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NOTE I. (Page xxviii.)
(1) Diego de Landa, the second bishop of Yucatan, was a native of Cifuentes de Alcarria, in Spain. (Plate LXVI.) Born in 1524, in the noble family of the Calderones, he at the age of seventeen, that is, in 1541, became a monk of the Order of St. Francis, in the Convent of San Juan de los Reyes, at Toledo. In August, 1549, being then twenty-five years old, he went to Yucatan as a missionary. He soon learned the language of the aborigines-Maya-under the tuition of Father Luis de Villalpando, whose grammar of that tongue he revised and corrected. It was afterward published in the City of Mexico by Father Juan Coronel.
From the time when Landa was able to understand the Maya language he dedicated his whole life to evangelical work, teaching Christianity to the natives, converting them to his faith. During thirty years, to the hour of his death, which occurred on the 29th of April, 1579, with the exception of the
two years he passed in Spain, he lived among the Mayas. Whilst preaching the gospel he took care to study the customs, manners, mode of life, laws, institutions, religion, and traditions of the people among whom he labored. He tells us, in his book, that their sciences, their history, and their religious tenets, with the rites and observances which they practised, were contained in volumes written in alphabetical and ideographic characters on prepared deer-skin (parchment), or on paper made from the roots of certain trees. At the impulse of a misguided religious zeal, attributable, no doubt, to the ideas and prejudices prevalent in Spain in the sixteenth century, and to his early education, assuming the rights and prerogatives of an inquisitor, he ordered an auto-de-fe, which took place in the city of Mani, in the year 1561, in presence of the majority of the Spanish nobility resident in the country. It is to be regretted that, together with the bones of a number of human beings that he had disinterred for the occasion, many precious volumes, containing the history and traditions of the Mayas written in the characters in use among them at that time, and other valuable objects, were consigned to the flames. Landa himself, in his work, complacently gives a detailed account of all the documents and various other things he thus caused to be destroyed; stating emphatically, as if to allay some secret pang of his conscience, that no human being was burned alive, although several individuals, fearing lest such horrid chastisement should be inflicted on them, hanged themselves, and their carcasses were scattered through the forests to become the prey of wild beasts and vultures.
However, the historian owes Landa a debt of gratitude, since, in spite of his blind fanaticism, by a strange freak, and as if to atone for the wanton destruction of the precious histor
ical data, he has preserved, with the manners and customs of the aborigines, some of the alphabetical and ideographic characters used by the Maya hierogrammatists, together with their symbols for the names of days and months. These have served as a key to decipher some pages of the Troano MS., as well as some of the inscriptions painted on the walls of the apartments in the palaces at Kabah and other places. Whatever certain Americanists may say, there can be no doubt as to the genuineness of said characters and symbols, nor as to the good faith of Landa, whose mental blindness we can only pity and deplore.