The Jesuit and the Incas

The Extraordinary Life of Padre Blas Valera, S.J.
Sabine Hyland
The story of the life and untimely death of a persecuted priest in colonial Peru and the controversy over mysterious, recently discovered documents about him


In the spirit of justice Blas Valera broke all the rules—and paid with his life. Hundreds of years later, his ghost has returned to haunt the official account. But is it the truth, and will it set the record straight?

This is the story of Father Blas Valera, the child of a native Incan woman and Spanish father, caught between the ancient world of the Incas and the conquistadors of Spain. Valera, a Jesuit in sixteenth-century Peru, believed in what to his superiors was heresy: that the Incan culture, religion, and language were equal to their Christian counterparts.

As punishment for this treachery he was imprisoned, beaten, and, finally, exiled to Spain, where he died an untimely death at the hands of English pirates in 1597.

Four centuries later, this Incan chronicler had been all but forgotten, until an Italian anthropologist discovered some startling documents in a private Neapolitan collection. The documents claimed, among other things, that Valera's death had been faked by the Jesuits; that he had returned to Peru; and, intriguingly, while there had taught his followers that the Incas used a secret phonetic quipu—a record-keeping device of the Incas—to record history.

Far from settling anything, the documents created an international sensation among scholars and led to bitter disputes over how they should be assessed. Are they forgeries, authentic documents, or something in between? If genuine, they will radically reform our view of Inca culture and Valera. The author insightfully examines the evidence, showing how fact and fiction intertwine, and brings the dimly understood history of this author-priest to light.

Sabine Hyland is Co-director of a multidisciplinary project studying the Chanka people of Peru. She holds a doctoral degree in anthropology from Yale, and is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at St. Norbert College.

Praise / Awards

  • "This is a beautifully written, deeply informed and highly informative work. . . . [Hyland] has cast a bright light into a corner of early colonial Latin American scholarship that we had all but abandoned hope of ever seeing into very clearly."
    —Gary Urton, Harvard University

  • "[A] refreshingly lucid account of an important but poorly known figure in colonial Latin American history."
    —Richard L. Burger, Yale University

  • ". . . a 'must-read' by all serious scholars of native Andean history."
    Catholic Historical Review
  • ". .. . Hyland provides insight into the life of the Jesuit scholar, indigenous historian, teacher, and religious comparativist. Part history, part detective novel, the book plunges into various controversies: Christianity and indigenous Inca religion; Jesuits and the Spanish Crown; Valera's own mixed heritage; and even Valera and the Jesuits who imprisoned and then exiled him, despite his loyalty to the order. . . . Valera takes his place among ethnographers such as Acosta and Native rights advocates such as Las Casas, and Hyland's book provides captivating access to his unique contribution to history. Highly Recommended."

  • "Sixteenth-century mestizo Jesuit Blas Valera has long remained an elusive figure in colonial Andean history, but Sabine Hyland's new study of this fascinating man changes that. Her book uncovers the key events in Valera's life and spells out his ideas on native Peruvian history, religion, and language. As a result, Valera rises from the shadows and becomes a significant player in the debates on the historical conception of the Incas and evangelization strategies for the indigenous population in the sixteenth century. . . . Thanks to Sabine Hyland's book, many readers will find a new window through which to view the history of colonial Peru."
    CLAHR: Colonial Latin American Historical Review

  • ". . . a wonderfully written study that takes the reader into the early colonial world where an Andeanised Christianity was a plausible alternative to idol-smashing ethnocide, and where it was still possible to imagine other outcomes for Peruvian society. The rise and fall of mestizo Valera's work and the tragic arc of his life humanise otherwise dry Tridentine debates over how much authorship Andeans would be granted over the religion they would publicly practice in the colonial world. . . . Hyland is to be thanked for giving us this beautifully written and moving history. A must for specialists, it is also suitable for advanced undergraduate classes."
  • ". . . a highly recommended contribution to Peruvian History [sic] in general, and the New World history of the Catholic Church in the 16th century in particular."
    Midwest Book Review, December 2003

Look Inside

Copyright © 2003, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 272pp.
  • 4 B&W photographs, 1 map, 8 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2004
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03041-5

Add to Cart
  • $29.95 U.S.



  • Peru, Peruvian, Incas, Incan, Spain, Spanish, Jesuit, Christian, Christianity, colonialism, anthropology, cultural studies, medieval, renaissance, history, religious studies, religion, mystery, South America