Revolutions in Mexican Catholicism

Reform and Revelation in Oaxaca, 1887–1934

Revolutions in Mexican Catholicism

Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: 15 photographs, 4 maps Published: April 2009

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Mexico, Religious Studies

In Revolutions in Mexican Catholicism, Edward Wright-Rios investigates how Catholicism was lived and experienced in the Archdiocese of Oaxaca, a region known for its distinct indigenous cultures and vibrant religious life, during the turbulent period of modernization in Mexico that extended from the late nineteenth century through the early twentieth. Wright-Rios centers his analysis on three “visions” of Catholicism: an enterprising archbishop’s ambitious religious reform project, an elderly indigenous woman’s remarkable career as a seer and faith healer, and an apparition movement that coalesced around a visionary Indian girl. Deftly integrating documentary evidence with oral histories, Wright-Rios provides a rich, textured portrait of Catholicism during the decades leading up to the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and throughout the tempestuous 1920s.

Wright-Rios demonstrates that pastors, peasants, and laywomen sought to enliven and shape popular religion in Oaxaca. The clergy tried to adapt the Vatican’s blueprint for Catholic revival to Oaxaca through institutional reforms and attempts to alter the nature and feel of lay religious practice in what amounted to a religious modernization program. Yet some devout women had their own plans. They proclaimed their personal experiences of miraculous revelation, pressured priests to recognize those experiences, marshaled their supporters, and even created new local institutions to advance their causes and sustain the new practices they created. By describing female-led visionary movements and the ideas, traditions, and startling innovations that emerged from Oaxaca’s indigenous laity, Wright-Rios adds a rarely documented perspective to Mexican cultural history. He reveals a remarkable dynamic of interaction and negotiation in which priests and parishioners as well as prelates and local seers sometimes clashed and sometimes cooperated but remained engaged with one another in the process of making their faith meaningful in tumultuous times.


“[A]n imaginative, complex, and valuable work. With ample sources, it offers a powerful portrait of institutional revival. With few sources, creatively worked, it eloquently recovers the elusive heartbeat of Indian Catholicism and women’s ever-evolving sense of devotional place. By connecting these realms, Revolutions provides fresh and sophisticated insights into the interactions of Catholicism and modernity. Students of Mexico and religion must read it.” — Matthew Butler, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“[T]his post-revisionist study opens up a promising approach by virtue of the fresh angles from which it considers ‘religious culture’ and its role in the social order that emerged with the Mexican Revolution.” — Enrique Guerramanzo, Journal of Latin American Studies

“This monograph focuses on religious change in Oaxaca, yet its relevance extends well beyond southeastern Mexico. Its lessons about popular piety and the modernizing church should profit not only Latin Americanists generally, but also ethnohistorians and scholars of the Catholic church.” — Deborah Kanter, Canadian Journal of History

“Wright-Rios’s ability to weave together church documents, popular accounts, and oral histories, as well as to engage contradictory sources, leaves us with a refreshing institutional and cultural portrayal of Mexican Catholicism.” — Bonar L. Hernández Sandoval, Hispanic American Historical Review

“Faith is a difficult thing to research. However, in his work Revolutions in Mexican Catholicism, Edward Wright-Rios does a wonderful job exploring just this topic. . . . Revolutions in Mexican Catholicism, and its well-researched and presented stories, are invaluable to anyone interested in religiosity in contested spaces, gender-faith-power relationships, and the power of popular devotions in the midst of cultural encounter zones (border spaces). . . . It also serves as a powerful instructional tool with stories that are compelling and at times surprising. . . .” — SilverMoon, Ethnohistory

“Gracefully written and informed by a wide-ranging grasp of religion’s intersections with political and economic life, especially in Oaxaca’s Indian communities, this endlessly absorbing book sets a new standard for twentieth-century Mexican religious history and should inspire comparative regional research for years to come.” — Pamela Voekel, American Historical Review

“The text in Revolutions in Mexican Catholicism is undeniably a significant and laudable academic undertaking. . . . Wright Rios brings to life the complexities of faithful devotion in the regional Catholic communities, the dynamic and sometimes contentious relationship between clergy and laypersons, as well as the ongoing negotiation and evolving interpenetration of Catholic religious traditions and indigenous customs and understandings of faith and the Divine. . . .[C]ertainly it should be hoped that more work from Wright-Rios is on the horizon.” — Mark Noll, Missiology

“This is a deeply researched and subtly argued study. It combines assessment of the institutional church and popular religion in helpful and analytically fruitful ways. It will appeal to students of religion in Latin America, of the Mexican Revolution, and of the relationships between state and church and between Church and religion.” — Martin Nesvig, History: Reviews of New Books

“Wright-Rios has produced an elegantly written book that reflects a deep knowledge of colonial and national Mexican and Mexicanist historiography. This carefully researched and thoughtfully articulated study is a major contribution to the rethinking of Mexican Catholicism and Mexican Catholics in a country whose formal constitutions (1857, 1917) and political elites have been prevalently oriented to secular liberalism, national development and social reform since the mid-nineteenth century, and especially after the revolution of 1910.” — Brian Connaughton, The Americas

“Wright-Rios’s meticulously researched, engaging, and cautiously argued study is a model of balanced scholarship and essential reading for anyone interested in Mexican religious history.” — Adrian A. Bantjes, Catholic Historical Review

“This excellent book is accessible to upper level undergraduates and graduates.”  — Brett Hendrickson, Religious Studies Review

“Wright-Rios’s work is similarly pioneering…[A] smart and innovative book.”  — Erika Helgen, Journal of Religious History

Revolutions in Mexican Catholicism is an important and much-needed exploration of the evolution of religion, both popular and ecclesiastical, from the late nineteenth century to the coming of Lázaro Cárdenas in 1934. Shrewdly avoiding stark dichotomies in favor of understanding how popular needs and practices interacted with church projects, Edward Wright-Rios offers multifaceted insight into the religious experience of turn-of-the-century Oaxacans.” — Terry Rugeley, author of Of Wonders and Wise Men: Religion and Popular Cultures in Southeast Mexico, 1800–1876

Revolutions in Mexican Catholicism is original, important, and deeply and creatively researched. A pioneering regional study of church and religion in the early twentieth century, it makes an important contribution to the literature on negotiated modernity in Latin America and to an understanding of the local reworking of Catholicism in Oaxaca in a time of troubles for the church and the Mexican polity. It is a rare achievement.” — William Taylor, author of Magistrates of the Sacred: Priests and Parishoners in Eighteenth-Century Mexico


Availability: In stock
Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Edward Wright-Rios is Assistant Professor of History at Vanderbilt University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Moving the Faithful 1

Part I. Reform
The Clergy and Catholic Resurgence

1. An Enterprising Archbishop 43

2. Crowning Images 73

3. The Spirit of Association 98

Part II. Revelation
Indigenous Apparitions and Innovations

4. Catholics in Their Own Way 141

5. Christ Comes to Tlacoxcalco 164

6. The Second Juan Diego 206

7. The Gender Dynamics of Devotion 242

Picturing Mexican Catholicism 271

Notes 291

Bibliography 335

Index 355

Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2010 MacLeod Book Prize (presented by the Latin American and Caribbean Section of the Southern Historical Association)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4379-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4357-8
Publicity material