The Culture of the Good Death in Seventeenth-Century Mexico City
AuthorFlaks, James Courtney
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This dissertation argues that most of Mexico City's Seventeenth-century subjects believed in and practiced the Good Death. The culture of the Good Death in seventeenth-century Mexico City shows that their Mexican Catholicism represented a localized religious practice that was completely hispanicized. Death permeated Mexico City's population base due to cyclical pandemics, seasonal natural disasters, such as inundations, agricultural crises, and the common public health issues concerning garbage in the city's canals and streets. Most of Mexico City's subjects often lived short and harsh lives. According to colonial citizens, the beliefs and practices of the Good Death signified the partaking of final sacraments and a courage in facing the end of life where the dying person ultimately liberated his/her soul into the purgatorial afterworld. Most urban subjects understood the basic beliefs and practices of Spanish Catholicism. I show that Mexico City's priests were the intecessors of Spanish Catholic practices and the theology of the Good Death to lay parishioners. Mexico City's elite subjects paid for and practiced the images of the Good Death according to the arrangements of Baroque funeral rites, especially for the death of the Spanish Monarch and high colonial elites, called exequias. Protecting both their souls and family honor, they arranged detailed will and testaments, which included confessions of faith, paid masses for their souls in Purgatory, and some pious works. For Nahua elite subjects, it meant fewer altar masses, but their preferred rites included a funeral with paid singers, and a Christian burial inside of a church. Confraternities ensured both the images and rites of the Good Death for members who paid their regular sodality fees. Confraternity death benefits included burial in a church altar, fabrics over the coffin, the attendance of confraternity brothers and sisters in the funeral, and the confratenity priest performing masses for the souls of the deceased. In conclude that due to the problems in locating a priest that was able to minister the last sacraments, Mexico City's general population, both the popular classes and elites, inserted magical prayers at saint altars asking for good deaths in avoidance of bad ones. A bad death signified a sudden and often violent death with no pious preparations beforehand.