The "Ghost Friars"
Along The Jesuit Trail in Veracruz:
From the Highlands To Paso de Ovejas

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

Exploring the Countryside around Veracruz
As part of the search for Santa Anna´s lost haciendas, I have done a lot of research in some of the musty old history books in Spanish. My search has taken me to the area around El Lencero, Boca del Monte and San Martin Tlacotepec. It is beautiful country in an unchanging land of eternal spring time.

A Visit to Paso de Ovejas, Veracruz
One day I didn´t have anything to do, and decided to take a drive up the old road towards Xalapa. I´d never been to Paso de Ovejas, so I decided to take a look.

When I go to these towns, I look for the Casa de la Cultura. It´s where you will always be well received, and the people there want to show you the interesting parts of their little town.

It was there I found a history written by a local school professor that told about the name of the town. It was called Paso de Ovejas, or Sheep Pass because it was the final destination of the Sheep Trail and a business founded by the Jesuits in 1572. The Sheep Trail was a Camino Real authorized by the King of Spain in the year 1600.

It sounded like a fascinating story, so when I got back home after the trip I wanted to find out more about the old Camino Real to Paso de Ovejas, and the Jesuit operation in Veracruz.

One of the best books I found was Herman W. Konrad´s, A Jesuit Hacienda in Colonial Mexico: Santa Lucia, 1576-1767. Although it wasn´t about Veracruz, it was an exhaustive study and provided an interesting glimpse into how the missionary order did its business. The purpose of the hacienda at Santa Lucia was to finance the Colegio Maximo de San Pedro y San Pablo, one of their colleges in Mexico City.

I wanted to find out more and began to research this project in both the archives and in the field. I wanted to see it all for myself. Maybe I would find the answers to several questions. I wondered what the countryside looked like today and if there were any vestiges left of the old sheep operation. At the same time, I wondered which college this operation supported.

For this, I had to hit the books and do some homework. Here is my story so far:

La China Poblana at the Convent of the
Jesuits in Puebla
A Chilling Story Late in the Night
Late one night, in a Mexican history book written in 1880, I came across a chilling chapter called "El extrañamento de los jesuitas", or "The Banishment of the Jesuits."

In it was the precise background of the Jesuits in Europe, the tumultuous problems they caused the King of Spain, and the mechanism of the top secret banishment order that was carried out in quick fashion, at least for those days.

It was remarkable to remember in those days the only means of communications was the royal mail service which must have taken weeks for the ship to arrive in Mexico from Spain.

Much of this history is now forgotten, and it´s not easy to find information. I got some local maps from the government map service, and started driving through the countryside and talking to the people in the countryside looking for what might be left of the Jesuit Trail in Veracruz.

Paso de Ovejas is about a 45 minute drive from Veracruz and the area I was to search is close to home.

Today the search continues, and this is what I have found so far. I should also add that from my own experience, the Jesuits are doing a fine job.

It is an fascinating event in history in a time when the attitudes of the people were very different from today.

If you have any additional information about the Jesuits in this part of Mexico please let me know.

The Route of the Jesuits in Veracruz
In 1519, when the Spaniards arrived in Mexico, there were no domestic animals such as horses, oxen, sheep, donkeys, pigs, and chickens.

The Jesuits arrived in 1572, and around 1600, introduced sheep to Mexico to help finance their high schools and universities. Wool was expensive in Spain so it was a good business.

Paso de Ovejas
Los Portales in Paso de Ovejas
Paso de Ovejas
It was found the sheep would grow good quality wool in the in the high altitudes above Totutla, and Huatusco.

When shearing time came the route started around Totutla, and Tlacotepec, then went to the old hacienda at Acazónica.

In Paso de Ovejas, or "Sheep Pass", the wool was baled, and stored for later shipment to Spain.

There were even officials from the Crown in Paso de Ovejas to collect taxes on the wool.

The Camino Real Bridge to Veracruz
In Paso de Ovejas today you can still see Los Portales and large open walled area in the back where the wool was stored.

The Bridge on the Camino Real
About 3 blocks, down the hill from Los Portales you can still see what´s left of the original bridge along the Camino Real.

It went south towards Veracruz. To the south of the "new" bridge along the federal highway, you can see what was the original bridge built during colonial times when this area was called New Spain.

The old bridge has been closed to vehicles and people still use it to walk to town from the other side.

Three blocks on the other side of the bridge you can turn right and follow the original Camino Real the Jesuits followed for almost 200 years. That´s a long time.

Business was Good
Business went well for almost 200 years, from 1600 until 1767, when the Jesuits were expelled from not only Spain, but all of its colonies, including the Philippines, Mexico, and South America in a top secret lightning order that was carried out practically overnight in Central Mexico.

It took several months for the banishment orders to get to California, when the Jesuits there, too were deported to waiting ships in Veracruz. It was a real disappointment for many people, and the banishment of the Jesuits caused many social problems for many years afterwards.

The Search for Santa Anna´s Old Haciendas
My search began with the haciendas of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna, especially Manga de Clavo. Later I found he owned 4 other haciendas, El Lencero, Boca de Monte, and Paso de Varas. I wanted to visit each one.

The area around El Lencero, Boca del Monte and San Martin Tlacotepec is beautiful country. It is an area like the land of eternal spring time. Coffee bushes grow in the gentle shade of the tall trees. The air is cool and fresh, and there is a slight scent of cinnamon in the air.

Before Santa Anna purchased these haciendas, I wondered who they had belonged to, and discovered Paso de Ovejas which was the end of the Trail of the Jesuits in Veracruz. Perhaps Santa Anna had purchased some of these old properties at bargain basement prices. Nobody else would touch them and I wondered what the reason was.

I was always curious about the Trail of the Jesuits, and the plantation at Acazónica. I wanted to see what it looks like today. I wanted to explore the road through the badlands, the same as the Jesuits had for almost 200 years. Maybe I would find some remnants of the past lost along the way.

Old Map Dated 1805
Early Maps Not Always Right
This early map shows part of the route for the sheep taken each year to Paso de Ovejas by the Jesuit shepherds.

The route on the map is not exactly correct, since the road now ends in Paso de Ovejas and not Veracruz.

The dotted yellow lines is the correct route from San Martín Tlacotepec to Paso de Ovejas through Acazónica.

By the time this map was prepared around 1805, the Jesuits, but not their route to Paso de Ovejas, had disappeared.

The Banishment of the Jesuits from Mexico (1767) and How It Happened

The Jesuits in 18th Century Europe
At first glance, the Jesuits looked like pretty good people. A history book written in 1880 says they were the most intelligent and studious people of their time. They were the experts in subjects like mathematics, astronomy, botany, and physics. They were also experts in languages and literature.

In Europe, they were also the wealthiest and most powerful people of their times and they used their wealth to build, operate and maintain the schools and universities they founded. In spite of their wealth, they were still a rather austere group. They seemed like a group of hard working teachers working with high school and college students.

Wealth Brings Power and Problems
By the mid 18th century they were also the most feared institution on earth, especially by the kings of France and Spain. The history book I was reading said,

"Everyone knew where the Jesuits had come from, but no one knew where they were going. It was a solid organization of people dedicated to human freedom, but it was an organization of groups without a central direction."

My source went on to say,

"It was an association of minds, hearts, and lives that believed in reaching for the glory of God, and that anything in their own personal benefit was redundant. Groups of theologians supported the matter dogmatically, as if one of the missionaries would throw themselves in the middle of fierce Indian tribes to preach the Gospel to seal with their blood the martyrdom of their own obedience."

The problem was stated,

By many in authority in those days, "The Jesuit order was viewed like a snake without a head." It just grew on itself.

The problems began in France when they concluded the King was like any ordinary man and began spreading "libellous" ideas of independence from the crown, especially when the king was wrong, or committed unjust acts against the people.

New Ideas Not Well Received in Spain
When these ideas got to Spain, there were riots, and the king burned a couple of the leaders at the stake. But it wasn´t enough to quell the rebellious ideas. Pamphlets continued to appear against the king. Later more riots erupted against the king, and Jesuits were suspected to be the instigators.

The Jesuits in New Spain
New Spain lived several centuries of relative peace in comparison to the wars and conflicts in Europe among the Germans, Austrians, French, English, and Spanish.

However, the Jesuits in Mexico didn´t cause as many problems as they did in Europe, and dedicated their efforts to their schools, the evangelizing the Indians in the North, and to their businesses. Their students, in many cases, were the sons of the criollo elite. At the same time, the concepts they learned in the Jesuits schools later formed the ideas that launched the Independence Movement in Mexico during the later years after the Jesuits had left.

According to Lopetegui-Zubillaga, by 1645, the Company of Jesus had 401 jesuits who took care of 18 high schools. Each one of them had more than 6 subjects, and others attended parishes and missions.

The Jesuits formed the vanguard of the missionaries amongst the savage Indians of the North, and set up the first missions in the desolate areas of Baja California and Upper California as far north as San Francisco. Some of the Jesuit missionaries became martyrs to Indian attacks and hostile desert conditions while preaching the Word of the Lord.

The Overnight Banishment Order
So, one day, the king of Spain in order to control the threats to his throne, decided he would have to expel them not only from Spain, but from all the Spanish colonies, en masse to Rome. The pope really didn´t like them either and was somewhat afraid of them himself.

The Banishment Order
The Banishment Order
But, in a highly secret move, the king of Spain sent orders to all the viceroys in the colonies in Mexico, Central and South, America and the Philippines that within 30 days receipt of the orders(which were in two envelopes) they were to cordon off all the properties and isolate the priests.

They were given 24 hours to pack up and were escorted to ships in Veracruz.

When Charles III of Spain gave the almost lightning order, over night everyone in the order in Mexico was rounded up by royal soldiers and deputized citizens, and transferred to Veracruz for deportation to Rome. There was only time enough to pack up in one day and move out the next.

They had lived and worked in Mexico for 200 years and had some strong financial patrons, it was not enough.

On June 24, 1767 the Viceroy of New Spain opened a sealed envelope before high civilian and church officials.

The instructions to the Viceroy were direct and final:

« Si después de que se embarquen [en Veracruz]
se encontrare en ese distrito
un solo jesuita, aun enfermo o moribundo,
sufriréis la pena de muerte.

Yo el Rey ».

« If after they are embarked [from Veracruz]
there is found in that district
only one jesuit, although sick or dying,
You will suffer the punishment of death.

I, the King »

The Junta de "Temporalidades"
When the Jesuits finally left, Carlos III placed the 121 haciendas in the hands of a commision, and these properties, called "Temporalidades" were placed on the market at very low rates, long payment terms, and easy conditions.

However, nobody would touch the Temporalidades out of respect and love for the Jesuit fathers, who the local people said would come back. Although the Jesuits returned to Mexico in 1814, they never came back to occupy many of their former lands, at least in Veracruz.

My Own Search for the Lost Haciendas
This is when I began to look for the old haciendas to see if they were still abandoned or had been eventually taken over by the Agrarian Reform Movement in Mexico in the 1920´s and 1930´s.

What I discovered was that some of the old hacienda buildings are still abandoned and are in ruins. I asked the people who lived nearby about this and some of them told me people won´t touch them because are haunted. People have seen "ghost friars" that walk in the night and still protect their properties.

In the next couple of weeks I drove through these rough areas and took pictures which appear on the following pages. I hoped I wouldn´t see any "ghost friars".

My next step was to go to Paso de Ovejas which was the end of the Jesuit Trail.

Perhaps in the little town, less than an hour from the port of Veracruz, I would find some clues or something that the Jesuits had left when they were sadly banished from the New World in 1767.

>>> The Search for the Lost Trail
of the Jesuits in Veracruz

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