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Spanish translation of Sahagún's sermons presented in Chicago by UNAM researchers

Updated: May 19, 2023

As a result of the work carried out by UNAM Chicago, the Institute of Historical Research (IIH) and the Newberry Library, the UNAM researchers, Berenice Alcántara Rojas and Mario Alberto Sánchez Aguilera published and presented the book Siguense unos sermones de dominicas y de sanctos de lengua mexicana at this library and at Northwestern University, both located in Chicago.

The book includes the translation from Nahuatl into Spanish by Sánchez Aguilera of the original sermons that Fray Bernardino de Sahagún wrote as part of the evangelization of the indigenous people in the 16th century. The original manuscripts are kept at the Newberry Library, and are invaluable testimonies, said Berenice Alcántara, researcher at the IIH.

This text contains part of the encounter between the two cultures that gave rise to what we Mexicans are today, she said.

The evangelization project initiated by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún was very ambitious because it involved research into the history of the indigenous people. The writing of these sermons aimed so that other friars could orally communicate to the indigenous people at Sunday masses, however, in the case of this manuscript, the purpose went beyond, the researchers pointed out.

"This manuscript is very particular because it is believed that it was made so that the ecclesiastical authorities would give their approval. The writing of this sermon took 23 years. It reflects changes in form and substance and is written in an “hybrid language” that includes Latin, Spanish, Nahuatl and neologisms that seek to bring the indigenous people closer to the profound meaning of the messages in order to convert them to a new conception of the world," explained Mario Alberto Sánchez Aguilera, professor at the School of Philosophy and Letters, and specialist in ethnolinguistics.

The original is written on indigenous paper with a calligraphy that is difficult to understand, full of erasures and additions that were studied for more than 3 years to achieve an interpretation as close as possible to the original. The aim of the translation is to provide today's readers not only with the literal meaning of the text, but also to recover the rhetorical figures, examples, idiomatic expressions and new words that the writers created to achieve the objective of introducing the indigenous people not only to a new religion but also to a new culture.

The book consists of 600 pages in an edition financed jointly by UNAM Chicago, the Coordination of Humanities, the Institute of Historical Research, and the Newberry Library, which provided all the resources for the accomplishment of this work.

A large group of specialists and public attended the presentations of this work. They also presented the website created at the IIH, which not only contains the translation of the sermons but also the explanation of the process and the digital version of the original document. The link is:

"The research and the book are fascinating. From the paleographic transcription to translation are brilliant and the design of the website is extraordinary. People will now discover this because we will have the website in our own, said Daniel Green, President of the Newberry Library at the end of the presentation by the UNAM researchers.

For Guillermo Pulido, director of UNAM Chicago, "these projects are a splendid example of UNAM's international contribution to strengthen the main functions of the National University: academics, research and dissemination of culture".

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