”
In August of 2009 my wife and I took a 12 day tour of Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula. Our guide was Shawn Morley, an accountant in South Jordan, and currently a member of the High Council in the South Jordan Parkway Stake. It was a whirlwind tour and we visited over 20 different sites. Now it is one thing to visit a site and it is another thing to learn about the history. Shawn recommended several books to me, all of which I purchased and read. One of them was Conquest of Mexico by William H. Prescott, an eminent historian, published in 1843. Also recommended was Letters of Cortes and The True History of the Conquest by Bernal Diaz del Castillo.
In the days of Cortez the Aztec Empire controlled most of Mesoamerica. They were a society that practiced human sacrifice, cannibalism, even ritualized cannibalism. When their soldiers went to war against other nations it was expected of every six of their warriors to bring home a live captive. They would eat him when they returned. Each of the other native nations that they subdued was expected to periodically provide the Aztecs with young men and women for sacrifice and to be eaten by the Aztecs. In fact they were treated as livestock and fattened up for that purpose.
This evil empire had to be destroyed completely before Christianity could take hold in Mexico. Hernando Cortez was God’s anointed for that purpose. It is well recognized that what Cortez accomplished was one of the most amazing military achievements in world history. He started with five hundred Spaniards and conquered an empire of millions. It is significant and disappointing to me that those who recognize Cortez’s achievements do not recognize he was the agent of God and it was only because of the divine protection and guidance that he received that he was able to succeed. This is one of the greatest evidences of the Hand of the Lord in directing history.
I will endeavor to list a series of the obstacles Cortez overcame based on what Prescott and others described. If any one of them had not been overcome, then Cortez would have failed and most likely would have been killed. Prescott is considered the preeminent scholar in describing the conquest of Mexico. The introduction of his book describes the tremendous things Prescott had to overcome to become the scholar and historian the world recognizes. I believe Prescott was foreordained as well to become the chronicler of the Hand of God in the exploits of Hernando Cortez as well as other things he documented in the Americas.
Immediate objection is easily raised to the position that Cortez was an agent of Deity. His life was full of blood and he had other shortcomings, including slavery, women, etc. Columbus also had some shortcomings. I suggest we can take comfort in that, as evidence that we do not need to be perfect to be agents of our Lord and in promoting His purposes.
Most of my narrative is direct quotes from Prescott’s book with comments to tie them together. The comments are also derived from Prescott.
Prescott points out that in 1518 the eastern coasts of both North and South America, as well as the islands of the Caribbean had been surveyed. However the shores of the Gulf of Mexico remained concealed. In 1517 Hernandez de Cordova sailed to a neighboring island in the Bahamas and was blown off course and ended up on the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. He was astonished at the size and solid material of the buildings he observed which were made from stone and lime. This was very much more sophisticated that what the native Indians had produced in the Caribbean islands.
What they brought back to Don Diego Velasquez the governor of Cuba, including gold, convinced him of the importance of the discovery and he prepared to explore there himself. He put a small squadron under the command of his nephew, Juan de Grijalva. One of the two major rivers in southern Mexico is named the Grijalva. Grijalva was the first navigator who set foot on the Mexican soil and initiated communication with the Aztecs.
Upon receiving the gold from Grijalva, Velasquez sent some to Spain and requested permission to initiate conquest and colonization in Mexico. Cortez had previously sailed from Spain to Hispaniola where he was given land and slaves and where he was involved in putting down insurrections of the natives. He had studied the tactics of Indian warfare. Velasquez turned to Cortez to captain the ships for another expedition. Cortez provided much of the funding himself.
However Velasquez had second thoughts and repeatedly tried to prevent Cortez from sailing. Cortez disappointed Velasquez and disobeyed orders. Once he sailed he most likely could not have returned safely as Velasquez would have had him hung. So there was no turning back. Cortez took his departure toward the coast of Yucatan on February 18, 1519.
Prescott states that Cortez previously was fortunately denied embarking on an expedition by Nicuessa, which was an unmatched tale of woe in the annals of Spanish discovery, because he was ill. Prescott stated, “Providence reserved him for higher ends.”
In his first letter to the Spanish Queen and Emperor Charles V, dated July 10, 1519, Cortez described what had transpired. He explained that Velasquez made him captain of a small armada consisting of ten caravels, four hundred men at arms, and sixteen horses. He had an additional one hundred men. They first landed at the Island of Cozumel, off the coast of Yucatan. Cortes learned that there were some Spaniards held captive in Yucatan.
They were what was left of twenty men wrecked on reefs in 1511, some of which had reached the Yucatan coast and been captured by the Mayan. Some of them were fattened up and eaten by the Mayan. Cortez sent messages inland to Yucatan hoping any of them still surviving could escape and reach him by canoe. Then not trusting the Indians carrying these messages, he sent two brigantines and a boat to stay off the Yucatan coast while he sent three other Indians with a message to the imprisoned Spaniards to try to reach these ships.
When neither the Spaniards nor the three Indians returned, after six days they gave up and returned to Cozumel. Cortez prepared to leave Cozumel the next day. The weather had been most favorable for that purpose. Suddenly a storm came up and his pilots advised him not to set sail. Cortez ordered everyone to disembark again. The next day a canoe with sails was seen approaching the island. In it was one of the Spanish captives, Jeronimo Aguilar.
Aguilar had escaped from his cage years ago and escaped into the jungle. He was captured by another Mayan chieftain. Aguilar had previously taken out vows in order to enter the Catholic priesthood, including celibacy. He was true to those vows and this gained him the respect of the chief. Consequently he was elevated to a man of authority and was no longer a prisoner. Jeronimo Aguilar became a great asset to Cortez in the conquest. He was Cortez’s means of communicating with the Maya in that he spoke the Mayan language. Had it not been for that unusual storm Cortez would have missed Aguilar.
In describing these matters Cortez wrote, “Of a truth, this adverse weather coming upon us so unexpectedly seemed a great mystery and miracle of God, and led us to believe that no enterprise undertaken in Your Majesties’ service, be it what it may, could end in anything but good.”
Cortez’s armada followed the Yucatan coast to the mouth of the Grijalva River. The natives gave them some food as gifts and instructed them to leave. The next day Cortez sent two hundred men along a road toward Tabasco, the nearest native town while he and about eighty other men still in their boats waited ready to disembark when the natives would allow them. An army of the natives, ready for battle, refused to allow Cortez and his soldiers to get on land, and ordered them to leave the country. An initial battle ensued and the Spaniards occupied the town.
The following day some of the Indians brought some gifts to Cortez and requested he leave. They also promised to bring him food which they did not bring. Things began to escalate. Cortez ordered his remaining troops from the ships along with ten horses. Thereafter a much larger battle ensued at Tabasco. The Spaniards prevailed and according to the first letter, twenty Spaniards were wounded but none of them died from this battle or the day before.
Cortez wrote, “Your Royal Highnesses may believe for certain, that this battle was won, rather by the will of God, than by our forces, because weak was the defense of our four hundred against forty thousand warriors.”
The fame of this battle spread and opened the way for Cortez to gain advantages thereafter. Upon receiving the allegiance of the Indians, Cortez had the image of the presiding deity in the principal temple deposed to make room for that of the Virgin with the infant Savior, as was his custom. Prescott observed regarding the Indians, “It is only required of him to transfer his homage from the image of Quetzalcoatl, the benevolent deity who walked among men, to that of the Virgin of the Redeemer; from the Cross, which he has worshipped as the emblem of the God of rain, to the same Cross, the symbol of salvation.”
Following this battle the local Indian leaders became friendly toward Cortez and exchanged gifts. Among those gifts were Indian women as slaves, one of which the Spaniards named Marina. Marina was the daughter of a chief who had been sold into slavery. She spoke the Aztec language as well as the Mayan language. With Aguilar able to translate Spanish into Mayan and Marina able to translate Mayan into Aztec, Cortez now had the ability to communicate with Montezuma, the Aztec emperor. Eventually Marina became skilled in Castilian so as to supersede the necessity of Aguilar.
So within a relative short time Cortez gained the ability to communicate with the Aztec empire and gained fame as a conqueror and one who came to replace their heathen Gods with the Christian religion. It is no wonder then that Cortez perceived he was supported by Heaven and that he was on the Lord’s errand. And again he had to go forward. He could not return to Cuba because of Velasquez, the Cuban governor.
Cortez proceeded along the coast and on April 21, 1519 landed where Vera Cruz now stands. There he met Teuhtlile, a powerful chief and demanded audience with Montezuma. Teuhtlile sent runners to the emperor.
Prescott observed, “I have noticed the popular traditions respecting Quetzalcoatl, that deity with a fair complexion and flowing beard, so unlike the Indian physiognomy, who, after fulfilling his mission of benevolence among the Aztecs, embarked on the Atlantic Sea for the mysterious shores of Tlapallan. He promised, on his departure, to return at some future day with his posterity, and resume the possession of his empire.”
“A general feeling seems to have prevailed in the time of Montezuma, that the period for the return of the deity, and the full accomplishment of his promise, was near at hand.” Various signs appeared in the heavens. “Not long before the coming of the Spaniards, a strange light broke forth in the east. It spread broad at its base on the horizon, and, rising in a pyramidal form, tapered off as it approached the zenith. It resembled a vast sheet or flood of fire, emitting sparkles, or, as an old writer expresses it, “seemed thickly powdered with stars.” At the same time, low voices were heard in the air, and doleful wailings, as if to announce some strange, mysterious calamity.” Montezuma was terrified.
Seven or eight days later an embassy from Montezuma, including two Aztec nobles, arrived bearing lavish gifts Cortez was told Montezuma took pleasure in their communication from the King of Spain but regretted he could not enjoy a personal interview with the Spaniards because the distance was too far and dangerous. All that could be done was for the Spaniards to return to Spain with the gifts as evidence of Montezuma’s friendly disposition toward them.
By this time thirty Spaniards had died from sickness. One day five Indians of different dress appeared in Cortez’s camp. They said they were sent from Cempoalla, the chief town of the Totonacs, a powerful nation. The fame of the Spaniards preceded them such that they were sent to request the Spaniards visit them. Now this was entirely different. All the other Indians wanted them to leave. The Totonacs wanted them to visit. Once again and quickly, the door was opened to Cortez.
However there were strong forces against him as well. Cortez was in Mexico against the wishes of Velasquez but he was claiming authority from the Cuban governor in relation to his troops. Many of them, some led by friends of Velasquez now wanted to return to Cuba. Then there was an issue of whether or not to establish a Spanish colony. Cortez had no authority from Velasquez to do so. Some of them, particularly his friends, demanded that the interests of the Spanish Sovereign superseded those of the Cuban governor, and that they required the establishment of a Spanish colony.
Cortez assisted in the formation of the government of the colony, which included a friend of Velasquez. Then he presented himself before this government and “respectfully tendered the resignation of his office of captain-general” stating his authority from Velasquez had expired and was superseded by the government of the new colony. The colony was named Villa Rica de Vera Cruz which meant “The Rich Town of the True Cross.”
Then the government of the new colony on behalf of their Catholic Highnesses, requested Cortez to be Captain General and Chief Justice of the colony. By this means Cortez was transferred from being a military leader under the Cuban Governor to being a civil leader under the Spanish King.
Cortez then marched to Cempoalla, a city of thirty thousand, and was well received by the chief and people. Upon meeting with the chief at his residence, Cortez using Dona Marina as interpreter, explained that he represented a great monarch across the ocean and that he had come to abolish the inhuman worship of the natives and introduce the knowledge of the true God. He said that if the Totonacs would unite with Cortez he would enable them to throw off the yoke of the Aztecs.
The chief liked his own Gods but he explained there was a warlike republic of Tlascala between the Totonacs and the Aztec capital which was independent of the Aztecs. The chief explained that the Spanish victory at Tabasco was known to him but that he feared the Aztecs.
Not long after five Aztec nobles appeared and expressed displeasure that the Totonacs had entertained the Spaniards without Montezuma’s permission. They demanded twenty young men and women for sacrifice, and apparently to be eaten. Cortez instructed the chief to refuse and to arrest the five Aztecs. The chief complied. In the night Cortez arranged for the escape of two of them, to which he apologized. He told them he would attempt to get the others released as well and that they should report this to Montezuma to show the great respect the Spaniards had for Montezuma.
Cortez sent orders to the various Totonac towns for them to refuse the payment of further tribute to Montezuma. The attendants of the five Aztec Lords had fled and the news of what had transpired spread throughout the Totonac country. Now they had been committed to fight on the side of Cortez. It was reported they could field one hundred thousand warriors.
In the mean time Montezuma vacillated between vengeance, superstitious fear, amazement and finally a timid and conciliatory policy. He sent additional nobles with the message that he had no doubt the Spaniards “were the strangers whose arrival had been so long announced by the oracles, and of the same lineage with himself.”
The aforementioned Totonac chief sent women to the Spaniards and requested they be married to the Spanish captains. Cortez said they first had to be baptized and he explained that is was a great object of his mission to turn the natives from their abominable religion to Christianity. He requested permission to destroy their idols and erect the Christian cross. He was denied.
Cortez told his men that “Heaven, would never smile on their enterprise, if they countenanced such atrocities; and that for his own part, he was resolved the Indian idols should be demolished that very hour, if it cost him his life.” His men jumped to the task and assailed one of the principal temples. The Indian chief called for his people to protect their Gods. The Spaniards were very much outnumbered. Cortez and his men seized the Indian chief and some of his principal inhabitants and threatened to kill them. Marina pointed out to the chief that the Totonacs needed the Spaniards to defend them against the Aztecs.
So the Totonacs cooled off. Then fifty Spaniards soldiers sprang to the temple and destroyed the pagan idols. They cleaned up the gore, had the temple cleansed, had the natives put on fresh stucco, and raised an altar with a lofty Christian cross. Father Olmedo conducted mass and reportedly even Indians were melted to tears.
Another Spanish ship arrived at their colony. Cortez learned that Velasquez had received authority from the crown to establish a colony. He knew Velasquez would attempt to crush him. So on July 26 he sent his own ship to Spain reporting their accomplishments, along with considerable treasure. In addition to the crown’s fifth, Cortez relinquished his own fifth and convinced all of his men to relinquish their shares as well. The magistrates of Villa Rica also pointed out the misconduct of Velasquez and his placing his own interests above those of the crown. They implored the crown to reject Velasquez and favor Cortez. The crown agreed.
Velasquez learned of Cortez’s ship and attempted to seize it but was not successful. Then he began to make a formidable armada that was more than a match for Cortez. During this time a few of Cortez’s men secretly decided to take one of his ships and sail to Velasquez. The night before they were to sail, one of them betrayed them to the General. Cortez “came to the daring resolution to destroy the fleet, without the knowledge of his army.” “Only one small vessel remained.”
At first his men became rebellious but Cortez was able to reason with them regarding the course to take. They became ashamed and reasserted their allegiance by shouting, “To Mexico! To Mexico!”
Prescott observed, “The destruction of his fleet by Cortes is, perhaps, the most remarkable passage in the life of this remarkable man History, indeed, affords examples of a similar expedient in emergencies somewhat similar; but none where the chances of success were so precarious, and defeat would be so disastrous.” “There was no alternative in his mind but to succeed or perish. The measure he adopted greatly increased the chance of success. But to carry it into execution, in the face of an incensed and desperate soldiery, was an act of resolution that has few parallels in history.”
Not long thereafter Cortez mounted an expedition into the interior. He had about four hundred men on foot and fifteen with horses as well as seven pieces of artillery. He also had thirteen hundred Totonac Indian warriors and a thousand Indians to transport the baggage and pull the guns. Cortez spoke to his men stating, “that the blessed Saviour would carry them victorious through every battle with their enemies. “Indeed,” he added, “this assurance must be our stay, for every other refuge is now cut off, but that afforded by the providence of God, and your own stout hearts.”” They began their march on August 16, 1519. Six months had passed since they left Cuba.
They wound their way upward into the colder climate. They reached a city where a hundred thousand skulls of victims were orderly stored according to Bernal Diaz, one of the Spanish soldiers. The chief said they served Montezuma and that Montezuma could muster three million soldiers from thirty vassals. He said that more than twenty thousand victims, who were captured in Montezuma’s wars, were sacrificed on the altars of his Gods annually.
The natives counseled Cortez to travel via Cholula, however his Totonac allies advised him to take the road to Tlascala, enemies of the Aztecs. Cortez at the head of his cavalry called out, “Forward, soldiers, the Holy Cross is our banner, and under that we shall conquer.”
The Tlascalans held a great council and differed on their opinions of the Spaniards who were coming. Some thought they might be the white and bearded men foretold by the oracles. A huge wall marked the boundary of Tlascalan territory but it was unmanned. The Spaniards and their Indian allies, now numbering around three thousand, passed through. Cortez and cavalry advanced to reconnoiter and were met with a small force of Indians who attacked them. The Spaniards on horse dominated the battle until a force of several thousand Indians appeared. Cortez sent a messenger back to bring up the foot soldiers. The Tlascalan warriors withdrew in good order following a discharge of the Spanish firearms.
The next day, September 2, Cortez was advised of a large force already assembled to stop the Spaniards. They met around one thousand warriors and gave battle. The warriors retreated and led the Spaniards into a trap. “To the astonished eyes of Cortes, they appeared a hundred thousand men, while no account estimates them at less than thirty thousand.” One of the Cempoallan chiefs told Marina they would never get through the pass alive. She responded, “The God of the Christians is with us and He will carry us safely through.” Cortes was heard cheering on his men, “If we fail now,” he cried, “the cross of Christ can never be planted in the land. Forward, comrades!”
Thereafter Cortez sent emissaries to the Tlascalan camp requesting permission to continue on to Tlascala. They returned with a message for Cortez, “That the Spaniards might pass on as soon as they chose to Tlascala; and, when they reached it, their flesh would be hewn from their bodies, for sacrifice to the gods!” Furthermore the ambassadors informed him that “the chief had an immense force with him, consisting of five battalions of ten thousand men each.”
Again the Spaniards advanced and a new battle ensued. The Spaniards were almost overwhelmed by the numbers, but politics within the Tlascalan ranks reduced their numbers and the Spaniards eventually triumphed even though their ranks had been broken.
The four great Lords of the Tlascalan Republic conferred and sent for their priests to learn whether the Spaniards were supernatural beings, or men of flesh. “The priests, after some consultation, are said to have made the strange answer that the Spaniards, though not gods, were children of the sun; that they derived their strength from that luminary, and, when his beams were withdrawn, their powers would also fail. They recommended a night attack.”
The Tlascalan army attempted to sneak up on the Spaniards at night but the Spaniards, who they thought were asleep, and their Indian allies, charged down on them. The small Spanish cavalry cut the fleeing warriors to pieces.
Marina acted as interpreter in the messages to the Tlascalans. Prescott observed, “That remarkable woman had attracted general admiration by the constancy and cheerfulness with which she endured all the privations of the camp. Far from betraying the natural weakness and timidity of her sex, she had shrunk from no hardship herself, and had done much to fortify the drooping spirits of the soldiers; while her sympathies, whenever occasion offered, had been actively exerted in mitigating the calamities of her Indian countrymen.”
While awaiting a response from the capital of Tlascala, Cortez continued forays with exhausted men and horses. He was so sick from fever he could hardly stay in the saddle. Pressed by setbacks some wanted to return to camp. His answer, “We fight under the banner of the Cross; God is stronger than nature,”
In camp some of the soldiers, particularly those who had favored Velasquez, complained to Cortez that most of them had two or three wounds, more than fifty had been killed, and that if the Tlascalans could put up such a fight, what chance did they have against the Aztecs? He responded that it was not possible for them to have come that far and won those battles unless it was because the arm of the Almighty had been over them, and that it was reasonable to expect his continued protection. Furthermore any attempt at retreat would bring about their destruction from those natives that had rallied to their support.
The Tlascalan general sent a number of emissaries to Cortez, supposedly seeking peace. From time to time a few left. Marina convinced Cortez that they were spies and upon examining them he also became convinced. He had the hands of about fifty of them cut off and sent them back to the opposing general with the message that the Spaniards would always be ready for them. Thereafter all military opposition by Tlascala vanished.
Montezuma’s spies had been reporting all of these events to the Aztec capital. “He saw in the Spaniards “the men of destiny” who were to take possession of his scepter.” On September 23, 1519 Cortez and his little army were welcomed enthusiastically and with great rejoicing by the populace as they entered the city of Tlascala.
Cortez then proposed to convert the Tlascalans by throwing down their idols and erecting the cross. Father Olmedo convinced him not to press the issue. They erected a large cross in one of the great squares of the city and celebrated mass. The Tlascalans were willing to accept the God of the Christians as a powerful God and “give him a place among the divinities of Tlascala.”
According to Prescott the counsel of Father Olmedo saved Cortez on several occasions in that Cortez was willing to face martyrdom in his zeal to destroy the pagan religion and establish Christianity.
“Scarcely had the Spaniards left the city – the tale is told on very respectable authority – when a thin, transparent cloud descended and settled like a column on the cross, and, wrapping it round in its luminous folds, continued to emit a soft, celestial radiance through the night, thus proclaiming the sacred character of the symbol, on which was shed the halo of divinity!”
Montezuma, who had always wanted the Spaniards to leave and definitely not to come to him, now changed his mind. His messengers invited Cortez to come to his capital via the ancient city of Cholula. And he wanted Cortez to enter into no alliance with Tlascala. Cholula was the headquarters of the religion of the natives. “It was here that the God Quetzalcoatl held the pristine seat of his empire.”
By this time Cortez had been three weeks in Tlascala and nearly six weeks since he had entered their territory. They had turned from fierce enemies to allies. Cholula “was of great antiquity, and was founded by the primitive races who overspread the land before the Aztecs.” “It was here that the god Quetzalcoatl paused in his passage to the coast, and passed twenty years in teaching the Toltec inhabitants the arts of civilization.” The great pyramid of Cholula had been erected before the Aztec nation entered the plateau.
“On the summit stood a sumptuous temple, in which was the image of the mystic deity, “god of the air,” with ebon features, unlike the fair complexion which he bore upon earth, wearing a mitre on his head waving with plumes of fire, with a resplendent collar of gold round his neck, pendants of mosaic turquoise in his ears, a jewelled scepter in one hand, and a shield curiously painted, the emblem of his rule over the winds, in the other.” “Pilgrims from the furthest corners of Anahuac came to offer up their devotions at the shrine of Quetzalcoatl.”
I draw attention to this description on page 147 of Conquest of Mexico and to a related description in the book, “He Walked The Americas” by L. Taylor Hansen. On page 142 she states, “The bloodiest battle of all Meshico was fought over the Sacred City. From tier to tier up the Great Pyramid the battle was fought, and when the Spanish finally reached the summit and had killed all the defenders, they were amazed to see a statue worked in pale marble of a Christ-like man in a flowing mantle standing with outstretched arms to greet them.”
Cortez upon leaving Tlascala en route to Cholula apparently had between 300 and 400 Spaniards left and probably not more than 12 horses. He still had auxiliaries from Cempoalla and other coastal tribes and he selected only 6,000 volunteer warriors from Tlascala to add to his army.
Word came to him that the Cholulans were fortifying their city and that a large Aztec army of 20,000 was in the vicinity. Cortez and the Spaniards were welcomed into Cholula. Montezuma had instructed the Cholulans to welcome the Spaniards kindly. Cortez left the Tlascalan army outside the city. He was informed the Cholulans had made a great sacrifice of many children “apparently for some intended enterprise.”
However Montezuma changed his mind toward the Spaniards. Through several sources and very much through Marina, who insinuated herself into the confidence of the wife of one of the Cholulan chiefs, Cortez learned of a plot to destroy the Spaniards as they left Cholula. He informed the Aztec ambassadors that he blamed Montezuma and that he would now have to march against him as an enemy instead of a friend, but he kept them from informing the Cholulan chiefs that the plot had been discovered.
Cortez requested the Cholulan chiefs to provide two thousand men to transport his artillery and baggage. On the day they were to leave Cholula, the chiefs provided far more men than Cortez had requested. Cortez apparently concluded this generosity was meant to further the conspiracy to destroy his army. He then took some of the chiefs aside and informed them he knew of their treachery and that “he would now make such an example of them for their treachery that the report of it should ring throughout the wide borders of Anahuac.”
Cortez then initiated a massacre of all of the Cholulan men who had been sent to transport his baggage. The citizens then turned on the Spaniards and the Tlascalan army attacked them in their rear. Battle raged and the Spaniards pursued them up the one hundred steps of the great pyramid.
Prescott observed, “Amidst this universal license, it is worthy of remark, the commands of Cortes were so far respected that no violence was offered to women or children, though these, as well as numbers of the men, were made prisoners, to be swept into slavery by the Tlascalans.” Then when peace was reestablished, “The first act of Cortes was to prevail on the Tlascalan chiefs to liberate their captives. Such was the deference to the Spanish commander that they acquiesced.”
“The nations of Anahuac had beheld, with admiration mingled with awe, the little band of Christian warriors steadily advancing along the plateau in face of every obstacle, overturning army after army with as much ease, “ “The prowess of the Spaniards – “the white gods,” as they were often called – made them to be thought invincible. But it was not till their arrival at Cholula that the natives learned how terrible was their vengeance – and they trembled!”
Father Olmedo persuaded Cortez to not press the conversion of the Cholulans too fast. Cortez did establish a Christian sanctuary at the top of the great pyramid, together with a giant crucifix to proclaim Cholula was now “under the protection of the Cross.”
Cortez continued his march to the Aztec Capitol. Montezuma had the most direct route blocked by stones and trees apparently in an effort to guide Cortez into an ambush. Forewarned, Cortez cleared the road and took the direct route. Everywhere the natives were anxious to win his favor and spoke out against Montezuma. Eventually they crested the mountains and gazed on the Valley of Mexico and its capital, “the far famed “Venice of the Aztecs.” They were amazed at its beauty. “But these feelings of admiration were soon followed by others of a very different complexion; as they saw in all this the evidences of a civilization and power far superior to anything they had yet encountered.”
Upon their descent into the valley they were again met by Aztec noblemen who brought gifts of gold from Montezuma. “He even condescended to bribe the return of the Spaniards, by promising, in that event, four loads of gold to the general, and one to each of the captains, with a yearly tribute to their sovereign. So effectually had the lofty and naturally courageous spirit of the barbarian monarch been subdued by the influence of superstition!”
Montezuma meant for his offer to be relayed to Cortez before he crested the mountains. So he was dejected to learn the Spaniards had arrived in the Valley of Mexico. He conferred with his noblemen as to what course to take. He exclaimed, “Of what avail is resistance when the gods have declared themselves against us!”
After some time Cortez was received by Montezuma in the capital city, Tenochtitlan. Cortez was given the palace of the father of Montezuma for his residence and for his troops. The Tlascalan warriors accompanied Cortez’s little army of Spaniards. Mutual hatred showed in the demeanor of the Tlascalans and Aztecs. Marina served as translator between Cortez and Montezuma.
Montezuma inquired why Cortez had come. Among other things Cortez responded, “to declare to him the true Faith professed by the Christians.” After visits by Montezuma, Cortez requested permission to visit Montezuma in his palace. His request was approved and he then initiated the conversion of Montezuma to Christianity.
“The general, therefore, prepared to display the whole store of his theological science, with the most winning arts of rhetoric he could command, while the interpretation was conveyed through the silver tones of Marina, as inseparable from him on these occasions as his shadow.”
“He set forth, as clearly as he could, the ideas entertained by the Church in regard to the holy mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Atonement. From this he ascended to the origin of things, the creation of the world, the first pair, paradise, and the fall of man. He assured Montezuma that the idols he worshipped were Satan under different forms. A sufficient proof of it was the bloody sacrifices they imposed, which he contrasted with the pure and simple rite of the Mass. Their worship would sink him in perdition. It was to snatch his soul, and the souls of his people, from the flames of eternal fire by opening to them a purer faith that the Christians had come to his land. And he earnestly besought him not to neglect the occasion, but to secure his salvation by embracing the Cross, the great sign of human redemption.”
Montezuma listened intently. Much was probably lost in translation. Montezuma said that what Cortez said of the creation of the world was like what he had been taught to believe. “His ancestors, he said, were not the original proprietors of the land. They had occupied it but a few ages, and had been led there by a great Being, who, after giving them laws ad ruling over the nation for a time, had withdrawn to the regions where the sun rises. He had declared, on his departure, that he or his descendants would again visit them and resume his empire. The wonderful deeds of the Spaniards, their fair complexions, and the quarter whence they came, all showed they were his descendents.” And further, “But your sovereign beyond the waters is, I know, the rightful lord of all. I rule in his name.”
“Cortes, while he encouraged the idea that his own sovereign was the great Being indicated by Montezuma, endeavored to comfort the monarch by the assurance that his master had no desire to interfere with his authority, otherwise than, out of pure concern for his welfare, to effect his conversion and that of his people to Christianity.”
“As to the subversion of Montezuma’s empire, now that he had seen him in his capital, it must have seemed a more doubtful enterprise than ever.” The population was estimated at no less than 300,000 persons. Cortez asked permission to visit the principal public edifices.
Cortez and his men were allowed to climb the main temple where Cortez conferred with Montezuma. “The walls of both these chapels were stained with human gore. “The stench was more intolerable,” exclaims Diaz, “than that of the slaughterhouses in Castile!””
Cortez commented, “I do not comprehend how a great and wise prince like you can put faith in such evil spirits as these idols, the representatives of the devil! If you will but permit us to erect here the true Cross, and place the images of the blessed Virgin and her Son in your sanctuaries, you will soon see how your false gods will shrink before them!”
“Montezuma was greatly shocked at this sacrilegious address. “These are the gods,” he answered, “who have led the Aztecs on to victory since they were a nation, and who send the seed-time and harvest in their seasons. Had I thought you would have offered them this outrage, I would not have admitted you into their presence!””
In converting one of the halls of the palace where they were quartered into a chapel, the soldiers discovered some recent plaster. This they removed and found a door which led into a treasure hall. “It was the private hoard of Montezuma, the contributions, it may be, of tributary cities, and once the property of his father. “I was a young man,” says Diaz, who was one of those that obtained a sight of it, “and it seemed to me as if all the riches of the world were in that room!””
When the Spaniards had only been a week in Mexico Cortez became uneasy and developed a plan to capture Montezuma, first by inviting him to come live in his fathers’ palace with Cortez, and then by arresting him if necessary. The interesting details are omitted here. But it happened.
“The events recorded in this chapter are certainly some of the most extraordinary on the page of history. That a small body of men, like the Spaniards, should have entered the palace of a mighty prince, have seized his person in the midst of his vassals, have borne him off a captive to their quarters – that they should have put to an ignominious death before his face his high officers, for executing probably his own commands, and have crowned the whole by putting the monarch in irons like a common malefactor – that this should have been done, not to a driveling dotard in the decay of his fortunes, but to a proud monarch in the plenitude of his power, in the very heart of his capital, surrounded by thousands and tens of thousands who trembled at his nod, and would have poured out their blood like water in his defence – that all this should have been done by a mere handful of adventurers is a thing too extravagant, altogether too improbable, for the pages of romance! It is, nevertheless, literally true.”
The old soldier, Bernal Diaz, after fifty years, in recollecting these events commented, “And, as I ponder on our exploits, I feel that it was not of ourselves that we performed them, but that it was the providence of God which guided us.”
Cortez offered Montezuma the chance to return to his palace. Montezuma declined, possibly because his arrest had been a disgrace and he now feared his own lords. Although a captive, Montezuma was treated with great respect and allowed to rule his empire. Even the Spanish officers waited on him to ascertain whether he had any orders for them.
Fathers Diaz and Olmedo taught Christianity to Montezuma but he closed their conferences declaring, “The God of the Christians was good, but the gods of his own country were the true gods for him.” As time passed Cortez demanded Montezuma formally recognize the supremacy of the Spanish emperor. Montezuma assembled his principal caciques for that purpose.
“They were all acquainted, he said, with the ancient tradition that the great Being, who had once ruled over the land, had declared, on his departure, that he should return at some future time and resume his sway. That time had now arrived. The white men had come from the quarter where the sun rises, beyond the ocean, to which the good deity had withdrawn. They were sent by their master to reclaim the obedience of his ancient subjects.”
Thereafter Cortez requested a gratuity for his emperor which Montezuma and the Aztec nation provided, a fortune. “Few European monarchs of that day could boast a larger treasure in their coffers.” Then Cortez turned to the establishment of Christianity. He requested that the great pyramid of the Aztecs be delivered to the Spanish for the establishment of Christianity. Montezuma conferred with his priests and agreed to give the Spanish one of the two sanctuaries at its top. Once cleansed an altar, crucifix, and an image of the Virgin were placed there. Thereafter both Spaniards and Aztecs knelt in worship at the same pyramid praying to different gods. “It was an unnatural union, and could not long abide.”
Montezuma’s attitude changed. It became apparent to the Spaniards. He summoned Cortez and told him, “You will leave the country without delay. I have only to raise my finger, and every Aztec in the land will rise in arms against you.” Cortez indicated willingness to do so but he complained he had no ships. Montezuma furnished him artisans to go to the coast and build the ships. The Spanish garrison assumed the position of a state of siege.
“Such was the uncomfortable position of the army when, in the beginning of May, 1520, six months after their arrival in the capital, tidings came from the coast which gave greater alarm to Cortez than even the menaced insurrection of the Aztecs.”
Velasquez, governor of Cuba, having been given even more authority, assembled a small navy and army to do battle with Cortez. “The squadron consisted of eighteen vessels, large and small. It carried nine hundred men, eighty of whom were cavalry, eighty more arquebusiers, one hundred and fifty crossbowmen, with a number of heavy guns, and a large supply of ammunition and military stores. There were besides, a thousand Indians, natives of the island, who went probably in a menial capacity. So gallant an armada – with one exception – never before rode in the Indian seas. None to compare with it had ever been fitted out in the Western World.” The commander was Narvaez. The purpose was to get Cortez. They left Cuba early in March, 1520.
Montezuma learned of their arrival and told Cortez he no longer needed to delay his departure because the new ships had arrived. Cortez pretended pleasure at the news but assumed Velasquez was behind it and out to punish him. This was confirmed when emissaries of Velasquez were transported to the capital at the instructions of Sandoval, the commander of Villa Rica, a community on the coast that Cortez had established, and who was loyal to Cortez.
Cortez sent out his own emissaries to stir up the men of Narvaez and win them to his own favor. Then Cortez left to confront Narvaez and his 900 men. “He left in garrison, under Alvarado, one hundred and forty men, two-thirds of his whole force. With these remained all the artillery, the greater part of the little body of horse, and most of the arquebusiers. He took with him only seventy soldiers, but they were men of the most mettle in the army and his staunch adherents. They were lightly armed, and encumbered with as little baggage as possible. Everything depended on celerity of movement.”
Arriving in Cholula “Cortez had the inexpressible satisfaction of meeting Velasquez de Leon, with the hundred and twenty soldiers intrusted to his command for the formation of a colony. That faithful officer had been some time in Cholula, waiting for the general’s approach. Had he failed, the enterprise of Cortes must have failed also.” Traveling further they met Father Olmedo who had been sent by Cortez to the camp of Narvaez and was returning. He provided valuable intelligence on the attitudes of Narvaez, his officers, and his men.
It was not long before they met with Sandoval and about sixty soldiers from the garrison of Vera Cruz, including several deserters from the enemy. Then they met emissaries from Narvaez, one of which was Andres de Duero, a personal friend of Cortez. He attempted to influence Cortez to accept generous terms offered by Narvaez.
““For, however valiant your men may be, how can they expect,” he asked, “to face a force so much superior in numbers and equipment as that of their antagonists?” But Cortes had set his fortunes on the cast, and he was not the man to shrink from it. “If Narvaez bears a royal commission,” he returned, “I will readily submit to him. But he has produced none. He is a deputy of my rival, Velasquez. For myself I am a servant of the king, I have conquered the country for him; and for him I and my brave followers will defend it, be assured, to the last drop of our blood. If we fall, it will be glory enough to have perished in the discharge of our duty.””
Narvaez led his men into the field to face Cortez but they were discomforted by a storm and retreated to their quarters. They left two sentinels to discover any advance by Cortez.
Cortez attacked at night and during the storm. One of the sentinels escaped to warn Narvaez but he and his soldiers dismissed the sentinel as having been afraid of the storm and moving bushes. Cortez caught the enemy by total surprise and in a quick skirmish severely wounded Narvaez and gained the battle. ““You have great reason, Senor Cortes,” said the discomfited warrior, “to thank fortune for having given you the day so easily, and put me in your power.””
“Notwithstanding the proud humility of his reply, Cortes could scarcely have failed to regard his victory over Narvaez as one of the most brilliant achievements in his career. With a few scores of followers, badly clothed, worse fed, wasted by forced marches, under every personal disadvantage, deficient in weapons and military stores, he had attacked in their own quarters, routed, and captured the entire force of the enemy, thrice his superior in numbers, well provided with cavalry and artillery, admirably equipped, and complete in all the munitions of war! The amount of troops engaged on either side was, indeed, inconsiderable. But the proportions are not affected by this: and the relative strength of the parties made a result so decisive one of the most remarkable events in the annals of war.”
“It is true there were some contingencies on which the fortunes of the day depended, that could not be said to be entirely within his control. Something was the work of chance.”
This author doesn’t think so. I think it was not chance. It was the Hand of the Lord. Cortez was His agent and under His protection. Cortez was predestined to destroy the Aztec Empire and the God in Heaven who ordained it would constantly sustain and protect his general. And this is what Cortez himself believed.
“If Velasquez de Leon, for example and proved false, the expedition must have failed. If the weather, on the night of the attack, had been fair, the enemy would have had certain notice of his approach, and been prepared for it. But these are the chances that enter more or less into every enterprise. He is the skilful general who knows how to turn them to account; to win the smiles of Fortune, and make even the elements fight on his side.”
Furthermore if Narvaez and his men had not gotten wet and returned to their quarters, Cortez would have failed. And if Narvaez and his men had believed the warnings of the sentinel, again Cortez would have failed. Better said is he that serves in the Lord’s errand is skilful if he accommodates the Hand of God.
“With that singular power which he exercised over all who came near him, Cortes converted the very emissaries of Narvaez into his own friends and agents.” The soldiers of Narvaez now became the soldiers of Cortez. He had his reinforcements in men and supplies. His little Spanish army was now three times as big. And the intelligence of all this would be a discouragement o Montezuma. But things were not going well for his lieutenant Alvarado at Tenochtitlan.
Then Cortez had the fleet of Narvaez dismantled, just as he had had his own fleet destroyed previously. And he left orders that if any more ships arrived they were to be dismantled and their officers imprisoned.
Cortez led his men back to Tlascala and received native reinforcements. As he approached Tenochtitlan, Montezuma sent him word that he had not been involved in the recent insurrection and the blockade of Alvarado and his men in Tenochtitlan and that these doings were contrary to Montezuma’s efforts.
The Aztecs had requested permission from Alvarado for an annual celebration. He agreed if they had no weapons. Around 600 assembled and began their dancing. Alvarado’s men massacred them. “On this sad day fell the flower of the Aztec nobility.” It is no wonder Tenochtitlan was empty when Cortez returned. Whether Alvarado was justified is debatable.
The Aztecs rose against Alvarado and would have overwhelmed his forces but for Montezuma who spoke to his people for them to desist and not endanger his person. So they resorted to the blockade and an attempt to starve the Spanish. The Spanish particularly suffered from lack of water until they found a spring of fresh water to which they had access. It was first discovered when it was most needed. Apparently it was not known previously. They considered it a miracle. Maybe it was.
Cortez was angry. He was angry at Alvarado. He was angry at the Aztecs for starving his men. And he demanded their leaders open the markets. Possibly, according to Prescott, Montezuma requested Cortez release his brother Cuitlahua, lord of Iztapalapan, who had been seized on suspicion of being involved in a mediated revolt. Cortez did release him. He was next in line to take the place of Montezuma. “The people welcomed him as the representative of their reign, and chose him to supply the place of Montezuma during his captivity.” Bad choice!
Cortez sent a messenger to Villa Rica who returned in a half an hour “breathless with terror, and covered with wounds.”
““The City,” he said, “was all in arms! The drawbridges were raised, and the enemy would soon be upon them!” He spoke truth. It was not long before a hoarse, sullen sound became audible like that of a roaring of distant waters. It grew louder and louder; till, from the parapet surrounding the inclosure, the great avenues which led to it might be seen dark with the masses of warriors, who came rolling on in a confused tide towards the fortress. At the same time the terraces and azoteas or flat roofs, in the neighbourhood, were thronged with combatants brandishing their missiles, who seemed to have risen up as if by magic! It was a spectacle to appal the stoutest.” It was but the prelude to a dark storm which gathered deeper and deeper round the Spaniards during the remainder of their residence in the capital.
The battle was furious and lasted days. Cortez did personal battle and was wounded on his left hand disabling it. He had around twelve hundred and fifty Spaniards and eight thousand native warriors, principally Tlascalans. He appealed to Montezuma to get his people to relent.
“Distressed by his position, indignant at those who had placed him in it, he coldly answered, “What have I to do with Malintzin (Cortez)? I do not wish to hear from him. I desire only to die. To what a state has my willingness to serve him reduced me!” When urged still further to comply by Olid and Father Olmedo, he added, “It is of no use. They will neither believe me, nor the false words and promises of Malintzin. You will never leave these walls alive.” On being assured, however, that the Spaniards would willingly depart, if a way were opened to them by their enemies, he at length – moved, probably, more by the desire to spare the blood of his subjects than of the Christians – consented to expostulate with his people.”
Montezuma had himself dressed in his most resplendent official costume and appeared before the people. They were astonished and a hush fell over everyone. He told them the Spaniards were his friends and would leave Tenochtitlan and that the people should return to their homes. Then they started calling him names and showered him with stones and other missiles. Three struck home and he was knocked to the ground. The Spaniards had been surprised at the sudden attack and not defended him adequately. He refused bandages and tore them off. He wanted to die.
Overlooking the palace that housed Cortez and his troops was the great pyramid. Aztec leadership and warriors used it to shoot down on his men. He knew he had to take the pyramid and assigned it to Escobar, who failed three times with his men. Cortez then took it upon himself with his wounded left hand having his buckler attached to it, to assault the pyramid. Fighting their way up the steps to the top there was room for possibly a thousand men to do battle on the flat surface. To step over the edge meant to roll down the side to certain death.
“Cortes himself is said to have had a narrow escape from this dreadful fate. Two warriors, of strong, muscular frames, seized on him, and were dragging him violently towards the brink of the pyramid. Aware of their intention, he struggled with all his force, and, before they could accomplish their purpose, succeeded in tearing himself from their grasp, and hurling one of them over the walls with his own arm! The story is not improbable in itself, for Cortes was a man of uncommon agility and strength.”
From the ground both armies watched the contest. There were two sanctuaries on the top of the pyramid. They were of three stories, the bottom story of stone and the upper two stories of wood. One had been turned over to the Christians and the other housed “the grim figure of Huitzilopotchli, with his censor of smoking hearts, and the walls of his oratory reeking with gore.”
Eventually the Spaniards won and then discovered their sanctuary had been violated. “With shouts of triumph the Christians tore the uncouth monster from his niche, and tumbled him, in the presence of the horror-struck Aztecs, down the steps of the teocalli. They then set fire to the accursed building. The flame speedily ran up the slender towers, sending forth an ominous light over city, lake, and valley, to the remotest hut among the mountains. It was the funeral pyre of paganism, and proclaimed the fall of that sanguinary religion which had so long hung like a dark cloud over the fair regions of Anahuac!”
I suspect that it was foreordained that Cortez himself was to lead that battle because it was an integral part of his calling to overthrow that religion and the Aztec empire. This most significant battle was not to be led by any other.
Cortez made plans to escape on one of the causeways that led from Tenochtitlan to solid ground. However the Aztecs had removed the bridges over seven of the canals. He had his men pile rubble in place of the bridges. The Aztecs retook some of them. Some of his men were thrown into the canal. “Cortes himself, at this crisis, did more than any other to cover the retreat of his followers. While the bridge was repairing, he plunged boldly into the midst of the barbarians, striking down an enemy at every vault of his charger, cheering on his own men, and spreading terror through the ranks of his opponents by the well-known sound of his battle-cry. Never did he display greater hardihood, or more freely expose his person, emulating, says an old chronicler, the feats of the Roman Cocles. In this way he stayed the tide of assailants, till the last man had crossed the bridge, when, some of the planks having given way, he was compelled to leap a chasm of full six feet in width, amidst a cloud of missiles, before he could place himself in safety.”
Rumor spread that Cortez had been killed, but not so. “He, indeed, received two severe contusions on the knee, but in other respects remained uninjured. At no time, however, had he been in such extreme danger; and his escape, and that of his companions, were esteemed little less than a miracle.”
Upon returning to their palace quarters it was learned that Montezuma was dying. Father Olmedo tried to convince him to be baptized before he died. Montezuma coldly repulsed the priest exclaiming, “I have but a few moments to live; and will not at this hour desert the faith of my fathers.” Montezuma implored Cortez to look after the fate of his children and recalled his own kindness to Cortez and the Spaniards.
“Not long after, on June 30, 1520, he expired in the arms of some of his own nobles, who still remained faithful in their attendance on his person. “Thus,” exclaims a native historian, one of his enemies, a Tlascalan, “thus died the unfortunate Montezuma, who had swayed the scepter with such consummate policy and wisdom; and who was held in greater reverence and awe than any other prince of his lineage, or any, indeed, that ever sat on a throne in this Western World.”
“The tidings of his death,” says the old Castilian chronicler Diaz, “were received with real grief by every cavalier and soldier in the army who had had access to his person; for we all loved him as a father.”
On July 1, 1520, Cortez decided to effect retreat that very night when the Aztecs would probably be asleep. They built a portable bridge to span the three breaches in the causeway. As they approached the causeway the alarm was given. Canoes filled with Aztecs came from every direction. The battle was fierce. The causeway was only wide enough to accommodate fifteen or twenty abreast. And the Christian army consisted of thousands including the Tlascalans.
When the army front reached the second breach the rear had not yet cleared the first breach. Fighting was fierce on all sides. The Spaniards discovered the weight of their army had wedged the timbers so firmly they could not remove the bridge to transport it to the second breach. They were trapped between the two breaches. Much of the second breach was filled with all sorts of things from cannons to gold allowing the army to press forward. Some swam among the canoes filled with attackers.
After taking heavy losses they arrived on firm land. Cortez viewed the tattered remains of his army. “Though accustomed to control his emotions, or, at least, to conceal them, the sight was too much for him. He covered his face with his hands, and the tears which trickled down revealed too plainly the anguish of his soul.”
In reviewing various reports of the Spanish losses, Prescott suggested probably the most accurate was four hundred and fifty Spaniards and four thousand of their native allies were lost in their escape from Tenochtitlan. Also lost was the greater part of the treasure, the baggage, and the general’s papers. They lost all the artillery and every musket and all ammunition.
As they were led by their Tlascalan allies, they were continually assaulted by small groups in their retreat. The natives removed all foodstuffs in the villages they passed through so that the much reduced army nearly starved to death. In one of these small battles Cortez “received a severe wound in the head, that afterwards gave him much trouble.”
As they continued they reached the vicinity of the ruins of Teotihuacan. Arrayed to meet them was a vast army of Aztecs and auxiliaries. “It was a sight to fill the stoutest heart among the Christians with dismay, heightened by the previous expectation of soon reaching the friendly land which was to terminate their wearisome pilgrimage. Even Cortes, as he contrasted the tremendous array before him with his own diminished squadrons, wasted by disease and enfeebled by hunger and fatigue, could not escape the conviction that his last hour had arrived.”
He only had twenty horses left. He reminded his troops of their previous successes. Referring to the enemy…“Numbers, indeed, were of no account, where the arm of the Almighty was on their side. And he bade them have full confidence that He, who had carried them safely through so many perils, would not now abandon them and His own good cause, to perish by the hand of the infidel.”
The battle of Otompan – or Otumba was fought on July 8, 1520. “The whole amount of the Indian force is reckoned by Castilian writers at two hundred thousand! That of the slain at twenty thousand!” Cortez received a second cut on the head. “The tide of battle was setting rapidly against the Christians.” Every one of his men was wounded.
Cortez led a charge into the Indian forces and initially cleared a path but the Indians fell in behind them as well so that they were surrounded. Cortez only had probably around 3,000 men at this point, mostly Tlascalan warriors and 500 to 700 being Spaniards. Cortez had instructed his men to focus on the Indian leaders. At one point he observed the commanding Indian chief at some distance. He instructed his cavaliers to follow and support him as he plunged headlong into the enemy force.
“In a few minutes they were in the presence of the Indian commander, and Cortes, overturning his supporters, sprang forward with the strength of a lion, and striking him through with his lance, hurled him to the ground. A young cavalier, Juan de Salamanca, who had kept close by his general’s side, quickly dismounted and dispatched the fallen chief. Then tearing away his banner, he presented it to Cortes, as a trophy to which he had the best claim. It was all the work of a moment. The guard, overpowered by the suddenness of the onset, made little resistance, but, flying, communicated their own panic to their comrades. The tidings of the loss soon spread over the field. The Indians, filled with consternation, now thought only of escape. In their blind terror, their numbers augmented their confusion. They trampled on one another, fancying it was the enemy in their rear.” Their entire army fled the field as they were chased by the Spaniards and the Tlascalans.
“Yet it was, undoubtedly one of the most remarkable victories ever achieved in the New World. And this, not merely on account of the disparity of the forces, but of their unequal condition. For the Indians were in all their strength, while the Christians were wasted by disease, famine, and long-protracted sufferings; without cannon or firearms, and deficient in the military apparatus which had so often struck terror into their barbarian foe – deficient even in the terrors of a victorious name.”
And it was Cortez who made it happen. And it was certainly the Lord who gave him the direction, strength and protection, because Cortez was God’s Agent on the Lord’s Errand!
His mission was not yet accomplished. And this author suspects that like the story of Gideon of old, God wanted to make it clear that He was behind the outcome of this battle.
“The star of Cortes was in the ascendant. Had it been otherwise, not a Spaniard would have survived that day to tell the bloody tale of the battle of Otumba.”
Then they reached the Republic of Tlascala and a warm and friendly reception, at least at first. The bulk of Cortez’s troops who initially served Narvaez wanted to retreat to the coast. Cortez knew that once they did he would not be able to get them to return against the Aztecs. And Cortez did not intend to be defeated. With the loyalty of his original troops and his persuasive manner he overcame a possible mutiny.
Many of the Tlascalans were very sorrowful because of those who had died serving with Cortez. Then six Aztec nobles arrived in Tlascala and attempted to convince the Tlascalans to forget their past differences and unite with the Aztecs and destroy the white men. Some of the Tlascalan leadership was willing to accept the offer but the elder chiefs rejected the offer reasoning as follows. “Yet they were called on to sacrifice the white men to the gods! – the warriors who, after fighting the battles of the Tlascalans, now threw themselves on their hospitality. But the gods abhorred perfidy. And were not their guests the very beings whose coming had been so long predicted by the oracles?” A heated argument ensued and a most venerated chief opposed by his own son “thrust his younger antagonist with some violence from the council chamber.” The council members then voted unanimously to support Cortez.
Had the Tlascalans accepted the Aztec offer it would have led to the destruction of Cortez and his little army. Thereafter Cortez and his Indian allies, who continually increased beyond the Tlascalans, participated in additional battles, even including a battle against an army of 30,000. Cortez and his men always prevailed and his fame spread throughout the country.
“The conduct of Cortes toward his allies had gained him great credit for disinterestedness and equity. The Indian cities in the adjacent territory appealed to him, as their umpire, in their differences with one another, and cases of disputed succession in their governments were referred to his arbitration. By his discreet and moderate policy, he insensibly acquired an ascendancy over their counsels, which had been denied to the ferocious Aztec. His authority extended wider and wider every day; and a new empire grew up in the very heart of the land, forming a counterpoise to the colossal power which had so long overshadowed it.”
Then smallpox struck. “Montezuma’s successor, Cuitlahuac, fell one of its first victims.” It was Cuitlahuac “after a brief reign of four months – brief, but glorious, for it had witnessed the overthrow of the Spaniards and their expulsion from Mexico.” It was Cuitlahuac who directed the successful assault on the Spaniards as they fled Tenochtitlan on the causeway. And it was Cuitlahuac who fielded the 200,000 man army that faced them later on. It would appear at least fortuitous that this man died when the Aztecs needed him. Perhaps they saw this as a sign the gods were against them. This would tend to destroy their morale Perhaps it was true, that the God of Heaven really was against them. Taking everything into consideration leads one to believe that is exactly what happened.
Friends died as well including “his good friend Maxixca, the old lord of Tlascala, who stood by him so steadily in the hour of adversity.” “With his last breath, he commended them to his son and successor, as the great beings whose coming into the country had been so long predicted by the oracles. He expressed a desire to die in the profession of the Christian faith.” He was subsequently baptized by Father Olmedo.
Once secure, Cortez allowed those of his men who wanted to return to Cuba to do so. A few left. He needed reinforcements and military supplies. On three occasions additional ships arrived at the coast, all in opposition to Cortez. However, with the Hand of Providence they were converted “to a full hundred and fifty men, well provided with arms and ammunition, together with twenty horses. By this strange concurrence of circumstances, Cortes saw himself in possession of the supplies he most needed; that, too, from the hands of his enemies, whose costly preparations were thus turned to the benefit of the very man whom they were designed to ruin.”
“His good fortune did not stop here. A ship from the Canaries touched at Cuba, freighted with arms and military stores for the adventurers in the New World. Their commander heard there of the recent discoveries in Mexico, and, thinking it would afford a favourable market for him, directed his course to Vera Cruz. He was not mistaken. The alcalde, by the general’s orders, purchased both ship and cargo; and the crews, catching the spirit of adventure, followed their countrymen into the interior. There seemed to be a magic in the name of Cortes, which drew all who came within hearing of it under his standard.”
He was ignorant of what was transpiring in Spain and whether his dispatches had been received there. And he knew he had powerful enemies who would try to supplant him. He reasoned that once he conquered the Aztec nation his detractors would be ineffective. He sent to Villa Rica for the metal and rigging of the ships he had destroyed while he employed the Tlascalans to cut timber and build brigantines under the direction of his shipbuilder, Martin Lopez. He planned to build a small navy and control the waters surrounding Tenochtitlan while he besieged it.
Guatemozin, nephew to Montezuma ascended the throne. He was twenty five and an experienced warrior. He prepared Tenochtitlan for the assault. Regarding Cortez, “His whole force fell little short of six hundred men; forty of whom were cavalry, together with eighty arquebusiers and crossbow-men. The rest were armed with sword and target, and with the copper-headed pike of Chinantla. He had nine cannon of a moderate calibre, and was indifferently supplied with powder.”
Cortez also had Indian allies. “The army of the allies next passed in review before the general. It is variously estimated by writers from a hundred and ten to a hundred and fifty thousand soldiers.”
Regarding his code of ordinances, “The instrument then reminds the army that the conversion of the heathen is the work most acceptable in the eye of the Almighty, and one that will be sure to receive his support. It calls on every soldier to regard this as the prime object of the expedition, without which the war would be manifestly unjust, and every acquisition made by it a robbery.”
Regarding Cortez, “He seemed to have an eye that never slumbered, and a frame incapable of fatigue. It was the indomitable spirit within, which sustained him.” En route to Tenochtitlan they camped at the city of Tezcuco. There Cortez established a new Lord of Tezcuco, the famous Ixlilxochitl, who Book of Mormon scholars often quote.
“As this person was intimately associated with the Spaniards in their subsequent operations, to the success of which he essentially contributed, it is proper to give some account of his earlier history, which, in truth, is as much enveloped in the marvelous, as that of any fabulous hero of antiquity.”
“He was son, by a second queen, of the great Nezahualpilli. Some alarming prodigies at his birth, and the gloomy aspect of the planets, led the astrologers, who cast his horoscope, to advise the king, his father, to take away the infant’s life, since, if he lived to grow up, he was destined to unite with the enemies of his country, and overturn its institutions and religion. But the old monarch replied, says the chronicler, that the time had arrived when the sons of Quetzalcoatl were to come from the East to take possession of the land; and, if the Almighty had selected his child to co-operate with them in the work, His will be done.”
Ixlilxochitl was scarcely twenty years old when he became Lord of Tezcuco. “It was not, however, till his advancement to the lordship of Tezcuco that he showed the full extent of his good will. From that hour, he became the fast friend of the Christians, supporting them with his personal authority, and the whole strength of his military array and resources….and made him a most valuable ally.” He was credited with having done more than any other chieftain to support the Christians.
Cortez chose Tezcuco as the headquarters of his army. It was only a couple of miles from the lake, or less, and it was here that the brigantines were assembled. Ixlilxochitl employed eight thousand Indians to dig a canal from the city to the lake. Cortez attacked Iztalalapan, a notable city referred to as “the Queen of the Valley.” There his troops barely escaped drowning when the Aztecs opened the dike. “The fate of Iztapalapan struck a terror throughout the valley.” As time passed various towns and cities came over to Cortez voluntarily. “But the place of most importance which thus claimed their protection was Chalco, situated on the eastern extremity of the lake of that name. They requested Cortez help them overcome the Aztec garrison in their city. That accomplished, two young lords of Chalco were received by Cortez.
“They were courteously received by Cortes; and they informed him that their father had died full of years, a short time before, With his last breath he had expressed his regret that he should not have lived to see Malintzin. He believed that the white men were the beings predicted by the oracles, as one day to come from the East and take possession of the land; and he enjoined it on his children, should the strangers return to the valley, to render them their homage and allegiance.”
Cortez sent another message to the Aztec emperor, “that, if the city would return to its allegiance to the Spanish crown, the authority of Guatemozin should be confirmed, and the persons and property of his subjects be respected.” He received no reply.
In the meantime Martin Lopez, the experienced shipbuilder, had directed the construction of thirteen brigantines of different sizes. They were tested on the waters of Zahuapan. Then they were taken to pieces and transported from Tkalac to Tezcuco. Twenty thousand Tkalac warriors accompanied the porters for protection.
“It was a marvelous thing, exclaims the Conqueror, in his letters, “that few have seen, or even heard of – this transportation of thirteen vessels of war on the shoulders of men, for nearly twenty leagues across the mountains!” It was, indeed, a stupendous achievement, and not easily matched in ancient or modern story; one which only a genius like Cortes could have devised, or a daring spirit like his could have successfully executed. Little did he foresee – when he ordered the destruction of the fleet which first brought him to the country, and with his usual forecast commanded the preservation of the ironwork and rigging – little did he foresee the important uses for which they were to be reserved. So important, that on their preservation may be said to have depended the successful issue of his great enterprise.”
It would seem that here is clear evidence of the Hand of the Lord in choreographing the entire conquest. It would seem obvious that Providence directed the entire series of events. There were too many events that could have prevented success, but didn’t.
Numerous smaller battles took place. Ixlilxochitl was responsible for bringing more towns and cities under Cortez’s banner. And then Cortez received additional Spanish reinforcements when three vessels arrived at Villa Rica, “with two hundred men on board, well provided with arms and ammunition, and with seventy or eighty horses.” “From what quarter it came is uncertain…” Among them was “Julian de Alderete, the royal treasurer, came over to superintend the interests of the crown.”
Cortez continued to use his “faithful interpreters, Dona Marina and Aguilar.” And he repeatedly led his men into battle and personally fought hand to hand. Regarding one such fight, “The general with his usual fearlessness, threw himself into the midst, in hopes to check their advance. But his own followers were too few to support him, and he was overwhelmed by the crowd of combatants. His horse lost his footing and fell; and Cortes, who received a severe blow on the head before he could rise, was seized and dragged off in triumph by the Indians. At this critical moment, a Tlascalan, who perceived the general’s extremity, sprang, like one of the wild ocelots of his own forests, into the midst of the assailants, and endeavored to tear him from their grasp. Two of the general’s servants also speedily came to the rescue, and Cortes, with their aid and that of the brave Tlascalan, succeeded in regaining his feet and shaking off his enemies.”
“This was the greatest personal danger which Cortes had yet encountered.” Later when “Alderete, the treasurer, and some other cavaliers, who had lately joined his banner” first viewed Tenochtitlan from afar, “they could not withhold their admiration at the life and activity of the scene, declaring that nothing but the hand of Providence could have led their countrymen safe through the heart of this powerful empire.”
Cortez was observed to be gloomy and one of his cavaliers tried to encourage him regarding the recent destruction by the Aztecs of two of his own servants in a recent battle. “The general’s answer showed the nature of his meditations. “You are my witness,” said he, “how often I have endeavoured to persuade yonder capital peacefully to submit. It fills me with grief, when I think of the toil and the dangers my brave followers have yet to encounter before we can call it ours. But the time is come when we must put our hands to the work.”
“There can be no doubt that Cortes, with every other man in his army, felt he was engaged in a holy crusade, and that, independently of personal considerations, he could not serve Heaven better than by planting the Cross on the bloodstained towers of the heathen metropolis.”
There seemed to be no end to the difficulties facing Cortez. In Spain there were those who initiated proceedings to remove him from authority. And those troops he inherited from Narvaez planned a mutiny and to assassinate Cortez and his principal supporters, Sandoval, Olid, Alvarado, and two or three others. One repented afore hand and revealed everything to the general. Cortez was able to seize a list of the conspirators and immediately capture the ringleader who was tried before a military court and hanged. Cortez told his troops that the man had not disclosed who else was involved and then he let it rest. The other conspirators were obviously relieved with that understanding but Cortez knew who they were, and he needed them.
Prescott praises Cortez for his coolness and wisdom in this matter and explains what would have happened otherwise. After having traveled around the entire lake, Cortez returned to Tezcuco. The canal was finished and the brigantines were “fully rigged, equipped, and ready for service.”
“The general’s next step was to muster his forces in the great square of the capital. He found they amounted to eighty-seven horse, and eight hundred and eighteen foot, of which one hundred and eighteen were arquebuisers and crossbow-men. He had three large field-pieces of iron and fifteen lighter guns or falconets of brass.”
Cortez placed 300 men on the ships and divided his forces into three under the commands of Sandoval, Olid and Alvarado, at the three causeways leading to Tenochtitlan. Fifty thousand Tlascalans came at his new command. Cortez took command of his flotilla. And he ordered the aqueduct providing fresh water to Tenochtitlan to be broken up.
A blazing beacon on the top of an eminence signaled to Tenochtitlan that the little navy had embarked. Cortez could see Aztec canoes as well as other ships advancing rapidly by means of oars towards them. He wanted to sail into them and strike the first blow but there was no wind. The Aztecs stopped out of musket-shot distance.
“At this moment, a light air from land rippled the surface of the lake; it gradually freshened into a breeze, and Cortes, taking advantage of the friendly succour, which he may be excused, under all the circumstances, for regarding as especially sent him by Heaven, extended his line of battle, and bore down, under full press of canvas, on the enemy.” The Aztecs fled, offering no resistance, and the little navy widely dealt death among them as they tried to reach their ports. Thus the Spaniards were left “undisputed masters of the Aztec sea.”
Cortez and his lieutenants simultaneously advanced along the causeways. Cortez had the advantage of the brigantines and he led the invasion of Tenochtitlan. They battled forward and reached the great pyramid where the Cross had been replaced by “a new effigy of the Aztec war-god.” The Aztec priests were thrown down its sides and it was destroyed by the Spaniards to the horror of the Aztec populace who then rose up and pushed back the Spaniards. “All seemed to be lost – when suddenly sounds were heard in an adjoining street, like the distant tramp of horses galloping rapidly over the pavement.” A small group of cavalry turned the tide and made for an orderly retreat.
“The most important aid which the Spaniards received at this time was from Tezcuco, whose prince, Ixlilxochitl, gathered the whole strength of his armies, to the number of fifty thousand, and led them in person to the Christian camp.”
With this new support Cortez attacked again the next day. The Aztecs “vented their fury in bitter execrations, especially on the young prince Ixlilxochitl, who, marching side by side with Cortes, took his full share in the dangers of the day.”
“He gave little heed to their taunts, however, holding on his way with the dogged resolution of one true to the cause in which he was embarked; and, when he entered the great square, he grappled with the leader of the Aztec forces, wrenched a lance from his grasp, won by the latter from the Christians, and dealt him a blow with his mace, or maquahuitl, which brought him lifeless to the ground.”
“The cities, which now claimed the Spanish general’s protection, supplied the camp with an incredible number of warriors; a number which, if we admit Cortes’ estimate, one hundred and fifty thousand….”
“The allies, as appears too probable, reinforced their frugal fare with an occasional banquet on human flesh, for which the battlefield unhappily afforded them too much facility, and which, however shocking to the feelings of Cortes, he did not consider himself in a situation at that moment to prevent.” Compare Moroni 9: 8-10; 18.
Cortez “intimated more than once, by means of the prisoners whom he released, his willingness to grant them fair terms of capitulation. Day after day, he fully expected his proffers would be accepted. But day after day he was disappointed. He had yet to learn how tenacious was the memory of the Aztecs; and that, whatever might be the horrors of their present situation, and their fears for the future, they were all forgotten in their hatred of the white man.” Compare Mormon 2:13-14.
At one point his officers agreed on a plan of attack the following day with the great market of Tlatelolco as their goal. Cortez ordered his officers to make sure they left their avenues of retreat available to them and to fill up any canals and openings in the causeway that could hinder them in retreat. However the Aztecs retreated too quickly and drew Alderete and his troops into the interior of the city. Cortez suspected it was too easy. He was on foot and decided to check the canals himself.
“He had not proceeded far along the great street, or causeway, when his progress was arrested by an opening ten or twelve paces wide, and filled with water, at least two fathoms deep.” He ordered his men to fill up the chasm as soon as possible. “…suddenly the horn of Guatemozin – the sacred symbol, heard only in seasons of extraordinary peril – sent forth a long and piercing note from the summit of a neighbouring teocalli.” The retreating Aztecs turned on the Spaniards and they were attacked on all sides. Order turned to confusion as they retreated toward the open chasm.
Cortez refused to abandon his men. “I had made up my mind,” he says, “to die rather than desert my poor followers in their extremity!” “Darts, stones, and arrows fell around him as thick as hail, but glanced harmless from his steel helmet and armour of proof. At length a cry of “Malintzin, Malintzin!” arose among the enemy; and six of their number, strong and athletic warriors, rushing on him at once, made a violent effort to drag him on board their boat. In the struggle he received a severe wound in the leg, which, for the time, disabled it. There seemed to be no hope for him; when a faithful follower, Christoval de Olea, perceiving his general’s extremity, threw himself on the Aztecs, and with a blow cut off the arm of one savage, and then plunged his sword in the body of another. He was quickly supported by a comrade named Lerma, and by a Tlascalan chief, who fighting over the prostrate body of Cortes, despatched three more of the assailants, though the heroic Olea paid dearly for his self-devotion, as he fell mortally wounded by the side of his general.”
“The report soon spread among the soldiers that their commander was taken; and Quinones, the captain of his guard, with several others pouring in to the rescue, succeeded in disentangling Cortes from the grasp of his enemies who were struggling with him in the water, and raising him in their arms, placed him again on the causeway.”
One of his pages brought him a horse and they helped him mount. “The general still lingered, unwilling to leave the spot, whilst his presence could be of the least service. But the faithful Quinones, taking his horse by the bridle, turned his head from the breach, exclaiming at the same time that his master’s life was “too important to the army to be thrown away there.”
An item of note here is that the Aztecs frequently focused on capturing an enemy, particularly a Spaniard, so that he could be sacrificed on their altars. If they had focused instead on just killing their enemy they would have come off somewhat better, particularly in this instance. So in these cases their desire for sacrifices were counterproductive. Their religion did them a disservice.
That day did not go well for the Spaniards. “Besides the killed, and a long file of wounded, sixty-two Spaniards, with a multitude of allies, had fallen alive into the hands of the enemy – an enemy who was never known to spare a captive. The loss of two fieldpieces and seven horses crowned their own disgrace and the triumphs of the Aztecs.”
Cortez ordered a cessation of active hostilities for a few days. Then his troops witnessed a solemn procession up the pyramid of the war-god. The Aztecs sacrificed the captives and threw their bodies down where they were cannibalized. Some parts were then forwarded to outlying cities with the claim that the war-god had been appeased and would now support the Aztecs and these cities should return to them.
“The priests now cheered the young monarch and the people with the declaration that the dread Huitzilopotchli, their offended deity, appeased by the sacrifices offered up on his altars, would again take the Aztecs under his protection and deliver their enemies, before the expiration of eight days, into their hands.”
Their Indian allies began to fear because of this prophecy. They had come to learn that the Spaniards and their horses could be killed and that they could lose in battle.
“They took advantage, therefore, of the friendly cover of night to steal away from their quarters. Company after company deserted in this manner, taking the direction of their respective homes. Those belonging to the great towns of the valley, whose allegiance was the most recent, were the first to cast it off. Their example was followed by the older confederates, the militia of Cholula, Tepeaca, Tezcuco, and even the faithful Tlascala. There were, it is true, some exceptions to these, and among them, Ixlilxochitl, the younger lord of Tezcuco, and Chihemecatl, the valiant Tlascalan chieftain, who, with a few of their immediate followers, still remained true to the banner under which they had enlisted. But their number was insignificant.”
Cortez send messengers to these troops asking them to delay their leaving until the eight days had passed. “Night after night fresh victims were led up to the great altar of sacrifice; and while the city blazed with the illuminations of a thousand bonfires on the terraced roofs of the dwellings, and in the areas of the temples, the dismal pageant, showing through the fiery glare like the work of the ministers of hell, was distinctly visible from the camp below.”
As the days passed however very little supplies could be received in Tenochtitlan. The Spaniards controlled the three causeways into the city and their little navy controlled the surrounding lake. The eight days passed and the Spaniards were still alive and in control. Most of the Indian allies returned to Cortez’s banner.
“Fortune, who seldom dispenses her frowns or her favours single handed, further showed her good will to the Spaniards at this time, by sending a vessel into Vera Cruz laden with ammunition and military stores, It was part of the fleet destined for the Florida coast by the romantic old knight, Ponce de Leon.”
Cortez came up with a new plan, one which he did not want to execute because of the beauty of Tenochtitlan. His plan was to demolish every building under their control and fill up the canals and gaps in the causeways and level the ground so the cavalry could freely roam. This would remove the ability of the Aztecs to fight from house to house. His Indian allies rallied to this plan and fetched their hoes. As this plan progressed what remained of Tenochtitlan would continually get smaller.
Cortez sent captured nobles to the Aztec emperor Guatemozin trying to reason with him that further resistance was futile and that if they surrendered he would be confirmed in his authority and all past wrongs would be forgotten, if they would return to allegiance to the sovereign of Castile.
Some of his wise men and warriors favored surrender but the priests, knowing there would be nothing left for them, argued “to trust in the promises of their own gods…” Guitemozin exclaimed, “Let no man, henceforth, who values his life, talk of surrender. We can at least die like warriors.”
The Aztecs were in desperate straights having to eat any living thing and drink only brackish ground water. Starvation and disease took their toll. Building by building was demolished and the ground made level as the Spanish and their Indian confederates advanced. Finally seven eights of the city was laid in ruins.
“It was on the memorable 15th of August 1521…that Cortes led his warlike array for the last time across the black and blasted environs which lay around the Indian capital.” Guatemozin attempted escape by boat but was captured. This ended the siege. Cortez allowed the survivors to depart via the causeways. The number was estimated between thirty and seventy thousand. Between one hundred and twenty thousand and two hundred and forty thousand Aztecs were estimated to have died in the siege.
“Thus, after a siege of nearly three months’ duration, unmatched in history for the constancy and courage of the besieged, seldom surpassed for the severity of its sufferings, fell the renowned capital of the Aztecs.”
Prescott observed, “as thousands and thousands of miserable victims throughout the empire were yearly fattened in its cages, sacrificed on its altars, dressed and served at its banquets! The whole land was converted into a vast human shambles! The empire of the Aztecs did not fall before its time.”
As surely as God loves his children, He had an interest in the downfall of the Aztec empire, not only to defend victims from the sacrificial altar, but also to remove the strangle hold of that perverted religion and cannibalism. Hernando Cortez was chosen, inspired, directed and protected by Him for that purpose. This true story is one of the best evidences of the Hand of God in the history of man.
editor's note: Over a decade ago, my wife and I participated in a Joe Allen Book of Mormon Lands Tour. While in Mexico City, we visited the very famous Basilica (cathedral) of Guadalupe - - not just another Catholic church, but the central place of worship for Mexico's patron saint and the home of the image responsible for uniting pre-hispanic Indian mysticism with Catholic beliefs. The Basílica occupies the site where, on December 9, 1531, a poor Indian named Juan Diego saw a vision of a beautiful lady in a blue mantle. The local bishop, Zumarraga, was reluctant to confirm that Juan Diego had indeed seen the Virgin Mary, so he asked the peasant for evidence. Juan Diego saw the vision a second time, on December 12, and when he asked her for proof, she instructed him to collect the roses that began blooming in the rocky soil at his feet. He gathered the flowers in his cloak and returned to the bishop. When he unfurled his cloak, the flowers dropped to the ground and the image of the Virgin was miraculously emblazoned on the rough-hewn cloth. The bishop immediately ordered the building of a church on the spot, and upon its completion, the cloth with the Virgin's image was hung in a place of honor, framed in gold.
After our visit to the Basilica, Dr. Allen asked our group just one question: "As faithful Latter-day Saints, do you think that the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego?" After all, it was this one incident that brought about the mass conversion to christianity which prepared the people to accept the LDS Church. Not one tourist volunteered an answer. What would be your answer?
Comment by Dr. Joseph L. Allen, July 2011
I think my comment is more like a question than a statement. It, like the article by Dennis Williams prompts more questions than it supplies answers.
|1. Did Juan Diego actually see the Virgin Mary in vision? Answer. Many Catholic historians have questioned the account. Almost five hundred years passed before Juan Diego was given sainthood.|
|2. If it was a vision, was the source Christ or Satan? It is not doctrinally sound to attribute Mary as the one “to whom the natives should pray, and the one “who answers prayers” for Christ. That’s Catholic Doctrine.|
|3. Do the ends justify the means?. That is, due to the alleged vision many natives were converted to Christianity. It is these converted natives who have joined the Church in the latter days.|
This is indeed a great topic for discussion.
As to Cortez being the Lord’s General, I have the same dilemma. To me, one of the key prophecies is found in 1 Nephi chapter 13.
If Columbus is the one spoken of in 1 Ne 13:12, then the Catholic Church is the one referred to in 1 Ne 13:4-9. Columbus spoke Spanish. He sailed under the Spanish (Christian or Catholic) flag.
If the above passages refer to Columbus and the Catholic Church, then 1 Ne 13:14 refers to Cortez. We can therefore conclude that all three events mentioned above are prophetic.
In conclusion, the above prophecy probably helps in identifying the land where the “remnant of Jacob” of the “seed of Nephi’s brethren” lived as spoken of in the Book of Mormon. I suppose the Lord uses different people to bring about his purposes regardless of their own motives. Cortez was a conqueror. Mexico’s heroes at the time of the conquest are not the Spaniards. They are the Aztec warriors like Cuauhtémoc. To my knowledge, there is not even a statue of Cortez in Mexico City today. I know members of the Church in Mexico (Texcoco) who still speak the ancient Nahuatl language. They are not great fans of Cortez.
I am culturally and historically acquainted with both General Hernan Cortez and Captain Moroni. Believe me, Cortez is no Moroni. Nevertheless, I think that the article by Williams is interesting.
I Ne 13:13;15-19 most assuredly is a prophecy about the American Revolutionary War with England. So maybe the Lord did take sides with both the English and the Spanish.