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The Jesuits

In 1534, Ignatius of Loyola founded the Company of Jesus (Compañía de Jesús), a religious Order with military-like discipline. Dedicated to education and evangelization, the Jesuits established 74 schools on three continents within two decades. The following century, their first mission, or reducción (Portuguese: redução) appeared in South America. Córdoba, Argentina, became the capital of the Provincia Jesuítica del Paraguay which included parts of present-day Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. Due to constant attacks of bandeirantes (Portuguese slave traders), the Brazilian settlements were abandoned. In a mass exodus, the Jesuits and Tupí-Guaraní residents fled south of the Paraná River where they rebuilt the communities.

Many reducciones had a common layout. Along the entry and left sides of the large, central plaza was housing for the indigenous population. The square's right flank had the cabildo (civil government hall) and housing. On the plaza’s far side was the church. To the temple’s right were the hospital, cotiguazú (housing for widows, orphans and elderly) and cemetery. To the left were workshops, school and religious quarters. Huertas or farmlands surrounded the reducción. As well as christianizing and educating indigenous peoples, the Jesuits taught them manual and musical arts. The reducciones, however, weren’t entirely positive. Not only did they become foci for slave traders, but also for diseases to which the native populations had little resistance. Some historians view the Jesuit-indigenous relationship as paternalistic; the priests didn’t teach true skills to survive the Spaniards' new world order. Other indigenous nations also saw the reducción system as a threat to their culture, and attacked the missions or fled into the landscape's deeper recesses.

The Portuguese and Spanish Crowns, too, thought the reducciones, which were politically autonomous, economically successful and had self-defense armies, a menace. Portugal expelled the Order from its territories in 1759. A fashion revolt led to Spain's expulsion. The Marquis de Esquilache outlawed long capes and broad-brimmed hats. Madrid citizens massively demonstrated March 23-26, 1766, against the Marquis' dictate, economic and political instability, and high prices and taxes. A government investigation blamed the Jesuits for the unrest, and also charged them with conspiring with the English against Spain, intending to form an empire in Uruguay and hoarding riches. Spanish King Carlos III expelled the Compañía from Spain and its colonies in1767. In 1773, Pope Clement XIV suppressed the religious Order.

After the expulsion, the South American Jesuit missions were turned over to Franciscans. In less than a century, most were abandoned. Paraguayan and Portuguese forces burned many during their 1816-1819 invasions. In the early 20th Century, European immigrants used the stone for buildings. Of the surviving mission ruins, 30 are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including San Ignacio Miní, Loreto and Santa Ana in Argentina's Misiones Province.

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