Inquisition: A Case of Lucas, an indigenous man who claimed to be God

How an indigenous man by the name of Lucas was supposed to have claimed that he was God and that he descended from heaven when he was strolling through the public plaza in the year 1536 in the Mexican state of Michoacán.

Inquisition: A Case of Lucas, an indigenous man who claimed to be God
Detail of the mural "The History of Michoacán". Execution of Tangáxoan II. The poster reads. "Tangáxoan II last monarch of the Purépecha indigenous people, was tortured and murdered by the ferocious hordes led by the sadistic-vil Nuño de Guzmán". On the left, the woman on the white horse is Eréndira, daughter of the cazonci, who would lead the resistance. Credit: Pueblos originarios

At the beginning of the Inquisition in Mexico, indigenous people were harshly punished for saying or doing something against the Catholic religion. Such was the case of Lucas, a native of Michoacán who demanded tribute, claiming to be God and the soul of the last cazonci. After being arrested, Diego Becerra, a Tarascan speaker, was in charge of interrogating him since Lucas did not know Spanish and claimed that he was acting under the influence of the devil. He would have to spend two years in a monastery and was sentenced to one hundred public floggings in Mexico City and another one hundred in Michoacán.

After the first years of the conquest, most indigenous people were severely tried for idolatry, sorcery, and heresy. The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition punished these and other things that were against the Catholic faith and religion.

As an example we have a case from the year 1536 reported in Michoacán: an indigenous man named Lucas shouted that he was God and that he came from heaven while walking through the public square where the macehuales, that is, the social class that was hierarchically above the slaves but below the nobles, were strolling.

Lucas also claimed to be the anima of Tzíntzicha Tangáxoan or Tangáxoan II, the last cazonci (ruler) of the Purepecha territory, was betrayed and violently killed by the conquistadors. Because of this, the people who believed him used to pay him the tributes he asked for.

Because of this, by orders of the friar San Francisco, they sent him to the capital. Lucas did not speak or understand Spanish, so after being arrested, he was interrogated by Diego Becerra, an indigenous speaker of the Tarascan language, who also served as the translator of his confession. At first, Lucas first asked him not to comment on anything about the offerings and things requested by the macehuales, since the guard of the public square knew about them and did not want them to be seized, but his request was ignored. Becerra reported what had happened to the Holy Office and added that Lucas confessed that everything he had said was true and that it was the devil who had tricked him into making such statements.

As punishment for this behavior, he was sentenced to receive one hundred lashes in Mexico City. Upon returning to Michoacán, he would receive another one hundred and would be transferred to a monastery where he would be instructed in the holy Catholic faith and would have to serve for two years.

This case clearly illustrates the role of the evangelizers, the beliefs of the native peoples and the veneration they held for their ancient gods, and respect for their former rulers. We don't know if Diego Becerra correctly translated Lucas' confession if it was influenced by the fear of the inquisitors or by Catholic devotion, if Lucas sought to exploit people to obtain objects easily, or if it was a case of mental illness, but whatever the case, there was only one correct way in those days: to believe and respect the teachings of the Catholic Church.

AGN, Colonial Institutions, Viceregal Indifferent, Inquisition, box 0826, exp. 1.