The Eccentric Ecclesiastic: The Life and Times of Manuel Abad y Queipo

Get to know Manuel Abad y Queipo, a priest and theologian from New Spain. Explore his impact on the Catholic Enlightenment and his views on New Spain's independence.

The Eccentric Ecclesiastic: The Life and Times of Manuel Abad y Queipo
Manuel Abad y Queipo, 1751- 1825. Credit: Doralicia Carmona: MEMORIA POLÍTICA DE MÉXICO.

Manuel Abad y Queipo was a complex figure in Mexican history. He was a member of the Catholic Enlightenment and advocated for liberal reforms to improve the lives of the people of New Spain. He also recommended modernizing the army and was a renowned canonist and theologian in his later years.

Despite his friendship with independence leader Miguel Hidalgo, Abad y Queipo eventually excommunicated him and strongly opposed Mexico's independence. He suggested various methods to end the rebellion and tried to prevent people in the bishopric of Michoacán from joining the independence movement.

The Life and Contributions of Abad y Queipo in Michoacán

Abad y Queipo was born on August 26, 1751, in the town of Villarpedre, in the bishopric of Oviedo. He was the natural son of José Abad y Queipo and Josefa de la Torre. After studying Canon Law at the University of Salamanca and obtaining the degree of Bachelor in Canons, in 1776 he went to Guatemala City as a relative of Archbishop Cayetano Francos y Monroy, who ordained him a priest in that same city and 1779 appointed him diocesan fiscal promoter. At that time, he also began to work as a lawyer for the Court of Guatemala.

In 1784, he joined the family of Fray Antonio de San Miguel, bishop of Comayagua and recently elected bishop of Michoacán, whom he accompanied to this diocese, where he would spend most of his life. Fray Antonio de San Miguel gave him the job of judge of wills, chaplaincies, and pious works before he moved to Valladolid de Michoacán. Abad y Queipo did a great job in this job for more than twenty years, and he used it to become friends with many of the top people in the diocese and the cathedral chapter of Valladolid de Michoacán, earning their trust and respect.

In his first years in Michoacán's capital, he earned the respect of many residents by resolving a slew of problems, contributing to the funding of several public works projects, and significantly contributing to the construction of the tobacco factory. During the smallpox epidemic of 1797, he also helped raise a lot of money so that many people could get vaccinated. He did this by convincing people that bovine fluid was good for them.

The Representation on Personal Immunity of the Clergy by Abad y Queipo

As a judge of wills, chaplaincies, and religious works at the Michoacan cathedral, and because the bishop and cathedral chapter held him in high regard, he wrote the Representation on Personal Immunity of The Clergy, a transcendental document that was sent to King Charles IV in December 1799.

In it, Abad y Queipo drew attention to how the Royal Court of Crime in Mexico was misusing a reform from 1795 that let the secular and regular clergy off the hook when they committed terrible and huge crimes. But that document wasn't just about the law. Its author used the chance to suggest to the king several reforms that could help the people of New Spain with their social problems and show how bad the clergy's financial situation was.

In defense of the clergy's immunity, reforms were suggested, such as getting rid of the indigenous tribute. This, along with the rest of Abad y Queipo's ideas, earned him the respect of many of his contemporaries, both in the civil and religious spheres.

Election to the Royal Academy and Recognition for Manuel Abad y Queipo

In January 1805, he was elected an honorary member of the Royal Academy of San Carlos, together with important personalities such as Don Benito Moxô y Francoli, archbishop of Charcas; Nemesio Salcedo, commander general of the Internal Provinces; Brigadier Roque Abarca, governor of Guadalajara; the intendant of Puebla, Manuel de Flon; the intendant of Guanajuato, Juan Antonio de Riaño and the intendant of Valladolid, Felipe Díaz de Ortega. That election was another of the elements that projected the name of Manuel Abad y Queipo throughout the viceroyalty.

In the same year, he got the degrees of Licentiate and Doctor in Canons from the University of Guadalajara and won, through a competition, the penitentiary canonry of the cathedral of Valladolid de Michoacán, which had been empty since the death of Miguel Hidalgo's uncle, Don Vicente Gallaga Mandarte.

Manuel Abad y Queipo's A Journey to Spain, Reforms, and Revolution

He went to Spain in 1806 to petition King Ferdinand III to absolve him of the irregularity of his birth. However, the cathedral chapter of Valladolid de Michoacán and many private individuals took advantage of Abad y Queipo's trip to ask him to try to convince the king of the enormous damage caused to the economy of New Spain by the application of the royal decree for the consolidation of vouchers, against which he had written, at the request of many of the owners of the diocese, a representation and a document of enormous value. Abad y Queipo, on the other hand, used this trip to make contacts at court and present a large number of certifications and dossiers that spoke highly of his character.

Before returning to New Spain, Manuel Abad y Queipo passed through France, where he had the opportunity to observe the functioning of the Napoleonic army and to learn in detail about Napoleon Bonaparte's expansionist plans. So, while he was still in New Spain, he sent several suggestions to the Spanish government to stop the peninsula and its overseas colonies from attacking France.

All of the above, as well as the petitions that the cathedral chapter of Valladolid de Michoacán, the most important city councils of the diocese, and several powerful individuals made to the king to elect him bishop of Michoacán, were enough for the Spanish Regency to declare him bishop-elect in May of 1810.

Well aware of the social and political situation that the viceroyalty was going through, a few days after taking possession of the miter, he wrote to the regency to warn it that New Spain was ready for a general revolution unless wise and prudent measures were taken to prevent it. However, that warning went unheeded, perhaps because it was too late or because of the circumstances Spain was going through. On September 16 of that year, the armed movement broke out.

The Battle Against Insurgency and Manuel Abad y Queipo's Response to the Mexican War of Independence

On September 24, 1810, as soon as he heard of the armed uprising led by Miguel Hidalgo, Manuel Abad y Queipo issued a pastoral letter in which he declared the main leaders of the insurgency and all their present and future followers excommunicated. All of this was done to strike a hard blow against the rebels right from the start of the independence movement.

In the same way, he showed his parishioners in the above-mentioned document the evils and horrors that the insurgency would bring if it kept going the way it was. As an example, he used the destruction, barbarism, and chaos of an armed uprising that had happened five years earlier on the island of Hispaniola.

The ex-communication fulminated by Manuel Abad y Queipo against the leaders and followers of the insurgency earned him the enmity and fury of the latter, so that, upon the entrance of Hidalgo's army to Valladolid de Michoacán, he had to flee to Mexico City. For their part, the rebels made public the fact that the bishop-elect had an illegitimate son, which, according to canon law, made it impossible for him to be a priest. This showed that the ex-communication order was not valid.

But Abad y Queipo kept fighting against the uprising. When the leader and his army left the capital of Michoacan, he went back to Michoacan and kept making suggestions to the viceroyalty authorities and royalist military chiefs. He also issued several sermons and edicts to try to turn his parishioners away from the uprising and gave different amounts of money to the king's troops.

The Political Testament and Imprisonment of Manuel Abad y Queipo

He remained so until 1815 when he left for Spain, called by Ferdinand VII to consult him directly about the situation in New Spain. Before his trip, fearful of dying without having reached his destination, he wrote a representation addressed to the king, dated June 20, 1815, which was called by Abad y Queipo himself his political testament. In it, among other things, he asked the king to protect the poor from the rich despots and made it clear that his efforts had been directed to avoid chaos, destruction, and ruin in New Spain, not to justify or continue tyranny or oppression.

While in Spain, he was prosecuted by the Inquisition of New Spain and imprisoned in the Dominican convent of El Rosario, in Madrid. He was then accused of being a supporter of the insurgents and was questioned about his former friendship with Miguel Hidalgo. However, since he could not prove any accusation of infidelity or heresy, he was released.

In 1820, he was appointed a member of the Provisional Junta formed by the Spanish liberals and was also elected deputy to the Cortes for the province of Asturias and, in 1822, bishop of Tortosa. However, when King Ferdinand VII was restored to the Spanish throne in 1824, he ordered his arrest for having been a member of the Provisional Junta and was sentenced to six years in the convent of Santa María de Sisla, near Toledo, where he died on September 15, 1825, at the age of 74, totally deaf, almost blind, and in absolute poverty.

Sources and bibliography:

Juvenal Jaramillo, ABAD Y QUEIPO, MANUEL, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Diccionario de La Independencia de México, 2010, pp.15-18.

Abad y Queipo, Manuel, Colección de escritos. Est. introd. y notas de Guadalupe Jiménez Codinach. México, Conaculta, 1994.

Fisher, Lilian Estelle, Champion of Reform, Manuel Abad y Queipo. Nueva York, Russell and Russell, 1971.

Herrejón Peredo, Carlos, “Las luces de Hidalgo y de Abad y Queipo”, en Relaciones, núm. 40, vol. x, 1989, pp. 29-65.

Jaramillo Magaña, Juvenal, Hacia una Iglesia beligerante: la gestión episcopal de fray Antonio de San Miguel en Michoacán, 1784-1804: los proyectos ilustrados y las defensas canónicas. Zamora, El Colegio de Michoacán, 1996.

Sierra de Casasús, Catalina, "El excomulgador de Hidalgo", in Miguel Hidalgo: ensayos sobre mito y hombre (1953-2003). sobre el mito y el hombre (1953-2003). Selec. of texts and bibliography by Marta Terán et al. al. Mexico/Madrid, inah/Fundación Histórica Tavera, 2004, pp. 177-184.