Diego de Landa was a Fransiscan Friar and Archbishop of Yucatán during the initial phase of conquest by Spain. He appears to have been a scholarly man and did his best to document Mayan culture. Sadly his original works were lost over time and what remains to us are fragments of copies pieced together. He had royal scribes decipher the Maya script and tried to produce a Maya to Spanish translator by simple substitution of Maya Characters with Spanish letters. Anyone who played with Google Translate for more than five minutes can see the flaws in this approach.
Unfortunately well over 90% of what we now know about the Maya comes from this priest.
In 1562 he learned that some of his Catholic Converts were continuing to observe Mayan practices, in particular Idol worship. He also claimed to have uncovered evidence of ritual human sacrifice. But this was in response to contemporary criticism of his subsequent actions which ran counter to Crown policy and Inquisition procedure. His apologists were his own priests.
Bishop de Landa rounded up as many idols as he could find and held an act of faith – “Auto de fé” – the famous public expression of faith of the Spanish Inquisition.
Hundreds of Mayan nobles were tortured by the Spaniards by hoisting, also called La Corda or Strappado. They were interrogated while suspended in a manner that causes the shoulders to dislocate. The process is helped along by beating the victim, tying weights to their feet and by repeatedly raising and dropping them. In this way the Maya were brought into the loving arms of Jesus.
On July 12th 1562 the Archbishop set fire to a pile of about 5,000 Maya idols. He also then committed the greatest sin in the history of scholarship. He burned every Maya holy book he could find. He claimed to have burned 27 Mayan Codices on that day. He then sent his priests out across the land to copy his example, and burn every Maya Codex they could find.
To give perspective on this act we now have three Mayan Codices and 10 pages of a fourth remaining today. Nobody knows how many were destroyed.
This being a Sunday let’s say a Hail Mary for the eternal soul of Bishop Diego de Landa, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19)