Indigenous artisans in Mexico and Peru were widely admired for their skill by Spanish colonists, who quickly put them to work to building mansions and churches in viceregal towns and cities. This excerpt from the Monarchia Indiana, an extensive history of the Indies written by the Franciscan Juan de Torquemada (1564–1624), depicts how, early in the 16th century, friars and indigenous masons worked together on the construction of new buildings: the friars as supervisors and designers, the indigenous builders as masons and carvers. Written at a time when the power of mendicant orders, like the Franciscans, was hemmed in by the Catholic Church, Torquemada's book aimed to commemorate Franciscan stewardship of New Spain's indigenous people in the early decades of the colony.
Pre–Hispanic Mexican houses used post–and–lintel construction; sacred buildings were generally large stepped pyramids, with religious rituals and celebrations taking place on the exterior of the building. While pre–Hispanic architecture is highly sophisticated, indigenous architects never used the semicircular arch that formed the foundation for stone–vaulted buildings, perhaps because there was little need for large enclosed spaces. In this excerpt, Juan de Torquemada describes the reaction of indigenous artisans toward this foreign form; first marvel, then fear, and then mastery. One of the creations mentioned here, the patio of Tlaxcala, can be seen in the Vistas gallery. See an image of the vaulted spaces in Tlaxcala in the Vistas Gallery.