Francisco Marroquín was born in the province of Santander, in northern Spain, of noble and landed family. After completing ecclesiastical studies and taking priestly vows, Marroquín studied theology and philosophy at the University of Heusca. While at the University, Marroquín belonged to a renewal movement that affirmed all people as equal before God and under law and no society as just unless it was based on the free exercise of human will. This renewal movement was comparable to the humanist movements of Salamanca, Valladolid, and Alcalá de Henares. Rather than theorize about these ideals, Marroquín embarked to the New World in 1527 and put these ideals into practice.
Marroquín first landed in Mexico, where he became the ecclesiastical judge for the Audiencia under the orders of Juan de Zumárraga, who later founded a university and became bishop of Mexico. While in Mexico, Marroquín met Pedro de Alvarado, a cruel, ambitious, and arrogant soldier who managed to persuade Marroquín to leave his position of importance to become a simple priest in the city of Santiago in Guatemala (today Ciudad Vieja). Marroquín quickly discovered that Guatemala was organized almost as a military camp where one could still smell the odor of gunpowder and blood. Alvarado governed as an arbitrary captain, using oppression and tyranny to maintain political unity. Servitude and slavery of Native Americans dominated the life of the territory. Having passed much of his life in abstract intellectual debate, Marroquín almost certainly experienced shock at witnessing such a reality.
Refusing to despair, Marroquín concentrated more on what he could do than on what should be done in general. For Marroquín, the moral sermon was not enough. He acted at once to gain wider areas of liberty and justice for the Native Americans. Infused with missionary zeal, Marroquín visited the villages of his provinces to record the number of enslaved Native Americans. Eventually Alvarado’s control waned. Marroquín was appointed bishop of Santiago and, with the help of Alonso de Maldonado, the new provisional governor of Guatemala, he used his survey of Native American conditions to effect the liberation of Native Americans from oppression, servitude, and plunder. As a gesture of appreciation, the people eventually elected Marroquín governor.
Beyond the greed of those colonists who saw in Guatemala a place to plunder and seek fortune, Marroquín saw and established a new society of liberty.
Hero of Liberty image attribution: Ramón Moreno Rodríguez (Correos de Guatemala, República de Guatema) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons PD-1923