Huejotzingo Codex

Document; Huejotzingo, Mexico; 1531 CE

There are many codices that show up in Latin American history; one of these is the Huejotzingo Codex. The Huejotzingo Codex is famous for depicting the first known picture of the Virgin Mary made by a native (specifically, the picture is Nahuatl).

(First page of the codex, courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The codex includes seventy-four pages of Spanish text and five silked loose pages of Spanish text. The text in the Huejotzingo Codex was written by many different people, evidenced by the different colors of ink and the different handwritings. There are also eight pages of pictures in the codex, some of which show Christian symbols, such as a depiction of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus surrounded by a frame made from gold and feathers, seen in the picture above. There are also images of the indigenous people and how they were conquered by the conquistadores, as well as pictures showing political issues that came with colonization. All of the pages, except for the loose leafs, were sewn together using thread; according to scholars, there were six kinds that were used to sew the sheets together. This implied that the pages had probably been shuffled around and rearranged over the course of its existence. This was also likely one of the reasons for why the codex was so mangled by the time it was found by scholars.

The pictures are arguably the most important and interesting part of the codex. Some might think the pictures in the codex reflect the religiosity of the native people around this time. The influence of the Spanish people on the indigenous people was quite impressive, and at first, it appears that this is evidence of that. However, the Huejotzingo Codex is actually a legal document, not a religious one. Hernando Cortés was Governor of New Spain by this time and he, having not been back to Huejotzingo (a small city just outside of Mexico City) for a while, was asked to help making a legal document to file a lawsuit against three authorities of New Spain because of the exorbitant taxes they were being forced to pay. Many people wrote down their thoughts and arguments on the case. The indigenous people drew pictures to show what they thought about the whole thing. The result was the Huejotzingo Codex.

(Sixth page of the codex, courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The codex was later used in court against Nuño de Guzmán, who was president of the first supreme court, or audiencia, of Mexico, and one of the officials the indigenous people were filing the lawsuit against. Cortés argued that Guzmán was taking tributes from the indigenous people that were actually meant for him, and hence, he should not be able to tax at such high amounts.

Of course, the codex can still be interpreted in a religious way—the fact that the Virgin Mary and Jesus are portrayed at all in the Huejotzingo Codex show that Christianity made its way into Latin America during colonization and left a lasting impression. The religious aspect can also be explained by the idea that the indigenous people had become so “Spanish,” as shown by their Christianity, that they should be treated as Spanish people, and not lower beings. If nothing, the religious pictures in the codex were foreshadowing the prevalence of Christianity in the Americas later on.

The Huejotzingo Codex can be found in the Library of Congress today, donated in the late 1920’s by American philanthropist Edward Stephen Harkness. It is unknown how Harkness was able to come across the codex.

The codex is a time machine back into a time when the indigenous people of Latin America began to have conflicts between their conqueror’s lives and their own; the first page of the codex shown above clearly shows a European religious symbol among objects and style of the indigenous people. Perhaps most interesting, though, is the fact that the pictures of the Huejotzingo Codex are so descriptive and display an elaborate counting system, among other things, that they show the impressive complexity of the indigenous people and indigenous society at that time.

“1492: An Ongoing Voyage.” Library of Congress. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.

Albro, Sylvia Rodgers, and Thomas C. Albro. “The Examination And Conservation Treatment Of The Library Of Congress Harkness 1531 Huejozingo Codex.” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.

Cohen, Sharon. “Huejotzingo Codex of 1531.”  World History Sources, n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.

Mundy, Barbara E., and Dana Liebsohn. “History from Things: Indigenous Objects and Colonial Latin America.” World History Connected. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.


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