Exploring Colonial Mexico©
family had distinguished antecedents in Spain. The scion of landowners
and minor aristocracy in Castile and the Basque provinces, the
first member of the family to arrive in New Spain was Pedro
de Sardaneta y Legazpi in the 1600s. He immediately acquired
and developed mining interests in San Luis Potosi.
His son, Antonio Perez, settled in Santa Fe de Guanajuato where he married into the San Clemente family, proprietors of the Mellado and Cata mines.
In 1715 Antonio's son Pedro leased the failing Las Rayas mine for 10,000 pesos per year, in time paying off much of its debt, but it was Pedro's enterprising brother José who acquired the mine outright in 1727.
José de Sardaneta y Legazpí
An energetic and innovative entrepreneur, José expanded the mining operations of Las Rayas. He was the first to use explosives to blast out new shafts and tunnels, and also introduced the mule powered arrastre, a cheaper and more efficient method of crushing ore. In addition to controlling and enlarging the mine, José acquired a number of haciendas in the area, notably the Hacienda de Burras, southwest of Guanajuato, to provision the mining settlement and provide logistical support including refining and smelting operations.
An almost feudal figure, Don José played a leading role in the growing city, underwriting numerous civic and religious projects and holding many official posts. Don José sired 2 sons and 4 daughters. His eldest son, Vicente Manuel, inherited the largest share of the mine and managed its operations on behalf of his sisters and his brother José Joaquín, a Jesuit priest who later became rector of the Jesuit college in Guanajuato and the prime mover in the founding and construction of the church of La Compañía there.
de Sardaneta y Legazpí, first Marqués de Rayas
Born in 1715, Vicente, like Don José, showed an early talent for and interest in business. As a prominent member of the local elite, he continued in his father's footsteps as a civic leader and entrepreneur. In addition, his lifelong piety also impelled him to support numerous religious projects including the building of churches and chapels and the creation of lavish altarpieces and other religious images.
In 1756, at the age of 40, he married the also pious Angela de Ribera y Llorente. This union produced one son, José Mariano, the second Marqués and sole heir to the Rayas mine and its many haciendas - a circumstance that helped to perpetuate the family ownership of the mine.
Under the Bourbons,
the Spanish Crown followed a policy of investing prominent and
wealthy Mexican criollos, notably the silver barons, with aristocratic
titles. This was in part to reward them for the revenues they
had brought to the royal coffers, but also to ensure continued
loyalty and service to crown and colony among its leading citizens.
As well as wealth, good works and reputation for merit, a suitably
worthy ancestry was also essential, all of which the Sardaneta
family could claim.
In July 1774 King Carlos lll granted Vicente Manuel the hereditary titles of Marqués de San Juan de Rayas and Visconde de Sardaneta, permitting the addition of a coronet to the family coat-of-arms created by José de Sardaneta - gold and silver castles quartered with an eagle and checkerboard pattern. This noble escutcheon was carved above the chapel doorway in the Casa de Rayas - although now largely obliterated except for the crown.
Note: The original family escutcheon can still be seen emblazoned on the silver pedestal supporting the statue of Our Lady of Guanajuato in the parish church - an elaborate tiered structure donated by José de Sardaneta in 1737.
Mariano de Sardaneta y Llorente, second Marqués de Rayas
The first Marques de San Juan de Rayas died in April 1787. As his only son, José Mariano became the sole heir to the Rayas mine and the family holdings. Born in 1761, he came of age during the unrest preceding the Independent movement and played a prominent role in its unfolding. Educated at the venerable Franciscan College of San Juan de Letrán in Mexico City1, he was man of the Enlightenment. As such he was caught up in the intense political and social discourse of his day, which claimed much of his time and energy and caused him and the Rayas family great financial and personal hardship.
A less practical and entrepreneurial man than his father, his stewardship of the mine and his many properties suffered, especially during the political and economic turmoil of the late 1700s.
His association with nationalist criollo circles, notably the clandestine group of highly placed patriots known as Los Guadalupes,2 led to the accusation of pro-independence sympathies.
In 1811 he was charged with subversion against the Crown, interrogated and after a prolonged investigation and trial in 1816 he was condemned to exile in Spain, a sentence that was never implemented although the Marquis was imprisoned in Veracruz for several years, from 1817 to 1820.
Released in 1820 he became one of the signers of the Act of Mexican Independence in 1821.
After Independence he was honored both nationally and in his home town, although he never served in public office. The second Marqués died in 1835 and his remains were eventually interred in the Franciscan church and convent of San Diego, a foundation that he had sponsored in life.
1 A college founded
by Fr. Pedro de Gante in the precincts of San Francisco de Mexico,
close to San José de Los Naturales, his famous school for
Indians. San Juan de Letrán (St. John Lateran) functioned
for almost 300 years, from the early 1500s to the early 1800s.