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Spotlight On: Francisco Marroquin

Elena Alvarado looks at the life of Guatemala’s busiest bishop

You’ve probably seen Francisco Marroquin before.  He’s the confused looking individual that graces the Q100 bill.  However, before being minted, Marroquin had one of the most interesting lives of any of the bishops to land upon Guatemalan shores.

       Born in Spain, Francisco Marroquin graduated as a lawyer and then became ordained. A member of nascent Jesuit movement, Marroquin was sent over to Guatemala on the same expedition that contained Pedro de Alvarado, the chief invader of Guatemala. Unlike Alvarado, Marroquin immediately fell in love with Guatemala and never returned to Spain.

       While Alvarado was busy planning colonialist expeditions  in an attempt to build wealth and personal glory (including an ill-fated journey to Peru that ended with a sanction from the Spanish Crown) Marroquin was pursuing the founding of a new religious movement that included Spaniards, Mayans and mestizos.  Although notably paternalistic in his outlook and worldview, Marroquin was arguably the most progressive foreigner in terms of Spanish-Mayan relations over 300 years. Marroquin is also notable for learning K’iche, likely becoming the first Spaniard to learn that language.

       Ordained the first bishop in Central America, Marroquin was instrumental in the reconstruction effort after the earthquake of 1541. This earthquake completely destroyed the city of Santiago de Guatemala. Marroquin founded an orphanage to help care for those whose parents died during the earthquake.

       In his spare time, Marroquin was also instrumental in the process that established the Colegio Mayor, the first formalized Western-style educational institution in Guatemala.

       Francisco Marroquin can definitely be counted as one of the “good guys” in the history of Guatemala—he certainly did much to try to diminish Pedro de Alvarado’s negative impact on the country and definitely lives up to his epigraph that is printed on every Q100 note: “defensor de los indigenas y creador del Colegio Mayor.” (Defender of the indigenous people and creator of the Colegio Mayor.)

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