Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos (World Heritage)

By | August 19, 2021

In the 17th and 18th centuries the Jesuits founded numerous mission stations for the Bolivian woodland Indians in eastern Bolivia. The buildings of the so-called reductions represent a mixture of European-Christian tradition and local indigenous construction.

Chiquitos Jesuit Missions: Facts

Official title: Jesuit missions of the Chiquitos
Cultural monument: almost undamaged baroque Jesuit missions and “Indian protective villages” San Francisco Javier, San Ignacio de Velasco, Concepción, Santa Ana de Velasco, San Miguel, San Rafael and San José de Chiquitos
Continent: America
Country: Bolivia
Location: Jesuit missions in the land of the Chiquitos, northeast of Santa Cruz
Appointment: 1990
Meaning: In the course of the missionary work of the Jesuits, establishment of »reductions« for the indigenous indigenous population according to the principle of the ideal city

Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos: History

1561 Foundation of a Jesuit convent in Santa Cruz de la Sierra
1669 Origin of San Rafael
1692 Foundation of San Javier
1698 Foundation of San José
1709 Creation of Concepción
1721 Founding of San Miguel
1748 Foundation of San Ignacio
1749-52 Construction of the Church of San Javier
1751 16,000 Indians live in the “protective villages” of the Jesuits
1755 Creation of Santa Ana de Velasco
10/13/1767 expulsion of the Jesuits on royal orders
1978-82 Restoration of Concepción
1987-92 Takeover by the Order of the Franciscans

With “ora et labora” – bulwarks of the Christian faith

Padre José de Arce was shocked. 3000 Indians from the Chiquitanos tribe were supposed to be sold as slaves in Santa Cruz. The prudent Jesuit missionary realized that it was time to begin evangelism in this region immediately after dozens of so-called “reduction villages” had already been established in what is now Paraguay and the province of Trinidad to protect and Christianize the Indians. On New Year’s Day in 1692, the foundation stone was laid for the missionary village of San Javier, which from then on acted as the administrative center of all ten reduction villages that were built up until the expulsion of the Jesuits from South America in 1767.

Up to 3,000 Indians lived in these villages under the care of two or three Jesuit padres. A powerful army, which was created to defend the villages, offered the residents security from attacks by Spanish soldiers. The Indians enjoyed extensive self-government, and a local council chaired by the local cacique looked after the interests of the village. According to the motto “ora et labora”, the daily routine was strictly regulated. The Indians, who had previously lived as hunters and gatherers, were instructed in the art of agriculture, and there was a brisk trade with the settlements in the highlands. The Jesuits taught their protégés religion, promoted education and culture, but above all their technical skills, so that they soon developed into true masters in the processing of wood and silver. Magnificent church buildings made of adobe and wood were adorned with ornate facades and lavish altars, and musical instruments such as violins and harps were also made in the workshops. The price for this cultural development was a comprehensive religious conversion, because the ancient beliefs of the Indians were consistently superseded. How thoroughly this was done is shown by the fact that today only little is known about the pre-Christian beliefs of the indigenous people of the Llanos de Chiquitos. and musical instruments such as violins and harps were also made in the workshops. The price for this cultural development was a comprehensive religious conversion, because the ancient beliefs of the Indians were consistently superseded. How thoroughly this was done is shown by the fact that today only little is known about the pre-Christian beliefs of the indigenous people of the Llanos de Chiquitos. and musical instruments such as violins and harps were also made in the workshops. The price for this cultural development was a comprehensive religious conversion, because the ancient beliefs of the Indians were consistently superseded. How thoroughly this was done is shown by the fact that today only little is known about the pre-Christian beliefs of the indigenous people of the Llanos de Chiquitos.

But the Jesuits were not the first to take on the missionary work of the “savages”: As early as 1520, the famous Dominican father Bartolomé de las Casas, who vehemently advocated the rights of the oppressed Indians, founded the first missionary villages in Venezuela. Around a hundred years later, the Jesuits followed his example and created their first reduction in the province of Paraguay. The 1540 of Pope Paul III. Approved Jesuit order developed into an influential religious community in the viceroyalty of Peru. They founded schools and had magnificent churches built, as can still be admired today in Lima, Potosí or Sucre. When the first Jesuits came to the still young city of Santa Cruz in the southeast of the Viceroyalty and founded a convent, around 1100 Indians lived there in the service of 170 Spaniards. The first attempts to convert the Indians from Santa Cruz were initially unsuccessful. There were too few missionaries and the Indians, who had had bad experiences with the Spaniards, were skeptical. It was not until a few decades later that proselytizing began in the Chiquitanos tribal area. The Spanish colonial rulers, who were far more interested in the silver mines in the mountains, paid little attention to the eastern regions of their colonial empire, despite their growing importance for agriculture, so that the missionaries could pursue their work of God undisturbed. After the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, the villages initially existed, but were dissolved in 1825 after Bolivia’s independence and henceforth abandoned to decay according to mathgeneral.

Extensive restoration work from the mid-1970s onwards made the churches shine in new splendor. Despite their simple construction, they are impressive examples of the merging of European and Indian architectural styles.

Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos (World Heritage)