Santa Ana de Velasco mission, Bolivia. Photo Copyright by Geoffrey A. P. Groesbeck
Santa Ana de Velasco mission, Bolivia. Photo Copyright by Geoffrey A. P. Groesbeck

Who Constructed the Mission Churches? Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos (Bolivia)

Evanescence and Permanence: Toward an Accurate Understanding of the Legacy of the Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos.

Written by Geoffrey A. P. Groesbeck

– Part 2: How Many Jesuit Missions Were Founded?

Who Constructed the Mission Churches?

Another often-repeated error is that the first permanent (not provisional) churches of the mission complexes, or conjuntos misionales, of the Jesuit missions in the Chiquitania were constructed by a single individual, invariably assumed to be Fr. Martin Schmid.

Schmid did indeed construct a church, or templo as it is called in the Chiquitania – that of San Rafael de Velasco – and assisted in the building of at least two others, those of San Xavier and Concepción. He was a voluminous writer, apparently more so than at least the Jesuits who built the remaining churches. Furthermore, much of his correspondence – but little of that of the other builders – has been preserved, most recently by Kühne.1

Consequently, there is ample evidence of his handiwork, and far less of that of other Jesuit architects. Even so, there is nothing to suggest that simply because Schmid’s work is well documented he should ipso facto receive credit for constructing all of the Jesuit churches, which, given their dates of construction, would be impossible in any case.

Altar Mayor, Concepción mission, Bolivia. Photo Copyright by Geoffrey A. P. Groesbeck.

Altar Mayor, Concepción mission, Bolivia. Photo Copyright by Geoffrey A. P. Groesbeck.

In fact, there is no longer any doubt in scholarly circles that Schmid did not build all of the Jesuit churches of Chiquitos. But earlier researchers reading his letters often jumped to the conclusion that as he built or had a hand in building those of which he wrote, he likely was the builder of others as well, yet with no supporting evidence for this claim. Subsequent research and discoveries by Roth and others have confirmed that the remaining templos were constructed by different parties. Additional corroborating information has come to light in the form of new primary resource materials, overlooked or unknown by earlier researchers, which point to other builders beside Schmid.

In some cases, there still remain doubts as to exactly who constructed which church, but the pieces of the puzzle are coming together as new documents – many of which remain uncatalogued and in manuscript form – are discovered. The following table presents the information as it is known today. The dates in the last column reflect the status of an existing church, with the caveat that it is not necessarily a Jesuit church.2

JESUIT CHURCHES IN THE CHIQUITANIA

Settlement

(Original Name)

Jesuit Church Built by

When

Current Status

San Xavier

San Francisco Xavier [de los Piñocas]

Fr. Martin Schmid,

Fr. Johann Messner

B 1749-523

R Roth, et al., 1987-93

San Rafael de Velasco

Fr. Martin Schmid

B 1745-49

R Roth, et al., 1972-79

San José de ChiquitosSan José [de los Borós]

Fr. Bartolomé de Mora?

B c. 1745-604

R Roth, et al., 1988-2010

San Juan Bautista

San Juan Bautista [de los Xamarus]

Fr. Martin Schmid?

B by 17455;

P/B 1772 (after relocation)

F 1781;

P/B 1783;

B 1798-1800;

F 1811;

P/B by 1834

ruins of second Jesuit church at 1717-1772 site;

B c. 1960 1st modern church at San Juan de Taperas;

B 2009-12 modern church at Taperas

Concepción

La Inmaculada Concepción

Fr. Martin Schmid,

Fr. Johann Messner

B 1752-55

R Roth, et al., 1975-82

San Ignacio [de Boococas]

unknown

P/B unknown;

A 1712

nothing remains

San Ignacio [de Zamucos]

unknown

P?/B unknown;

D 1748

nothing remains

San Miguel de Velasco

San Miguel Arcángel

probably Fr. Johann Messner,

with Antonio Rojas

B c. 1752-596

R Roth, et al., 1973-83

San Ignacio de Velasco

San Ignacio de Loyola de Velasco

Fr. Johann Messner,

with Antonio Rojas?

B by 1761;

A 1942;

D 1948;

P/B 1948;

D 1964;

B modern church 1964-68

A 1979

RC (Jesuit church) Roth, et al., 1972-94

Santiago de Chiquitos

Santiago Apóstol

unknown

B c. 1762-71;

A by 1793;

RC 1793;

D 1880

B (modern church) 1916-20

Santa Ana de Velasco

unknown

B c. 1773-807

R Roth, et al., 1997-2001

Santo Corazón

Santo Corazón de Jesús de Chiquitos

unknown

B by 17958

F c. 1851

B (modern church) 1875

B Built A Abandoned

P Provisional D Destroyed

R Restored RC Reconstructed

F Burned

– Part 4: How Did the Jesuits of Chiquitos Communicate with the Jesuits of Paraguay? The Way Forward, Success and Failure

NOTES:

1 See Eckart Kühne, ed., Las misiones jesuíticas de Bolivia: Martin Schmid, 1694-1772; Misionero, músico y arquitecto entre los chiquitanos (Santa Cruz de la Sierra: Asociación Suiza por la Cultura Pro Helvetica, 1996).

2 By “church” is meant the physical building itself, not the entire conjunto misional. In some cases (e.g., San Xavier, Santa Ana de Velasco, San José de Chiquitos) restoration on other areas of the complex continues.

3 This was the second church and first “permanent” one erected in San Xavier; a provisional one was constructed c. 1725-6. See Kühne, “Historia Breve de los Pueblos de Chiquitos y de sus Edificios Patrimoniales”, p. 2.

4 This was the third church and first “permanent” one erected in San José de Chiquitos; provisional ones were constructed before 1723 and again by 1731 (and subsequently restored in 1739). See Kühne, op. cit., p. 20.

5 This was the second church and first “permanent” one erected in San Juan Bautista; a provisional one was constructed before 1731. See Kühne, op. cit., p. 24.

6This was the second church and first “permanent” one erected in San Miguel de Velasco; a provisional one was constructed c. 1725. See Kühne, op. cit., p. 8.

7 This was the third church and first “permanent” one erected in Santa Ana de Velasco; provisional ones were constructed by 1762 and again in 1772. See Kühne, op. cit., p. 13.

8 This was the second church and first “permanent” one erected in Santo Corazón; a provisional one was constructed by 1762. See Kühne, op. cit., p. 28.

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