Dynamics of ritual and ceremony at the metropolitan cathedral of Mexico, 1700-1750

Ramos Kittrell, Jesús Alejandro
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The explosion of research on Mexican colonial polyphony has consistently stressed the grandeur of sacred music performance at the Cathedral of Mexico City. These studies, however, have failed to account for the social dynamics embedded in colonial religious practices to which music performance was essential. Important liturgical celebrations, like the feast of Corpus Christi, featured an elaborate production for the observance of ceremonies such as the mass, the Divine Office, the general procession, as well as other privately sponsored rituals. Far from magnificent, religious festivities during the eighteenth century were dearly impacted by political and economical forces surrounding the Metropolitan See. Problems in the internal economy of the cathedral accentuated a recession that invariably affected religious celebrations. The meager collection of tithes along with the downfall in value of real estate investments curtailed income sources necessary to cover expenses for religious celebrations. The necessity to pay salaries for chaplains, musicians and priests, as well as debts incurred by a poor administration of internal capital, forced the cathedral to use funds from private endowments originally allocated for the celebration of specific ceremonies during the Corpus Christi octave, thereby jeopardizing ritual celebrations in this important occasion. In some cases, the deteriorated finances even presented the cathedral with the possibility of canceling the celebration of some rituals during the octave, such as the Mass of Renovation of the Holy Sacrament. The aim of this study is to examine archival information thus far neglected in order to derive a critical contextual assessment for the performance of ritual and ceremony at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City during the first half of the eighteenth century. In light of newly uncovered evidence, this study argues that the imagined splendor and magnificence of religious celebrations, and thus, of sacred musical practices in New Spain, has fallen short of an earnest appraisal of historical fact.