Jesuit Block and Estancias of Córdoba


Brief Description

The Jesuit Block in Córdoba, heart of the former Jesuit Province of Paraguay, contains the core buildings of the Jesuit system: the university, the church and residence of the Society of Jesus, and the college. Along with the five estancias, or farming estates, they contain religious and secular buildings, which illustrate the unique religious, social, and economic experiment carried out in the world for a period of over 150 years in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Santa Catilina, front view of the group © UNESCO More pictures …

Justification for Inscription

Criterion (ii): The Jesuit buildings and ensembles of Córdoba and the estancias are exceptional examples of the fusion of European and indigenous values and cultures during a seminal period in South America.

Criterion (iv): The religious, social, and economic experiment carried out in South America for over 150 years by the Society of Jesus produced a unique form of material expression, which is illustrated by the Jesuit buildings and ensembles of Córdoba and the estancias.

Long Description

The Jesuit buildings and ensembles of Córdoba and the estancias are exceptional examples of the fusion of European and indigenous values and cultures during a seminal period in South America. The Jesuits were late in arriving in the Spanish American colonies, having been preceded by other orders such as the Franciscans and Dominicans. However, the southern part of the continent was still being explored in the late 16th century, providing opportunities for the Jesuits. The Spanish monk Diego de Torres was sent by the order to organize the new Province of Paraguay in 1607 (itinerant missions had already been operating in the region since 1588). Missions were sent from Córdoba, the centre of the new province, to set up colleges and preach the Jesuit message. Córdoba itself, established by Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera in 1573, was laid out on the standard Spanish colonial chequerboard pattern. In common with the other orders, the Jesuits were allocated one of the 70 blocks of the original city.

The Jesuit Block in Córdoba contains the core buildings of the Jesuit system: the university, the church and residence of the Society of Jesus, and the college. The National University of Córdoba (formerly the Colegio Máximo of the Society of Jesus) is arranged round a central open space (originally a botanical garden), and constructed in stone and brick, with spacious colonnades around the courtyard. The Society of Jesus Church is a massive domed structure with two squat towers at the west end, built principally in stone, with brick in the upper levels. It is a single-nave building, the interior is richly decorated, the retablo of the main altar and the pulpit being outstanding examples of Baroque. As in the university, the buildings of the Colegio Nacional de Nuestra Señora de Montserrat are disposed round two open spaces. It is built in the same style as the other structures in the Jesuit Block.

The five estancias illustrate the unique religious, social and economic experiment carried out in the world for a period of over 150 years in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Alta Gracia estancia originally comprised a church, the priests’ residence, quarters for the slaves and workers (demolished), cattle pens, vegetable gardens (missing), a textile mill, a reservoir and other mills. The estancia is in the heart of the town, with two spacious patios. The two buildings of the residence and the church form three sides of a square patio, the fourth being closed by a high wall pierced by the main entrance.

The Santa Catalina estancia is a rural establishment in the beautiful landscape of the Córdoba sierras, made up of a church, the priests’ residence, workers’ quarters, the novices’ house (now ruined), a mill and a reservoir. The ground plan, the largest of all the estancias , is in the form of three patios, the central of which is the main one. The church, a Latin cross in plan, has an imposing Baroque facade.

The components of the rural Jesús María estancia are identical with those of Santa Catalina. Cloisters enclose two sides of the central patio, the others being formed by a storage building and a high stone wall. Furthest from Córdoba is the rural estancia of Candelaria. Unlike the others, it is located in a sheltered part of the region. It is smaller than the others, consisting of a chapel, priests’ residence, workers’ quarters (now demolished) and cattle pens. By contrast, the Caroya estancia is an imposing ensemble, in a more luxuriant landscape. Its mill and reservoir are now ruined, but the patio, surrounded by cloisters and quarters for the boarders of the Colegio Nacional de Nuestra Señora de Montserrat, is striking in its proportions and dimensions.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

Historical Description

The Society of Jesus was founded in 1540 by St Ignatius Loyola, as part of the Counter-Reformation. The missions established by this hierarchical organization in non-Christian countries had as its principal activities spiritual guidance by means of retreats and teaching. It was governed by its own code of laws.

The Jesuits were late in arriving in the Spanish American colonies, having been preceded by other orders such as the Franciscans and Dominicans. However, the southern part of the continent was still being explored at the end of the 16th century, providing opportunities for the Jesuits. The Spanish monk Diego de Torres was sent by the order to organize the new Province of Paraguay in 1607. Itinerant missions had already been operating in the region since 1588. Missions were sent from Córdoba, the centre of the new Province, to set up colleges and preach the Jesuit message.

The town of Córdoba had been established by Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera in 1573 and laid out on the standard Spanish colonial checkerboard pattern. In common with the other orders, the Jesuits were allocated one of the seventy blocks of the original city, but they did not take possession of it until 1599.

One of the first acts of the Jesuits was to build on this block in 1610 the Colégio Máximo (which was to become the Royal and Pontifical University in the following decade), where teaching was in accordance with the teaching plan Ratio atque Instituto Studiorum Societatis Jesu (Method and System of Studies of the Society of Jesus), created in 1599 and applied throughout the world by the order. Other monastic buildings followed, including the university and the church and residence of the order. These underwent a number of transformations and reconstructions, both before and after the expulsion of the order in 1767.

The estancias, which concentrated on agriculture, textile production, and mule breeding in addition to their spiritual functions, were highly successful economically. They came into the possession of the Society in various ways, including by purchase and as bequests. Alta Gracia was a cattle ranch owned by Alonso Nieto de Herrera who entered the Society, to which he bequeathed it when he died, whilst La Candelaria was created on lands donated by Francisco de Vera y Mujica in 1678. Caroya was purchased in 1616, Jesús María in 1618, and Santa Catalina in 1616. All were sold to private individuals when the property of the Society was auctioned off by the Boards of Temporalities after the expulsion.

Source: Advisory Body Evaluation

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  1. […] Jesuit Block and Estancias of Córdoba (nty2010.wordpress.com) […]

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