Beginning in the late eighteenth century, an increasing number of Veracruz
and Mexico City elites embraced a simpler, more individual piety. By the
mid–nineteenth century, few testators demonstrated the baroque sensibil-
ities so prevalent in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. As we
have seen, this enlightened piety radically reconfigured the path to God.
Baroque Catholicism’s miraculous infusions of divine mercy into the mun-
dane world, its magnificent external prods to piety, the Church’s elaborate
mediating hierarchy—all came in for criticism from those who felt that
God illuminated them from within. The reformed displayed His binding
e√ect on the will through their studied restraint, through the modest
funerals and cemetery burials that rejected both sensual stimulation and
the saints and the congregation as crucial mediators with the Divine. They
faced God alone, with only the Church’s minimal mediation, for He was
not an exterior force, but always already there in their hearts.
But if enlightened Catholicism helped create the modern individual and
thereby eroded ancien régime group identities, it also abetted novel claims
to social leadership; it was both a socially destructive and a socially creative
force. The reformed wrested from the pared-down piety a new justification
for rule: baroque display demonstrated a lack of godly moderation, and
they instead opted to observe their social inferiors, not dazzle them. Their
economic and political success sprang from God’s interior mortification of
the senses, and thus they should rule those whose flamboyance or feckless-
ness revealed their hollow interiors. The new piety sacralized their quite
worldly quests, and thus they demoted the religious orders’ distance from
the world from its lofty spiritual position. In Veracruz the enlightened laity
systematically usurped the religious’ charitable functions, while through-
out the Empire, new institutions like the Alcaldes de Barrio brought sur-
veillance to the city’s well-lit streets. And in post-Independence Mexico
City, Mora and Lizardi concluded that the Church squandered its vast
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