Dr Eckart Kühne - The Jesuit missions of Chiquitos in the lowlands of Bolivia

On The June 4, 2024

Residence IEA - ENS de Lyon
Open on registration: please contact Vincent.Renner@univ-lyon2.fr
San José de Chiquitos ® Eckart Kühne-2011
San José de Chiquitos ® Eckart Kühne-2011

As part of the Collegium seminars, Dr Eckart Kühne will present his research on the Jesuit missions of Chiquitos in the eastern lowlands of Bolivia. For almost 40 years, Dr Eckart Kühne has been working on the architecture, art and history of the Jesuit missions of Chiquitos in eastern Bolivia and has returned there repeatedly for building surveys and restoration projects, the organization of exhibitions, collaboration on construction sites, conferences and historical studies. His research also encompassed other areas in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina, while academic studies and livelihood also brought him back to Switzerland.

A brief introduction concerns the historical significance of the Old Jesuit Order and its missions in South America, with particular reference to the myths and legends that still surround the so-called Jesuit state and make a sober evaluation of the missions difficult. I would therefore like to try to illuminate the special features of the Guaraní and Chiquitos missions from today's academic perspective: no longer as the heroic work of the Jesuit order and individual charismatic missionaries, but as a form of society that could only emerge in a constant exchange between the Jesuits and the Indians, in other words between two rationally acting but often misunderstanding parties.

In accordance with my own research, the presentation focuses on urban planning, architecture and art in Chiquitos and describes them using the testimonies of three important Jesuits: The Swiss Martin Schmid (1694-1772) introduced baroque music to Chiquitos and built three extraordinary churches that still stand today. The Spaniard Bartolomé de Mora (1691-1760) was also active as a lay architect, but built his church according to completely different principles. And the Frenchman Ignacio Chomé (1696-1767), a linguist, wrote extensive dictionaries and grammars of the Chiquitano and Zamuco languages.

After the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, the missions did not disappear, as is often claimed, but experienced a second cultural heyday, of which some buildings and works of art still bear witness today.  It was not until the middle of the 19th century that the missions were dissolved and their territory opened up to white settlers, but the Chiquitanos held on to the buildings and customs of the Jesuit era and defended them bravely, even though their oppression and the exploitation of their labor increased more and more.

Thanks to Martin Schmid's letters, which were kept by his family, the Swiss Jesuits learned about the important missionary. In 1972, they sent the architect Hans Roth (1934-1999) to Bolivia to save the churches that were in danger of collapsing. He worked on their restoration until his death. In 1990, the churches were inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List. Roth saved the baroque music archive, made new performances of this music possible, created a new regional architecture and supported with his work the development of the region and the emancipation of the Chiquitanos.