Colonial Perspectives: Works from the Louise Bulkeley Dillingham Collection

La Vie De Gregoire Lopez (1650)

La Vie De Gregoire Lopez 1/5

This interesting engraving on the title page of Father Loza's life of Gregory Lopez depicts a small child leaning against a skull in a landscape. It is likely meant as a reminder that life is fleeting and that in the end all things die, a popular theme among religious ascetics. (Click image above for a detailed view of all of the images featured on this page.)

Father Francisco de Loza. La Vie De Gregoire Lopez: Hermite Parfait & Admirable En la Nouvelle Espagne. Brussels: Par Guillaume Scheybels, 1650. Translated by I. Compaignom. 

Gregory López (1542-1596) had already begun living the life of a wandering hermit when he left his native Spain in 1562 for the New World, eventually “settling” in and around Mexico City. He adhered to a strict ascetic regimen, sleeping on the bare floor, wearing rough unkempt clothing, and devoting many hours to prayer.

The hermit quickly became a well known figure in the area, and Spanish settlers and indigenous converts often sought his counsel and intercession, although he lacked any formal spiritual education. It was for this reason that the ecclesiastical authorities sent the young priest Francisco de Losa to investigate López, to determine whether he was the deeply spiritual figure many believed him to be, or whether he held heterodox beliefs that should make him a target of the Inquisition.

Francisco de Losa (1536-1634) was born in the province of León, Spain and immigrated to New Spain around 1566 after being ordained a priest. He rose quickly in the ecclesiastical ranks in the colony and held several important positions, including parish priest for the cathedral in Mexico City, and he was also a founding member of the influential Congrecación de San Pedro, a confraternity for secular priests. In addition to this he likely served as the private chaplain to several noble families in the city, and was well known for his generous work among the poor and sick.

When the two men met in 1578, Losa not only became convinced of López’s orthodoxy, he also believed that the hermit was a saintly figure. Over the coming months, and years, Losa would devote himself to López’s care and protection, defending him against any suspicions by the church clergy and also documenting all aspects of his life and teachings. Eventually in 1589, Losa secured a hermitage for López near the village of Santa Fe, and the two men settled there together until López’s death in 1596.

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Losa and López shared an intimate domestic life, and the experiences of this period form the core of Losa’s biography of his mentor, La Vida Que Hizo El Siervo de Dios Gregorio López, first published in Mexico in 1613. The work became popular, and was reprinted in several European editions, including the edition owned by Bryn Mawr, which is a French translation published in Brussels in 1650.

Losa would live long enough to give testimony in the saint making process begun for Gregorio López in 1620. It was initiated at the order of King Philip III, who learned of the hermit by reading Losa’s biography. Although López never became a saint, he was accorded the title “venerable”, a distinction rarely given by the church to figures from the Spanish colonies.

Sources:

  • Jodi Bilinkoff. “Francisco Losa and Gregorio López: Spiritual Friendship and Idenitity Formation on the New Spain Frontier.” Colonial Saints; Discovering the Holy in the Americas. New York: Routledge, 2003.