Evanescence and Permanence: Toward an Accurate Understanding of the Legacy of the Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos. Written by Geoffrey A. P. Groesbeck
The Second Period: 1748-1767
Between the re-founding of San Ignacio de Zamucos in 1723 and that of its successor, San Ignacio de Velasco, in 1748, no missions were established in the Chiquitania. With the settling of San Ignacio de Velasco, however, the second phase of Jesuit expansion began. The four reducciones established in the final nineteen years of the Jesuit presence in the region were strategically placed, having as an important objective their placement along the hoped-for route to the missions of Paraguay. Of these four – San Ignacio de Velasco, Santa Ana de Velasco, Santiago de Chiquitos, and Santa Corazón – primary source documentation is abundant. Only Santa Ana de Velasco merits additional remarks beyond what are supplied by other sources.F1F
Santa Ana de Velasco
Santa Ana de Velasco is notable less from a historical and more from a cultural aspect, in that of all the remaining Jesuit missions it alone has the only templo that retains many of its original Jesuit-era architectural accouterments. These include much of the church’s exoskeleton and several furnishings, including a rare, still functioning 18th Century organ brought in by mule from Potosí by Fr. Martin Schmid and reassembled by memory.
In fact, Santa Ana de Velasco is, from a preservationist standpoint at least, the most authentic Jesuit reducción, although sporadic restoration work continues. It also retains vestiges of the original plaza principal, laid out by the Jesuits in 1755. Notwithstanding, its church was built (we do not know by whom) in collaboration with the village’s inhabitants a few years after the departure of the Jesuits (circa 1773-80), yet very much in fidelity with Jesuit models in existence elsewhere throughout the Chiquitania.2
The Last Attempt: Nuestra Señora del Buen Consejo
The final attempted (“attempted” being the key word) reducción was the transitory Nuestra Señora del Buen Consejo, founded in May of 1767, although it survived only three months, if that, owing to the expulsion that followed later that year. Of all the Jesuit settlements of Chiquitos apart from Santa Rosa de los Taucas, we possess the least information on Nuestra Señora del Buen Consejo. That we have any information at all is something of a marvel, given that the Jesuits had no time to do anything but record its ephemeral existence before they were expelled.
Fr. José Sánchez Labrador, the settlement’s founder, intended to establish a mission roughly half-way between Santo Corazón in the easternmost reaches of the Chiquitania and Nuestra Señora de Belén in Paraguay. The settlement was made somewhere to the southeast of modern-day Puerto Suárez, and quite possibly very close to the mineral-rich mountain of Mutún. Had Nuestra Señora del Buen Consejo arisen as intended, the Jesuits would have at last realised their dream of a string of reducciones stretching from San Xavier in the west to the Río Paraguay in the east, from which a trip to Asunción could have been made.
But it can be established beyond any reasonable doubt that the short-lived Nuestra Señora del Buen Consejo was never a true reducción; if it was intended as anything beyond a temporary construction, it still would have been no more than a visita. Its existence was ephemeral.
Yet the settlement was never meant as anything other than a way station.F3F Labrador’s comments offer no convincing proof that he considered it a reducción.4 And as Kühne noted, no inventory of its holdings (required by Spanish authorities of all former reducciones after their dismantling) has been found, a sure sign it was not considered a mission.5
1 Querejazu, op. cit., especially pp. 272-4; 333-5; and 347-52. See also http://www.chiquitania.com.
2 See Tonelli’s Santa Ana: La Cenicienta Chiquitana: Historia, Arqueologia, Leyendas y Restauraciones for a detailed treatment of this mission.
3 A rare exception is found in Tonelli’s Reseña histórica social y económica de la Chiquitania, the only modern work outside of Querejazu’s Las Misiones Jesuíticas de Chiquitos to make mention of this ephemeral settlement. For an in-depth study of Nuestra Señora del Buen Consejo, see Tonelli, “Nuestra Señora del Buen Consejo fue la Última Reducción fundada en las Misiones de Chiquitos”, in Revista Extra, Año 12, Número 387 y 388 (Santa Cruz: 31 August 1997 and 07 September 1997). See also http://www.chiquitania.com/mission_pantanal_nsdbc.html for a treatment of this settlement as well as Tonelli’s argument for its inclusion.
4 See Tonelli, “Nuestra Señora del Buen Consejo fue la Última Reducción fundada en las Misiones de Chiquitos”, in Revista Extra, Año 12, Número 387 y 388.
5 Eckart Kühne, private correspondence with the author.