San Xavier mission, Bolivia. Photo Copyright by Geoffrey A. P. Groesbeck.
San Xavier mission, Bolivia. Photo Copyright by Geoffrey A. P. Groesbeck.

The Long Silence: The Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos after the Extrañamiento

Written by Geoffrey A P Groesbeck


There is much still to discover regarding the early history of the Jesuit missions (reducciones1) of Chiquitos2 (1691-1767). By now it has been reasonably well documented3, albeit in greater detail in Spanish and German than in English. Over the last three decades, scholarly research on these missions’ individual and collective artistic, musical, and religious expressions and traditions has contributed valuable information that has increased our understanding of this unique hybrid culture.4 It also has led to further studies in other fields, including acculturation studies, ethnology, Latin American colonial history, missiology, and sociology.

Until the devastating fires of 2019 and 2020 (and resurgent again in 2021, even as this paper is written) put the region largely off limits, a by-product of earlier investigations was a modest but sustained growth in cultural tourism, first hinted at in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s inscription of six Chiquitos churches (templos) and mission complexes (complejos)5 as World Heritage Sites in 19906, subsequently furthered by the outstanding work of the Santa Cruz de la Sierra7-based Asociación Pro Arte y Cultura, chiefly through its increasingly popular biennial musical festival “Misiones de Chiquitos”.8 Other groups are also active in the cause of responsible tourism, and the nascent emphasis on cultural tourism may one day prove the surest path to providing a much-needed sustainable development mechanism in the region.9

But the history of these missions following the expulsion of the Jesuits’ (Extrañamiento) is a very different story. It is rarely taken into account in any form or language. This long silence of more than 250 years has obscured or even erased large sections of the area’s post-colonial history, making any understanding of the earlier colonial period difficult and prone to error-laden inferences.10 With the exception of a few travelogues11 and a handful of obscure works12, little has been documented on the more than two centuries that passed from the departure of the Jesuits in 1767 to the initial restoration efforts of templos and complejos led by Hans Roth in the late 1970s. A danger thus exists that the post-expulsion history of these former reducciones will be lost or left open to misunderstanding by selective interpretation.

Until recently, the story of the Chiquitos settlements after 1767 was shrouded in mystery and incoherent. Yet we know that in the face of insuperable odds, the impoverished inhabitants of the area – first the indigenous peoples and then the settlers who replaced them – never entirely forgot or discontinued the unique, syncretic practices that had been adopted with Jesuit encouragement centuries before. Instead, they held onto and passed them along, in many cases virtually intact, from generation to generation until the beginning of the current century. (A handful of these, in particular certain dances and processions, exist unchanged to this day.) If a seventeenth-century Jesuit missionary were to find himself now on the dusty streets of most of these communities, he likely would find much as he left it centuries ago.

Were the history of these towns to be told factually, an interesting story would emerge. It would encompass not just the enforced departure of the Jesuits, but also the steady erosion of the reducciones as they spiralled into a state of lassitude and decline at the hands of secular clergy, followed by their transfer to another Catholic religious order, the Franciscans (who still exercise spiritual control in many of the Chiquitania settlements13) before being revived – ironically – by Jesuit interest in their preservation, starting in 1957 and culminating in the arrival of Hans Roth (then still a Jesuit) in 1972. To understand what these towns’ role in the regional and national history of Bolivia has been, what they represent today, and what their future as viable communities may be, it is imperative that this long silence be broken and an accurate account be made.

The Expulsion and Its Immediate Aftermath (1767-1776)

In historical hindsight, the Extrañamiento now seems almost a foregone conclusion given the economic and political backdrops of the time. The Chiquitos reducciones were phenomenally successful establishments in every regard, and eventually and inevitably were caught up in a battle between two colonial powers, Spain and Portugal. The latter’s slave traders (mamelucos) in nearby Brazil wanted to expand westward, while the Santa Cruz de la Sierra-based ranchers with enormous encomiendas and estancias coveted the fertile lands of the mission settlements further east. It did not help matters that thriving economies and a well-ordered way of life had earned these settlements much jealousy on the part of the civil authorities. The missions, scattered throughout the vast Chiquitania, were semi-independent states, with their own royal exemptions, laws, and even private militias. After observing several decades of unprecedented prosperity, both powers were suspicious of the reducciones’ obscure political status and sought to exploit it.

The Jesuit presence in Chiquitos officially came to an end on 27 February 1767, when the Spanish king Carlos III (1759-1788) ordered the expulsion of all Jesuits from of his realms.14 Those in Portuguese Brazil had been expelled in 1759; France’s Louis XV (1715-1774), under extreme pressure, reluctantly followed suit in 1764. The Extrañamiento included the scarcely two dozen15 missionaries who watched over the vast territories of Chiquitos and Moxos. The Jesuits as a meaningful entity were through, although the Order was not officially suppressed by Pope Clement XIV in 177316, to be revived by Pope Pius VII in 1814.

By September 1767, all but one of the missionaries in Chiquitos had been forcibly removed and most of the inhabitants of the reducciones had abandoned them for the forests from whence they had come. The majority of the Jesuits themselves, most of whom were aged and many of whom were ill and undernourished, died as a result of hardships endured in the long overland journey to Lima and from there to Europe.17 One of the most famous, the polymath Martin Schmid (known to have built at least three of the Chiquitos templos), survived the return voyage and died in his native Switzerland.18 The last Jesuit to leave the area was the elderly Narciso Patzi on 10 May 1768, his departure delayed due to a grave illness. He was slung on the back of a horse and died soon afterwards.19

With the Jesuits gone, the settlements quickly fell into disarray. Oversight was given to cruceños who governed in absentia from Santa Cruz de la Sierra. They set about confiscating the property and goods that the Jesuits and natives had painstakingly acquired and conserved for decades. It was wholesale looting in every respect, with even some clergy involved.20 The attrition of population was relentless. The pre-expulsion high of at least 24,188 inhabitants21 throughout the eleven settlements in the Chiquitania in 1767 is a figure that does not include non-baptised residents; the actual number might have been as high as 37,000.22 Just two years later, the population of the missions had fallen to 19,482.23

In 1776, the government of the Chiquitania (then a much larger territory than now) was militarised by the Spanish Crown and administered from the newly created, far-away Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata in what is now Argentina. In ecclesiastical terms, all of the reducciones had been secularised nearly a decade before by the Dominican Bishop Francisco Ramón Herboso y Figueroa, with the Diocese of Santa Cruz de la Sierra assuming spiritual control. Herboso wanted nothing to do with the Chiquitos settlements, and proposed (unsuccessfully) to translate the diocesan see to Cochabamba.24 Under his authority, secular priests from Santa Cruz de la Sierra operated with complete independence, in most cases as absentee clerics.

Even so, in the first decade or so after the expulsion and the subsequent departure of many of the towns’ first inhabitants, certain efforts were made to maintain their buildings. The original templo of one of the last reducciones to be founded (1755), Santa Ana de Velasco, likely was constructed by the town’s inhabitants at this time. Most scholars date its construction to between 1770 and 1790.25 Improvements also were made to the templos of San Miguel de Velasco (1767-69), San Rafael de Velasco (1770), and San Ignacio de Velasco (ca 1772), all possibly by the noted artisan Antonio Rojas.26 Beyond these isolated examples, however, there is little information to indicate the settlements did anything but decline further.

The Half-Century to Independence (1776-1825)

This steady spiral downward continued apace over the next half-century or so, as the former reducciones fell into a state of decrepitude. Bishop Herboso was named archbishop of La Plata (now Sucre) in 1776. His successor but one, Alejandro José de Ochea, made a courageous decision to inform the viceroy that “the decadence of the [Chiquitos] missions was now manifest everywhere” and proposed that spiritual control over them be taken away from the cruceño clergy (of which he himself was one) and handed over to the Franciscans27, something that came to pass, but not for many decades. Ochea died in 1791, and his immediate successors continued Herboso’s policy of heavy-handed rule from Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Administratively, one change of note was that in 1804 Santa Ana de Velasco was made the provincial capital (it had been San Xavier until then).28

These turbulent years saw Spain’s grip on the area weaken, but not loosen completely until 1825. In the intervening years, several uprisings took place throughout eastern Bolivia (then still technically part of the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata). The first was the 20 August 1809 rebellion in Santa Cruz de la Sierra.29 A little more than six years later, on 07 October 1815, the now long-forgotten but bloody Battle of Santa Bárbara30 took place outside of San Rafael de Velasco. This was the only known fight waged in Chiquitos during Bolivia’s War of Independence (1809-1825).

In one of the great ironies of South American history, on that date the future Bolivian independence leader Ignacio Warnes (he was himself Argentine), slaughtered roughly one thousand Chiquitano, who had been duped into fighting for the Spanish crown. Some accounts still note that Warnes defeated a contingent of “Spanish” troops outside of Santa Bárbara. The statement is barely truthful: almost every “soldier” was a Chiquitano who had been told he was fighting against slavers and bandits.

The few revolutionaries (almost none of whom were Bolivians) who fell fighting under Warnes’ command are nonetheless numbered amongst the first martyrs in Bolivia’s struggle for independence. The hapless Chiquitano who died without understanding what had occurred are rarely mentioned. For all purposes and intents, the battle was a pointless slaughter. After realising the Chiquitano conscripts had been deceived by the Royalists, Warnes enlisted many of the survivors into his own army.31

For another decade the missions veered from serving royalist armies to revolutionary sympathisers, but for the most part were untouched by the long struggle for independence…as far as we know. As the historian Tonelli noted, the years between 1810 and 1825 are among the least studied in the country’s history, and events in Chiquitos during this period are only tangentially known.32

The Jesuit reducción system – highly regarded for its economic efficiency and consistent ability to generate surpluses – remained in place in the towns of the region, only with less autonomy and fewer inhabitants to contribute to the enterprise. On 15 February 1825, the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra declared itself independent of Spain,33 on 6 August allowing itself to be annexed to the newly formed Republic of Bolivia34 (until then known as Upper Peru).

As the now ex-missions sank further into oblivion, their remaining inhabitants assumed a greater role in the care of their still-beautiful templos and complejos. With the Jesuits gone and the secular clergy of Santa Cruz de la Sierra rarely present, townspeople passed on traditions that the original indigenous inhabitants had forged with the Jesuits, and must have maintained maintained their churches (in some cases making extensive renovations) based solely on what they remembered or had heard passed down from others who knew these reducciones in the days of the Jesuits. Primary-source documentation for who performed this work is almost unknown, but some evidence exists that this labour of love was carried out by local artesans and others in the Velasco communities of San Ignacio, Santa Ana, San Miguel, San Rafael, and most likely elsewhere.35

Independence to Mid-Century (1825-1850)

Bolivia’s declaration of independence, far from defining matters, immediately plunged the Chiquitania into a state of chaos. The last royalist governor of Chiquitos, Sebastián Ramos,36 in early March of 1825 persuaded the new republic to allow him to retain his post. Almost immediately after assuming his new role, he offered to turn the territory over to Brazil, at that time an empire under Pedro I (1822-1831). On 14 April 1825, Brazil obliged, declaring Ramos its governor in the region, and annexing it to the state of Mato Grosso. Eleven days later, Brazil sent 200 troops to the region to back up its claim and took the provincial capital of Santa Ana de Velasco without a shot being fired.37

In response, the Bolivian general (and soon to become the country’s second president), Mariscal Antonio José de Sucre, threatened to pacify the region by force and called for Ramos’ execution as a traitor. However, diplomacy took its place, and the anticipated reprisal never came. Within two months, the Brazilian government decided the situation was not to its liking and the tiny reducciones not worth fighting over. After looting the templos of Santa Ana de Velasco and San Rafael de Velaco, it withdrew. By year’s end, the matter was resolved and the Chiquitania had returned to Bolivia, amazingly, with Ramos still its governor, albeit from the safety of Brazil.38

After his self-imposed exile, Ramos petitioned successfully to return to Bolivia, set up shop in Santo Corazón as its de facto mayor, and later was made a territorial judge and ambassador without portfolio by the same government that nearly had him killed.39 In 1844, he played an important role in the development of San Matías, an outpost on the Brazilian border, although he did not, as Tonelli claims,40 found the town. He remained in the Chiquitania until his death, living a comfortable existence as a rancher, smuggler, and well-respected man of affairs.

By the time the French explorer Alcides D’Orbigny visited the missions in 1830-141, although the towns culturally were still similar to what they had been in the Jesuits’ heyday, their economic, political, and social decline was even more painfully evident than it had been to Bishop Ochea decades before.42 Most of the templos and their complejos continued to be improved at the peoples’ expense but suffered irreversible decay.

San Juan Bautista, plagued by a devastating fire in 1811, lost its templo completely and was relocated (and renamed San Juan de Taperas) by 1830, by which time the original settlement was no more.43 All but three of the eleven settlements had fewer inhabitants than they contained more than a half-century before. In 1830, the population stood at an all-time low of 15,316.44 The few remaining indigenous peoples fled the missions now under the oppressive administration of the Bolivian government, returning to the same forests from which they were first called by the Jesuit missionaries a century earlier. Those who remained found themselves little better than chattel, contending with newly arriving settlers from Santa Cruz de la Sierra for even the most basic civil rights.

In 1840, almost 50 years after his death, Bishop Ochea’s suggestion was partly carried out: The Franciscans, once rivals of the Jesuits for spiritual control over Bolivia, were given charge of the formerly Jesuit missions of Guarayos and Moxos45, two territories that bordered the Chiquitania to the west. This action was to have enormous and permanent consequences for the reducciones of Chiquitos, although for the next several years these remained firmly under the control of the secular Santa Cruz de la Sierra-based clergy. In economic terms, very little changed. Gold was discovered in the far western reaches of the department in 1847,46 but it had little effect on the mission towns.

During these years of isolation and further decay, the remaining inhabitants somehow managed – perhaps due to their isolation – if not to improve, at least to preserve their templos (although less so the complejos), all of them by now almost a century old. Apart from the efforts of Kühne, very little has been recorded on these endeavours outside of some scattered comments in Las Misiones Jesuitas.47 A telling comment was made by the French explorer, the Comte de Castelnau, who visited the region in 1842. After seeing Santa Ana de Velasco’s lovely church (which had been looted less than two decades before by the Brazilians), he wrote “This beautiful building, surrounded by gardens, presents one of the most impressive views imaginable.”48

The Silent Century: The End of the Reducción Era, the End of the Chaco War and Beyond (1850-1957)

More than 80 years after the last Jesuit left the Chiquitos missions, the remaining vestiges of the reducción system, once so successful and the envy of two colonial powers, were erased forever. However, the date proposed by Tonelli – 1851 – is arbitrary. As he notes, 49 there was no official decree or order mandating the abolition of the old system; it simply had become extinct by the middle of the nineteenth century.

By that time, a demographic shift had occurred in the region: For the first time, recent mestizo immigrants from elsewhere in Santa Cruz Department outnumbered the original inhabitants (who were mostly Ayoreo, Chiquitano, Guarayo, and a few Guaraní, along with many smaller sub-families such as the Chiriguano and Zamuco). These new settlers were not indigenous peoples used to a shared existence and amenable to paternal oversight, but instead full Bolivian citizens with guaranteed legal rights, and a hunger for land. By 1880, the initial trickle of immigrants had become a flood.50 The few older families resident in the ex missions were evicted from their dwellings; those who remained were pressed into a feudal existence little better than outright slavery. 51

On 12 October 1880, Bolivian president General Narciso Campero authorised the creation of the province of [José Miguel] Velasco, named after a former general and four-time president. San Ignacio de Velasco was made the capital, haven taken the reins of power from much-smaller Santa Ana de Velasco a few years earlier. The Chiquitos settlements were now divided between two provinces: Chiquitos and Velasco. Thirty-five years later, a new province was carved out of Chiquitos: Ñuflo de Chávez (named for the explorer and founder of what became the departmental capital, Santa Cruz de la Sierra).

The former reducciones were now politically divided between the provinces of Ñuflo de Chávez, encompassing San Xavier and Concepción with the former as capital (later translated to Concepción); Velasco, with its capital San Ignacio de Velasco, as well as the towns of Santa Ana de Velasco, San Rafael de Velasco, and San Miguel de Velasco; and Chiquitos, with its capital of San José de Chiquitos, and the former missions of Santiago and Santo Corazón (the latter now a part of Angel Sandóval province).

At the same time that the province of Velasco was created, gum rubber began to assume an important role in the economic fortunes of the Chiquitos towns. The first “Golden Age of Rubber” (Auge de la Goma) began, and more settlers entered the region. The rubber boom did not last long, however, and by 1920 it was effectively over (with a brief resurgence just before and during World War Two), to be replaced by intensive ranching and agricultural pursuits.52

The natives saw themselves further marginalised and excluded from the economic gains these new commodities and activities brought to the region. Several agricultural and ranching entrepreneurs settled throughout the Chiquitania, establishing gigantic haciendas – in some respects later-day versions of colonial encomiendas – and raising cattle to supplement their earnings in the rubber sector. These new settlements did not replace the ex-missions, but whatever economic vitality there was in the old towns was diverted to the haciendas, which relied on local inhabitants for their workforce. In spite of nominal government protection53 and a few vocal critics, 54 in many ways the situation for the descendants of the original inhabitants of the missions had worsen 150 years after the Jesuits’ reluctant departures.

For all the developments that surrounded them, the former Jesuit missions of Chiquitos remained in a state of torpor until 1931, when Franciscan Order were given spiritual control over them.55 The Apostolic Vicariate of Chiquitos56 was established, with San Ignacio de Velasco as its seat. In the same year, another Franciscan, Berthold Bühl, was named its vicar apostolic, and Austrian Franciscan missionaries were put in charge of the former Chiquitos reducciones. By all accounts, the new missionaries would become much engaged in the daily lives of their inhabitants, and over the years did – and continue to do – much to improve their social standing.

On the other hand, the Chaco War (1932-1935), whilst a seminal date in forming the country’s collective conscience and much cited by historians as a turning point for Bolivia, did not affect the Chiquitos settlements as much as some have claimed. No battles were fought in the ex-reducciones, nor were the majority of Bolivia’s soldiers from the region (they came mainly from the altiplano to the far west).

World War II also came and went, leaving the settlements untouched. The railroad arrived, in stages, between 1939 and 195557, but as it passed through only San José de Chiquitos amongst the former reducciones, little localised economic benefit was derived except by the town and immediate environs. Still, through these long years of obscurity, the people of these settlements –by this time all descendants of cruceño settlers – held on to a few centuries-old traditions, completely unaware that these cherished rites and rituals were never intended for them58 but instead for the native peoples whose territories they had usurped. With some notable exceptions,59 the townspeople continued to maintain their templos as best they could.

As they fade further from the region’s post-Colonial era history, it is appropriate to ask here what happened – and continues to happen – to the indigenous peoples who originally inhabited it. Most, apart from those who married into settler families, reside today, still greatly marginalised from the rest of society, in semi-autonomous hamlets known as comunidades.60 The Catholic Church continues to do much good on their behalf, and Franciscan, Jesuit, and Identine missionaries work collaboratively in an attempt to raise the standards of these impoverished communities. Some academic institutions, in particular the universities Técnica Particular de Loja and Católica Boliviana San Pablo, have worked in the field alongside these indigenous groups, as have various non-profit organisations.

The Silence Ends: 1950 to the Present

In 1957, everything changed. A Jesuit missionary visiting Bolivia, Fr Felix Plattner, travelled to the Chiquitania in an attempt to trace the peregrinations of his vocational ancestor, Fr Martin Schmid, so important in the history of the Jesuit missions in Chiquitos. Plattner was amazed at what he saw: seven large templos seemingly frozen in time, but decaying by the minute. Standing in front of the church at San Rafael de Velasco, he made a vow that he would try to save at least one of these spiritual masterpieces before all of them sank into oblivion.

Fifteen years passed, and at last, in 1972, Plattner sent a Swiss architect and fellow Jesuit,61 Hans Roth.62 He gave Roth six months to begin the restoration, along with round-trip air fare. Roth arrived and never went back.

The fact that these templos exist in their present restored (or in the case of San Ignacio de Velasco, reconstructed) form is due almost entirely to the genius and tenacity of Roth, a great admirer of his Jesuit predecessor Martin Schmid. Working with a few European colleagues but otherwise with entirely native talent, Roth single-handedly saved the churches – and to a great extent, their communities – from near-certain oblivion. He spent nearly three decades at this labour of love, his life’s work, and played a key role in every aspect of each church’s restoration or reconstruction.

At the time of his death in 1999, he had successfully or largely restored the templos, complejos, and numerous other colonial buildings of San Xavier, Concepción, the three Velasco missions of Santa Ana, San Rafael, and San Miguel, along with San José de Chiquitos, all now World Heritage Sites. He also oversaw the reconstruction of the church in San Ignacio de Velasco, worked on the astonishing Sanctuario Mariano de la Torre in El Chochís63 and at least another 150 other sites throughout the Chiquitania and elsewhere in Bolivia. The region today would be a very different place were it not for Roth’s incredible efforts. His close collaborator Eckart Kühne summed up Roth’s work as follows.

“That which began as a short rescue action of a collapse-endangered church gradually became one of the most comprehensive and sustainable restoration projects in all of South America – not just with a view towards preservation of old monuments, but also as a means for the social, cultural, and pastoral development of the region, similar to [that of] when the buildings [first] arose. Roth worked like a missionary, only for church employers, without the backing of national authorities, without previous monument preservation instruction, and almost only with local craftsmen who were trained on the building sites and in the apprentice workshops. In addition, Roth raised over one hundred new buildings – from churches to schools and house building programs – with which he created a new regional architectural style. He founded museums and archives, defended the rights of the Indians and studied their history. This work, under less than favourable conditions, was a long learning process; the churches were restored by him with completely different methods.”64

The Jesuits and their teams of local volunteers and European specialists did not do all of the work themselves; the Franciscans, the new guardians of these architectural masterpieces, also played a role, as did hundreds of supporters around the world. But it must be emphasised that the genius and execution of the idea, as well as its ongoing maintenance, was first and foremost a Jesuit undertaking spearheaded by Roth. These churches, largely restored to their original Jesuit-Chiquitano hybrid appearance, show little little Franciscan influence, a testament to that order’s desire to preserve their authenticity.

As a result of the work of Roth, Kühne, and their colleagues, these templos, now among the best-known of all of Bolivia’s national treasures, and their communities, can play an important role as magnets for cultural and religious tourists from the world over, who come whether to worship or simply stand in awe of these splendid monuments. They house rare musical instruments, musical scores, and centuries-old works of art. They serve to train the next generation of local artists, artisans, and architects, who remain faithful to reproducing the music, carvings, and edifices produced centuries ago. They play host every other year to the International Festival of American Baroque Music, “Misiones de Chiquitos”.65 Perhaps most important, they provide much-needed local employment and act as regional sustainable development mechanisms.

To sum up the legacy of the post-Jesuit history of Chiquitos, it is fitting to end with another quote from Kühne.

“The very remote, long economically unimportant villages survived owing to the Christian faith of the Chiquitano Indians. When the reducción system was finally dissolved…mestizo colonisers seized the lands, herds, and workers, displaced the Indians from the village centres and altered the churches to fit their taste. In the rubber boom starting about 1880, many Chiquitano were carried out to harvest rubber as bonded labourers, or they fled into inaccessible areas. In 1931, German-speaking Franciscan missionaries took over the pastoral care of the Chiquitano. Today the old Jesuit churches are not only the parish churches of the mestizo village inhabitants, but also spiritual centres of the Indians living in the far periphery who still observe many of the festival rites and traditions from Jesuit times. With insufficient means they have long attempted to halt the pending fall of the age-weakened buildings; due to their care the churches still retain large numbers of the works of art, furniture, silver objects and music books.”66

Written by Geoffrey A P Groesbeck


1 The word reducción is often incorrectly translated as “mission”. It is better considered as a settlement for indigenous peoples established by European colonists, whether religious or secular, with an explicit intent to proselytise and introduce specific religious, social, and cultural norms through shared experiences and hierarchical instruction. In the Jesuit efforts in Chiquitos, exceptions were made by colonial authorities permitting the founding of reducciones that were exclusively religious in nature, although these also had economic and military functions.

2 The now-dated regional identifier “Chiquitos” corresponds roughly to most of the modern-day area known as the Chiquitania (la [Gran] Chiquitania), located within Bolivia’s Santa Cruz Department. The Jesuits operated throughout much of Chiquitos from their arrival in 1585 until their expulsion in 1767. Although Chiquitos per se was a loosely defined political entity under the Spanish Empire, in its incarnation as the Chiquitania it never received political status as a Bolivian geographical designation. Nonetheless, the Chiquitania comprises six provinces within Bolivia’s Santa Cruz Department: Guayaros; Ñuflo de Chávez; [José Miguel] Velasco; Ángel Sandoval; German Busch; and a (much-reduced) Chiquitos. The former Jesuit missions of Chiquitos are found in all but Guarayos province, which was considered a separate mission field (often referred to as Mojos or Moxos) by the Jesuits and their contemporaries.

3 For references to this documentation, see the author’s “A Brief History of the Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos” in Bolivian Studies Journal, Vol. 14 (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois, 2007), endnotes 1 through 6.

4 This synthesis of a profoundly Jesuit worldview (during the 17th and 18th centuries) encountering an indigenous one is sometimes referred to as Mestizo Baroque. Although accurate as a descriptor for the artistic output of this culture, the term is not an all-encompassing one. “Jesuit-indigenous” may be more apt in a broader sense.

5 These are in San Xavier, Concepción, Santa Ana de Velasco, San Rafael de Velasco, San Miguel de Velasco, and San José de Chiquitos. San Ignacio de Velasco was not included as the original structure was demolished in 1948 (the present church dates from the late twentieth century and does not meet UNESCO’s inclusion standards). Of the remaining former Jesuit missions in the Chiquitania referenced in this paper, San Juan Bautista is in ruins, Santiago de Chiquitos’ original church was destroyed in the 1800s (the present structure dates from ca 1920), and Santo Corazón is a modern construction. See for a synopsis of all the templos and complejos established by Jesuits in Chiquitos.

6 See “United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage: Report of the World Heritage Committee, Fourteenth Session, Banff, Alberta, Canada, 7-12 December 1990” (

7 A distinction is maintained in this paper between the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Santa Cruz Department.

8 For information on these festivals, see

9 The possibilities of cultural tourism in the Chiquitania and in particular on the former Jesuit missions are treated at length in the web site “La Gran Chiquitania: The Last Paradise” (

10 See “A Brief History of the Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos”, in particular the introduction and first chapter.

11 See D’ Orbigny’s Voyage dans l’Amerique Meridionale (le Brasil, la Republique Orientale de l’Uruguay, la Republique Argentine, la Patagonie, la Republique du Chili, la Republique de Bolivia, la Republique du Perou), execute pendant les annees 1826, 1827, 1828, 1829, 1830, 1831, 1832 et 1833 (in particular chapter 32). First published in nine volumes in Paris by Chez Pitois-Levrault et Cie. between 1835–1847, the 1945 edition published by Editorial Futuro in Buenos Aires is the latest version of this work. See also Francis de Castelnau, Expédition dan les parties centrales de l’Amérique du Sud, de Rio de Janeiro à Lima, et de Lima au Para; exécutée par ordre du gouvernement Français pendant les années 1843 à 1847. Published in 15 volumes in Paris by P. Bertrand between 1850-1857, the 2001 edition published by Editorial Los Amigos del Libro in La Paz (renamed En el Corazón de América del Sur (1843-1847) is the latest version.

12 Two exceptions are works by Oscar Tonelli, Reseña histórica social y económica de la Chiquitania (Santa Cruz de la Sierra: Editorial El País, 2004) and Santa Ana: La Cenicienta Chiquitania (Santa Cruz de la Sierra: Editorial El País, 2006), although the latter treats only the history of Santa Ana de Chiquitos. Often undocumented but useful is Nino Gandarilla Guardia’s Desenredando la Independencia de Santa Cruz y sus Provincias (Santa Cruz de la Sierra: Centro de Estudios Nacionales, 2008). Brief treatments are found in La voz de los chiquitanos (Santa Cruz de la Sierra: Fondo Editorial Asociación Pro Arte y Cultura, 2006), chapter 4: “Chiquitos, Velasco y Ñuflo de Chávez, 1880-1940: Lineamientos para el estudio de las provincias chiquitanias en su transición hacia la modernidad”; Pedro Querejazu, ed., Las Misiones Jesuíticas de Chiquitos (La Paz: Fundación BHN, 1995), book II, chapters 7 and 8: “El Período Postjesuítico” and “Moxos y Chiquitos en el Siglo XIX”, and book III, chapter 1: “La Chiquitania en la Época Republicana”; and Loreto Correa (ed.), Santa Cruz en el siglo XIX (Santa Cruz de la Sierra: Editorial Universitaria, 1997), “Historia Chiquitania en la segunda mitad del siglo XIX”.

13 Members of the order serve as parish priests and vicars apostolic in the Apostolic Vicariate of Ñuflo de Chávez (which includes the former reducciones of San Xavier and Concepción), and as bishops in the Diocese of San Ignacio de Velasco (including the cathedral town and settlements of Santa Ana de Chiquitos, San Rafael de Chiquitos, San Miguel de Chiquitos, San José de Chiquitos, Taperas – near the former mission of San Juan Bautista – and the towns of Santiago and Santo Corazón). They also serve as vicars apostolic in the neighboring Apostolic Vicariate of Camiri, where, ironically, two Jesuits serve in the administration of the territory. See

14 See Mariano Baptista Gumucio, Las Misiones Jesuíticas de Moxos y Chiquitos: Una Utopía Cristiana en el Oriente Boliviano, 3rd ed. (La Paz: Lewylibros, 2003), pp 162-3.

15 The actual number of Jesuits then in the Chiquitania was 25, with another 22 resident in the Moxos and Guarayos missions to the west. See Gabriel René Moreno, Catálogo del Archivo de Mojos y Chiquitania (con Notas de Hernando Sanabria Fernández) (La Paz: Editorial Juventud, 1973), in Tonelli, Reseña histórica social y económica de la Chiquitania (Santa Cruz de la Sierra: Editorial El País, 2004), p 120.

16 See Gumucio, op. cit., pp 160-1, for a copy of the apostolic brief “Dominus ac Redemptor” authorising the suppression of the order.

17 Several primary-source first-hand accounts of the expulsion and reactions to it exist, and are extracted in works by Tomichá, Tonelli and others. Antonio Menacho’s Por Tierras de Chiquitos (San Xavier: Vicario Apostólico de Ñuflo de Chávez, 1991), pp 113-27, offers an excellent treatment. For reactions to the Extrañamiento elsewhere in greater New Spain, see as an example Miguel León Portillo’s “Baja California: A Geography of Hope” in “Misiones Jesuitas”, in Artes de Mexico, No. 65 (Mexico City: Artes de México y del Mundo, 2003), pp 104-7.

18 Menacho, op. cit., pp 87-91. Although he claims otherwise, surprisingly little has been written on Schmid. The most recent biography is Werner Hoffman’s Vida y obra del P. Martín Schmid S.J., misionero suizo entre los chiquitanos, músico, artesano, arquitecto y escultor (Buenos Aires: FECIC, 1981). See also Gumucio, op. cit., pp 69-79.

19 See Roberto Tomichá, La Primera Evangelización en las Reducciones de Chiquitos: Protagonistas y Metodología Misional (Cochabamba: Editorial Verbo Divino, 2002), p 89.

20 Tonelli, op. cit., pp 97-106.

21 Querezaju, ed., op. cit., pp 290-95. Tonelli claims a figure of 23,988 (according to the “Catálogo de Población de las Misiones de Chiquitos del Año 1767,” a primary-source manuscript in the Bolivian National Archive in Sucre). The discrepancy of exactly 200 may be due to a typographical error. See also Robert H. Jackson, “Demographic Patterns on the Chiquitos Missions of Eastern Bolivia, 1691-1767” in Bolivian Studies Journal, Vol. 12 (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois, 2005).

22 This figure is given by some sources as the estimated population of the Chiquitos missions at the moment of the Extrañamiento, based on a comment by Fr Julián Knogler (the founder of the reducción of Santa Ana de Velasco) in a manuscript entitled “Relato sobre el país y la nación de los Chiquitos en las Indias Occidentales o América del Sur y en la misiones en su territorio”, that there were at that time some 22,000 baptised inhabitants and another 15,000 “near the point of conversion”. For this, see Werner Hoffman, Las misiones jesuíticas entre los chiquitanos (Buenos Aires: Fundación para la Educación, la Ciencia y la Cultura, 1979), p 172.

23 See Placido Molina, Historia de la Gobernación de e Intendencia de Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Sucre: Impresora Urania, 1936), p 185. See also Ernesto Maeder, “Las misiones de Chiquitos: Su evolución demográfica en las etapas jesuíticas y pos-jesuíticas (1710-1767 y 1768-1830)” in Marcelo Arduz Ruiz and Enrique Normando Cruz, eds., Iglesia, misiones y religiosidad colonial (Jujuy: Centro de Estudios Indígenas y Coloniales, 2001), pp 11-36.

24 Menacho, op. cit, pp 126-7.

25 See Oscar Tonelli, Santa Ana: La Cenicienta Chiquitania, pp 51-68. See also Gabriel René Moreno, Catálogo del Archivo de Mojos y Chiquitania (con Notas de Hernando Sanabria Fernández), 2nd ed. (La Paz: Editorial Juventud, 1974). However, see also Querezaju, op. cit., p 351. The architect Eckart Kühne, the greatest living authority on the Jesuit templos of Chiquitos, supports a probable construction date between 1770 and 1780.

26 Rojas (and his family) is the only known exception to the otherwise-rigourously enforced law that no European other than the Jesuit missionaries was allowed to live in the reducciones. Rojas, an artist and citizen of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, lived at least between 1752 and 1769 with his family in Chiquitos. See Eckart Kühne, Evolución y percepción de las iglesias misionales del Oriente Boliviano (Zürich: Federal Technical University ETH, 2004); see also his “Borrador para una Guía de las Iglesias de Chiquitos” (unpublished manuscript).

27 See Enrique Finot, Historia de la Conquista del Oriente Boliviano, 2nd ed. (La Paz: Editorial Juventud, 1978), p 363.

28 Tonelli, La Cenicienta Chiquitania, p 101.

29 See Nino Gandarilla Guardia, Desenredando la Independencia de Santa Cruz y sus Provincias (Santa Cruz de la Sierra: Centro de Estudios Nacionales, 2008), pp 14-22.

30 Ibid., pp 57-9. See also Tonelli, Reseña histórica social y económica de la Chiquitania, pp 133-7.

31 See Virgilio Chini Ludueña, Warnes en Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz de la Sierra: Impresora Santa Cruz de la Sierra, 1944), p 159.

32 Tonelli, op. cit., p 125.

33 See Guardia, op. cit., pp 99-102, for a copy of the proclamation.

34 Ibid., pp 167-78.

35 Kühne, “Borrador para una Guía de las Iglesias de Chiquitos”, pp 3-7. Kühne’s comments are extremely interesting, as they posit the existence of cruceño settlers living in the former Jesuit mission towns and maintaining traditions that had been established long before the settlers’ arrival after 1767. What is impossible to discern (in most cases) is the extent to which these traditions might have been altered by the colonists.

36 No biography of Ramos is known to exist. Tonelli’s works provide some background information (as well as on the Bolivian-Brazilian diplomatic crisis over the region). Ron L. Seckinger’s “The Chiquitos Affair: An Aborted Crisis in Brazilian-Bolivian Relations” in Luso-Brazilian Review, Vol. 11, No. 1 Summer, 1974 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press) pp 19-40, provides an excellent account of the crisis.

37 References to Ramos’ exploits are recorded by D’ Orbigny in Voyage dans l’Amerique Meridionale (le Brasil, la Republique Orientale de l’Uruguay, la Republique Argentine, la Patagonie, la Republique du Chili, la Republique de Bolivia, la Republique du Perou), execute pendant les annees 1826, 1827, 1828, 1829, 1830, 1831, 1832 et 1833 (Paris: Chez Pitois-Levrault et Cie., 1835–1847), for which, see Alcides D’ Orbigny, Viaje por tierra cruceñas (Santa Cruz de la Sierra: UPSA, 1999), p 145.

38 Apart from Seckinger’s work, there are only three known published accounts of the Brazilian annexation of Chiquitos. None are complete or free from speculation. The best is found in chapter five of Tonelli’s Reseña histórica social y económica de la Chiquitania (“Guerra de la Independencia e Invasión Brasileña”, pp 125-63). Ovando Sanz and Jorge Alejandro’s La Invasión Brasileña a Bolivia en 1825 (La Paz: Ediciones Isla, 1977) offers a more detailed assessment. Sixto Montero Hoyos’ “La Ocupación Brasileña en Chiquitos” (Santa Cruz de la Sierra: Periódico Adelante, No. 36, 01 August 1958) is a newspaper article on the topic.

39 See for a condensed narrative of these events.

40 Tonelli, op. cit., p 179.

41 D’Orbigny’s Voyage dans l’Amerique Meridionale (le Brasil, la Republique Orientale de l’Uruguay, la Republique Argentine, la Patagonie, la Republique du Chili, la Republique de Bolivia, la Republique du Perou), execute pendant les annees 1826, 1827, 1828, 1829, 1830, 1831, 1832 et 1833 (in particular chapter 32 of book 4, “Generalidades geográficas, históricas y estadístas sobre la provencia de Chiquitos – de las mejoras industrales y comerciales que se podrían introducer allí”), has become a classic travelogue and de rigeur primary source for scholars. Recent scholarship has shown it is not entirely free from error. The 1945 edition published by Editorial Futuro in Buenos Aires is the latest complete version of this work. The 1990 edition published by the Vicario Apostólico de Chiquitos (now Ñuflo de Chávez) is the latest version to reproduce chapter 32 of book 4.

42 Finot, op. cit., pp 364-6.

43 Jackson, op. cit., p 234; Querejazu, op. cit., p 349. See also Geoffrey A P Groesbeck, “A Brief History of the Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos” in Bolivian Studies Journal, Vol. 14 (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois, 2007), p 118.

44 Tallied from D’Orbigny, op. cit., sic passim. This figure is rounded down to “no se eleva más que 15,000 almas” in the 1990 edition published by the Vicario Apostólico de Chiquitos (p 31).

45 See Groesbeck, op. cit., p 119.

46 See Alcides Parejas Moreno, Chiquitos: A Look at its History (Santa Cruz: Fondo Editorial APAC, 2004), p 59.

47 See Querejazu, ed., op. cit., book II, chapters 7 and 8: “El Período Postjesuítico” (pp 373-6) and “Moxos y Chiquitos en el Siglo XIX” (pp 377-83), as well as book III, chapter 1: “La Chiquitania en la Época Republicana” (pp 387-93)

48 De Castelnau, op. cit., in Gumucio, op. cit., p 95.

49 Tonelli, op. cit., p. 191.

50 See Cecilia Kenning Mansilla, et al., La voz de los chiquitanos (Santa Cruz: Fondo Editorial Asociación Pro Arte y Cultura, 2006), p. 56.

51 On the plight of the Chiquitano and other indigenous groups since their quasi-eviction from the former Chiquitos missions, one of the first to call attention to the matter was Fr Reinaldo Brumberger, OFM, in the pamphlet “El Alma Chiquitana: Historia del Pueblo Chiquitano” (Concepción: Vicariato Apostólico de Ñuflo de Chávez, 1991). Tonelli alludes to it within the context of the empatronamiento system in chapter 9 of Reseña histórica social y económica de la Chiquitania (see especially pp 261-5). See also Kenning, et al., op. cit., sic passim. Several works by Bernardo Fishermann also explore the topic.

52 For an excellent treatment of this periodin the region, see Tonelli, op. cit., pp 224-35.

53 See, for example, the Bolivian government’s “Resolution del 27 de marzo de 1882: Chiquitos y Velasco: impuesto que deben pagar los indijenas de estas provincia” in Kenning, et al., op. cit., p 60.

54 Tonelli, op. cit., pp 234-5.

55 The few substantive works that treat this period make no explicit reference to a transfer of control. Tonelli does not mention it anywhere. Roberto Tomichá Charupá’s excellent history of the Church in eastern Bolivia, La Iglesia en Santa Cruz: 400 Años de Historia 1605-2005 (Cochabamba: Editorial Verbo Divino, 2005) is silent on the matter, as is Menacho’s Por Tierras de Chiquitos. Ironically, Tomichá is a Franciscan and Menacho a Jesuit. There is one oblique reference in Brumberger’s “El Alma Chiquitana: Historia del Pueblo Chiquitano” (p 19), and another in Raúl E. Landivar’s booklet “Los Misioneros: Homenaje a la Conquista Espiritual de Chiquitos en su Tricentenario” (San Ignacio de Velasco: Imprenta Juan Pablo II, 1991) on p 32. In 1998, the parish of San Xavier published a brochure, “Welcome to the Parish Church of San Javier”, which contains a short historical sketch of the church and makes mention of the Franciscan presence. Unfortunately, the emphasis is on that Order’s subsequent restoration efforts, which pale in comparison to the work undertaken by Jesuits Hans Roth, José Herzog and others.

56 On 3 November 1994, the Apostolic Vicariate of Chiquitos was elevated to the Diocese of San Ignacio de Velasco, with the Franciscan Carlos Stetter named as its head.

57 Tonelli, La Cenicienta Chiquitania, pp 220-1.

58 From the earliest days of the Chiquitos reducciones, non-natives (i.e., Spanish colonists) emphatically were prohibited from residing there. As early as the reign of Phillip II (1556-98), the Jesuits had extracted royal promises that no colonists would be permitted in areas in which the missionaries established reducciones. The 1727 royal prohibition against settlers living in these settlements (originally promulgated in 1713 but quickly withdrawn) is but one example of this policy. See Tonelli, op. cit., p 80.

59 The templo in San Ignacio de Velasco, completed in 1761 and once the largest in the region, was torn down in 1948. A second church was constructed that year, which lasted until 1964. See Kühne, “Borrador para una Guía de las Iglesias de Chiquitos”, sic passim.

60Brumberger, op. cit., sic passim. Now the subject of much anthropological, linguistic, and sociological interest, the Chiquitano and other native groups finally are being studied systematically. An excellent biography related to these studies is found in Kenning, et al., op. cit., pp 81-95. The Santa Cruz de la Sierra-based association Apoyo Para el Campesino-Indígena del Oriente Boliviano maintains a web site on developments affecting the indigenous communities throughout eastern Bolivia ( See also Mancomunidad de Municipios Chiquitanos “Analisis de Equidad Social en el Territorio de la Mancomunidad de Municipios Chiquitanos” (Santa Cruz de la Sierra: Editorial Empresa El País, 2002), pp 17-9ff. See also the web page for further background and demographic information on communidades of the Chiquitania. The best known of these settlements is San Antonio de Lomerio.

61 Roth never renounced his Jesuit vows in toto, but refused his superiors’ orders to return to Europe, although he agreed to remain a Jesuit brother (as opposed to priest) until his marriage in 1972. After arriving in Bolivia, he spent the rest of his life in that country. He son Christian carries on his work as an architect in Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

62 Roth’s output and legacy is of incalculable importance, but of the man himself little has been written. Somewhat given to self-effacement, perhaps the most appropriate (and poignant) accolade to his genius is a small wooden plaque on the outside wall of the templo in Santa Ana de Velasco that reads: “In memory of Hans Roth (1934-1999), theologian and architect. Restorer of the Jesuit churches, defender of Chiquitania culture, creator of a new regional architecture, and driving force behind the music of the missions. He taught us to dream and made that dream a reality.”

63 See Eckart Kühne, “Entre la Tradición Regional y el Estilo Moderno: Dos Obras de Hans Roth en Bolivia” (unpub. manuscript, 2000), pp 10-28. See also for an overview of the singular Sanctuario Mariano de la Torre and the town of El Chochís in general.

64 See Eckart Kühne, “The Construction and Restoration of the 18th Century Missionary Churches in Eastern Bolivia” (unpub. manuscript forming part of doctoral thesis, 2002), p 2.

65 See Patrick J. McDonnell, “How they go for Baroque in Bolivia” in the Los Angeles Times, 06 May 2006, p E-1.

66 Kühne, op. cit., p 2.

About Marco Ramerini

I am passionate about history, especially the history of geographical explorations and colonialism.