Colonial Puebla de los Ángeles’ mixed population of Spaniards, creoles, Native Americans, and groups of African descent confronted death frequently. Epidemic disease combined with mundane illnesses and infirmities made dying a quotidian and familiar experience among all social groups. The city’s religious and secular officials recognized death as an important rite of passage and sponsored and supported scripted rituals of death designed to guide the soul to its final resting place. As they aided individual souls, priests, city council members, and cathedral representatives in Puebla also used the sacraments, spiritual and practical charity, and elaborate ceremonies including royal exequies (exequias reales), to unite the diverse city of Puebla in a common Catholic faith. This article explores these official attempts to encourage and promote a Catholic unity at death while also demonstrating how repeated bouts of epidemic disease, limited resources, and racial and socioeconomic differences served to nuance and temper the vision of a shared “terminal harmony” promoted and encouraged by the city’s officials.
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