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Ir más allá…

Ir más allá…

Binková, Simona Křížová, Markéta

subjects: Latin American studies, religion
series: Ibero-Americana Pragensia Supplementum

hardcover, 248 pp., 1. edition
published: june 2016
ISBN: 978-80-246-2928-5
recommended price: 290 czk



This monograph describes activities of the missionaries from the Czech branch of the Society of Jesus who were active in the Spanish overseas colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries, specifically in Mexico and the Philippines. Using hitherto unpublished, and in some cases even previously unknown archived material, the scholars analyze not only the actual missionary work, but also the image the missionaries created of the territories where they worked and of themselves in the light of the dramatic economic, social and cultural transformations that were taking place both in Europe and in the overseas dependencies at the time.


Evidence of abundant tricontinental spiritual and material contacts, images of natural and cultural diversity, enchantment and deep disillusion: all this is revealed to us if we sail with the Jesuits of the Bohemian province through the Pillars of Hercules and beyond (más allá) in the direction of Veracruz and often further, through Acapulco to the shores of the Philippines and the Mariana Islands. We are invited to join in such an intellectual adventure by the collective monograph edited by the Ibero-Americanists Simona Binková and Markéta Křížová who have a wealth of scholarly experience in mapping the voyages of discovery of Bohemian travellers, sailors and explorers. Their co-authors are their colleagues, the agronomy graduate and traveller Pavel Fochler, the archaeologist and geographer Carlos Lazcano Sahagún, the ethnologist Ondřej Pokorný, and the mediaevalist and Latinist Pavel Zavadil.
The book key aim is to analyse and evaluate the image of Spanish colonial expansion represented in the texts (correspondence, other manuscripts and printed works) of Bohemian, Moravian and Silesian Jesuits. It presents these men not only as intellectuals Christianising the "pagan” world, important witnesses, chroniclers, and sometimes even critics of the process of colonialization, but also as curious individuals, who were fascinated by the radical otherness of the New World, longed for knowledge of the unknown and strived likewise to fulfil their particular aims; as individuals who experienced the daily suffering of trans-oceanic reality and who, despite the acceptance of new identities, remained linked with their home environment. Their accounts are valuable also because this interpretation of mechanisms of the conquest and colonisation of the New World represents "the perspective of a third party” (p. to).
Although the literature on the issue of the Jesuit missions in the New World is large and varied, as the editors themselves admit, one cannot but agree with their conviction that there is more that remains unexamined. On the one hand, much material has yet to be discovered, or at least reflected on, and that which has already been studied in detail can be revisited through the prism of other, new approaches. In the same way, it is also possible to deal with the thinking of personalities at first glance "notoriously” well-known in the context of other discourses. The book Ir más allá undoubtedly not only opens up new perspectives but also presents some previously unknown sources and selected themes until now somewhat marginalised.
The individual chapters are relatively diverse in content and in form (but sufficiently well connected thematically). They include a systematic introduction dedicated to the issues under examination, descriptive overviews, and a case study that would almost stand up as a detective story, as well as factual descriptions of everyday life in overseas missions. The introduction Nuevos modos de acercarse a las misiones jesuitas ultramarinas is by Markéta Křížová and Simona Binková, who also co-author most of the chapters and, as is usual, present the aim of the publication, define the working methodology and sketch the terrain under examination.
The first chapter - La actuación de los jesuítas de la Provincia de Bohemia en las colonias españolas de ultramar, siglos XVII y XVIII - deals above all, as the subtitle suggests, with Bohemian missionaries who worked in the North of New Spain. Markéta Křížová begins by introducing readers thoroughly and systematically to the issues under investigation, acquainting then with the basic categories, events and dates connected with the inauguration of Jesuit activities in the New World. She writes of the specific conditions of the missions of non-Spanish Jesuits and later briefly devotes herself to introducing the Bohemian missionaries working in the northern region of New Spain (A. Gilg, J. Hostinský, D. Januske, V. Eymer, J. Steinhöfer, I. J. Keller, K. Neumayer, A. Tempis, J. Stenzei, I. Tirsch and V. Linek).
In the second chapter - Contribución de los jesuitas de la Provincia de Bohemia para la euangelización de las islas Filipinas y Marianas y para su conocimiento en Europa Central - Simona Binková presents the first complex overview of Jesuits from the Bohemian province in the Philippines and Mariana (not only with discussion of the well-known personalities - A. Strobach, J. Tilpe, M. Cuculin, P. Klein and J. Camel - but also information about less well-known members of the Society of Jesus who set out from Bohemia on the distant mission to the Philippines and the Marian Islands). This achievement deserves credit; although according to the author it is only a "first attempt”, it is evident that the text is based on a very thorough and critical selection and synthesis of a variety of archivaba. Moreover, the chapter is a promising basis for further research that will enrich the existing partial study.
The following chapter by Markéta Křížová, Identidades inciertas de los misioneros jesuitas centroeuropeos, brings an analytical and multi-layered view into the "national” theme of the Jesuit missionaries at the general and the specific (i.e. Central European) level. The author vividly discusses the issues of cultural obstacles, prejudices and antipathies from different angles, not only as regards the relation of the European missionaries to the non-European population, but above all within the Jesuit Order itself (the relationship between "German”, i.e. Central European vs. Spanish), which usually presented itself as homogenous and centralised. Alongside specific manifestations of affiliation to the Bohemian and German provinces, Křížová also describes the tendency of Central European Jesuits at the same time to identify themselves with the reality of the American continent and manifest a (formal) loyalty to the Spanish king.
The author of the fourth chapter Frustración y desilusión de los jesuitas bohemios en las misiones del Neuvo Mundo Pavel Zavadil who wrote the dissertation Bohemia jesuítica in Indiis Occidentalibus which includes a critical edition of the Bohemian Jesuits’ Latin correspondence from America. He also published selection of these letters in Czech, Čeští jezuité objevují Nový svět. Dopisy a zprávy o plavbách, cestách a Živobytí z Ameriky, Filipín, 1657-1741 (Czech Jesuits discover the New World. Letters and reports about voyages, journeys and livelihood from America and the Philippines, 1657-1741), in which Simona Binková participated as a co-author of annotations. Both of these works are valuable sources on which all the chapters of this collective monograph draw. Zavadil’s chapter reveals the different, more subjective perspective of the (everyday) reality of the Central European missionaries in the New World. Having studied the personal correspondence, he avoids trivialising generalisations in his lively presentation of the impulses motivating the decisions by the Central European missionaries to embark on a journey to far countries, and the early idealism which initially accompanied their stay in the New World (as was already standard with European explorers) and which, after encountering numerous obstacles, frequently turned into a particular disillusion, exhaustion and frustration.
Chapter Five, La herencia jesuítica y la Ilustración: el caso de la geografía y cartografía del Noroeste de México, is a cooperative work by Simona Binková and Carlos Lazcan Sahagún. In a relatively broad context it presents primarily the geographical and cartographical activity of the Bohemian Jesuit Adam Gilg in the north east of New Spain. This section examines inter alia the Jesuit sources of the Malaspina expedition, and presents a discussion on the (pen)insular nature of California, and legends connected with the north of New Spain. The text offers a partial and inspiring look into the scholarly activities of (not only) Bohemian Jesuits in the New World that undoubtedly deserve further and deeper attention.
The following chapter by Markéta Křížová, Los misioneros jesuitas y la competición internacional por América: El caso de José Göbel y su memorial al emperador, is a case study of the specific fate of a Bohemian Jesuit who, returning from New Spain, was arrested and, on the basis of his texts, accused of secret activities of a political or missionary nature. Křížová has produced not only an erudite but also readable analysis and investigation of this case, in the course of which she presents three potential explanations and inclines to one of them. At the same time she makes a critical interpretation of selected aspects of José Göbel’s work and shows how much the ideas of the time and theoretical concepts (specifically mercantilism and somewhat naive geographical ideas) were projected into it. It could also have been enriching to take into consideration the philosophical context, especially with regard to the fact that the work can be perceived, as Markéta Křížová suggests, as being close to the current European tradition of philosophical travel books (such as Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels'). The reader has a pleasant surprise in finding attached the above-mentioned work by Göbel about the German colonisation of the North East of New Spain (El memorial de José Göbel, acerca de la la colonización alemana en el Noroeste de Neuva España), both as the surviving version in the author’s original orthography, and as a transcription into modern Spanish.
The seventh chapter by Pavel Fochler, Las islas Marianas y el Padre Agustín Strobach, S. J., lures us to the distant Marianas by means of a detailed and colourful biography of Agustín Strobach. It actually consists of the narrative of Strobach’s early years, his intellectual shaping, and the events that accompanied his early decision to set out for the New World, as well as his journey and the work on the Mariana Islands that eventually ended in his tragic martyrdom. Strobach’s detailed descriptions of the culture and countryside are included to the chapter.
Thanks to this part the reader not only gets to know Strobach’s difficult fate and perception of the radically different reality of the Marianas, but can imagine more tangibly the general nature of the Jesuit journey from Central Europe to the New World.
Ondřej Pokorný’s penultimate chapter La botánica a la vuelta de los siglos XVII y XVIII y Jorge José Camel, S. J. presents an incontestably well-funded picture of Camel’s botanical and pharmacological activities, clearly characterised and classified by the author. One can appreciate that he is interested not only in Camel’s texts, but also in his illustrations and nature collections. Such topics as Camel’s relationships with the Royal Society in London, his correspondence with other Jesuits, and the Jesuit relationships with the Dominican Order, are undoubtedly stimulating and hold potential for further investigation. Pokorný convincingly sets Camel’s work in the context of the Enlightenment, but is less successful with his generalising evaluations of preceding periods. When speaking of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, he mentions only such as accounts of "distant lands” which are by their nature predominantly mythological, belonging to classical and medieval traditions. Yet, numerous works originated in the sixteenth century, above all at the request of the Spanish empire, that can be considered as "modern”, that is, founded on a thorough empirical study of the New World’s nature and in many respects critical of period’s textual tradition. One can mention the work of Francisco Hernández (from 1570 "the first doctor of the Indies”, protomédico de las Indias) Historia natural de Nueva España, that includes inter alia descriptions of approximately 3,000 plants (see e.g. Pardo Tomás, López Piñero, S. Varrey etc.) as one of the most representative examples. In the next chapter Simona Binková menlions the work of Hernández (more precisely its later Mexican Ximénez edilion) as a text which Camel probably requested in correspondence with Šimon Boruhradský (Pokorný himself mentions this correspondence). One cannot agree either with the generally formulated thesis that in the seventeenth century earlier "fictional” descriptions were replaced by considerably more realistic descriptions from the hand of bureaucrats and missionaries, also because in many cases the seventeenth-century historiae naturalis of the New World began, at least to a certain measure, to incline away from empirical investigation more markedly in the direction of biblical and symbolic exegesis of the natural world. Camel’s "pioneering” role in the field of botanical illustration could likewise be a subject of discussion.
In the final chapter, less extensive than the others, El triángulo de Bohemia - México - Las islas Filipinas y Marianas, Simona Binková analyses the relationships, both direct and mediated, of members of the Society of Jesus in the context of the Bohemian-Mexican-Philippine/Mariana triangle, including the previously mentioned "New World” correspondence of Jorge José Camel and Šimon Boruhradský, as well as that of J. Steinhöfer and, operating on Bohemian soil, P. Emmanuel de Boye. She convincingly remodels the relationship under examination.
The formal side of the publication is also at a very high level, from the point of view of both the sophislicalion and precision of the notes and the language, which remains fresh and attractive. An index of names which would help one to orient oneself in the text, and a comprehensive list of sources and other literature which would be of great help too are regrettably missing.
On the whole one can say that the monograph is not only an exploit beyond the legendary Pillars of Hercules with individual members of the Bohemian province, but a meaningful expansion of the horizons of all readers interested in the Jesuit mission in the New World, whether its historical and ideological dimension or its cultural and social implications in the broad sense. Above all, credit has to be given to the work of Simona Binková and Markéta Křížová as authors, editors and translators who present the reader with a text distinctive for undeniable qualities, revealing not only new sources but also providing intellectual impulses for further investigation and reflection.

Jana Černá, Acta Comeniana, 30/LIV/2016, 237-242, International Review of Comenius Studies and Early Modern Intellectual History

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