In December 1581 Fray Francisco de Victoria OP entered the city of Santiago del Estero and took possession of the first cathedral church in the territory which is now Argentina, being the first bishop to arrive there.
Bishop Francisco de Victoria was, so far as I know, the only Portuguese New Christian ever to attain the rank of bishop, and what makes this all the more interesting is the fact that he came from a family with a live tradition of secret Judaism. Two of his brothers, Fernao Lourenco Ramires and Diogo Peres da Costa, migrated to Turkey and converted to Judaism, the latter being burnt in effigy by the Lima Inquisition in 1601,1 while two others, Dr Jeronimo Nunes Ramires and Luis Nunes Victoria, can be shown to have been crypto-Jews.2
These facts raise a number of interesting questions. I propose to examine four of these: was Fray Francisco de Victoria a Christian? Was he a good bishop? What was his contribution to the development of Spanish America? How far was he typical of New Christians in the New World?
Was he a Christian?
Francisco Nunes de Victoria was the second son of Duarte Nunes,3 a well- established merchant of Coimbra, Portugal,4 where he was born. He was bap- tized in the Church of 8310 Tiago on 13 April 1540.5 He received at least some of his schooling from the newly established Jesuit fathersf’ and at some point went on to a university education and acquired a Master’s degree,7 probably in Spain. He went out to Peru as a young man in search of a fortune and fell on hard times. According to his enemy, the Inquisitor of Lima, he came to Peru as a sailor or ship’s boy, worked as a groom in Trujillo de Peru and then as a shop assistant in Lima.8 In 1560, aged twenty, he joined the Order of Preachers in Lima.9 Padre Pedro Lozano, the eighteenth-century Jesuit historian, says that while in his master’s shop in Lima, Francisco de Victoria saw a resplendent mitre floating in the air which then descended onto his head, after which he felt the call to join the Dominicans.lO
We cannot make windows into Francisco de Victoria’s soul and determine his personal beliefs, but we can examine his background and his reported utterances. It is also notable that, although his enemies accused him, with justification, of Jewish ancestry, of contraband trading and of failing to render all that was due unto Caesar, no solid evidence was found to suggest that he was a heretic. Indeed, his letter of 1585 to the Provincial of the Jesuits in Brazil, Padre José Anchieta,ll is so fervently Christian in feeling as well as language that I for one am convinced that only a committed Catholic could have written such a letter.
The fact that Francisco de Victoria came from a crypto-Jewish family and had brothers who secretly adhered to Judaism in no way precludes him from being a sincere Christian, but it does mean that he