Eugenio Espejo

Eugenio Espejo

Francisco Javier Eugenio de Santa Cruz y Espejo (Royal Audiencia of Quito, February 21, 1747 – December 28, 1795) better known as Eugenio Espejo was an 18th-century Spanish physician, writer, librarian, lawyer, and a pioneering figure in colonial Ecuador. Born in 1747, he was of mestizo origin and became a notable scientist and writer, but his true impact lies in his role as a polemicist and advocate for separatism in Quito. Espejo was the first journalist and hygienist in Quito, using his platform to spread enlightened ideas and critique the lack of education, corruption, and cultural aspects of the colonial authorities. He composed an important treatise on sanitary conditions, showcasing his understanding of microorganisms and their role in disease transmission. Espejo’s satirical works, inspired by the Age of Enlightenment, made him a target for persecution, leading to his imprisonment shortly before his death in 1795. Despite his hardships, Eugenio Espejo is regarded as one of the most important figures in colonial Ecuador and left a lasting legacy as a champion of education, science, and social reform.


Eugenio Espejo was born on February 21, 1747, in the Royal Audiencia of Quito, part of the Spanish colonial territory. He hailed from a mixed heritage. His father, Luis de la Cruz Chuzhig, a Quichua Indian, worked as an assistant to the priest and physician José del Rosario, while his mother, Maria Catalina Aldás, was a mulatta native of Quito. Espejo grew up with two younger siblings, Juan Pablo and María Manuela, whom he cared for after the untimely death of their parents.

He emerged as a pioneering force in the realms of medicine, literature, law, and journalism during colonial Ecuador. As a mestizo with Quichua Indian and mulatta heritage, Espejo overcame racial discrimination to become a prominent figure in his society. Through his multifaceted endeavors, Espejo became a catalyst for change and a symbol of enlightenment in colonial Ecuador.

Early Life and Education

Eugenio Espejo’s early life was marked by his passion for knowledge and his commitment to self-improvement. Despite his family’s modest economic situation, Espejo received a solid education. He worked alongside his father, Luis de la Cruz Chuzhig, at the Hospital de la Misericordia, gaining practical medical knowledge.

Despite facing racial discrimination, Eugenio Espejo displayed remarkable perseverance and dedication to his education. He successfully completed his studies in both medicine and law.

On July 10, 1767, Espejo graduated from medical school, overcoming societal prejudices to achieve this significant milestone. Shortly after completing his medical degree, he embarked on further studies in jurisprudence and canon law. Under the guidance of Dr. Ramón Yépez, Espejo immersed himself in the study of law from 1780 to 1793.

Espejo’s commitment to his studies and his pursuit of knowledge were evident in his accomplishments. On August 14, 1772, he applied for permission to practice medicine in Quito, and his request was granted on November 28, 1772. This official authorization recognized his medical expertise and allowed him to serve the community as a licensed physician.

Medical Pioneer and Hygienist

Espejo’s contributions to the field of medicine were groundbreaking for his time. His treatise on sanitary conditions in colonial Ecuador showcased his understanding of hygiene and disease transmission. In this treatise, Espejo delved into the importance of cleanliness, the role of microorganisms in spreading diseases, and the need for improved sanitation practices. His ideas were ahead of their time and demonstrated his scientific acumen. Espejo’s work as a hygienist was instrumental in raising awareness about public health and laying the foundation for future advancements in this field.

Journalism and Enlightenment Ideas

Eugenio Espejo’s ideas were shaped by the Enlightenment philosophy that swept through Europe during his time. Inspired by European scholars such as Benito Jerónimo Feijóo, Espejo challenged the outdated educational system and the lack of intellectual progress in Quito. He critiqued the clergy’s role in perpetuating ignorance and affectation, advocating for a more practical and comprehensive approach to education.

As the founder of Quito’s first newspaper, Primicias de la Cultura de Quito, Eugenio Espejo established himself as a pioneering journalist and disseminator of enlightenment ideas. Through his writings, he aimed to educate the public and foster critical thinking. Espejo’s satirical works, inspired by the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment, critiqued the lack of education, economic mismanagement, corruption, and cultural aspects of the Audiencia of Quito. These works earned him both admiration and persecution from the colonial authorities.

Social Reform and Separatism

Espejo’s writings and actions were not limited to journalism; they were driven by a desire for social reform and the pursuit of separatism in Quito. He vehemently criticized the exploitation of the indigenous population by the dominant groups and advocated for equality and rights for all. Espejo’s separatist views inspired the movement for independence in Quito and challenged the prevailing social order. However, his ideas and activism led to persecution and imprisonment shortly before his death.

Ecuador’s first librarian

Eugenio Espejo is considered Ecuador’s first librarian and worked in the Quito Public Library in 1791, at which time he was in charge of nearly 40,000 volumes.

Legacy and Impact

Eugenio Espejo’s legacy in Ecuador is profound and far-reaching. His contributions to education, journalism, and scientific advancements continue to shape the nation. Espejo’s emphasis on critical thinking and freedom of expression laid the groundwork for a vibrant press in Ecuador. His scientific insights on hygiene and disease prevention paved the way for improved public health practices. Moreover, Espejo’s role as a social reformer and separatist inspired future generations to challenge the status quo and fight for justice and equality.

Today, Eugenio Espejo is celebrated as a national hero in Ecuador. His name graces streets, schools, and institutions, serving as a constant reminder of his enduring legacy. His portrait can be found in museums and public spaces, honoring his contributions to the nation. Espejo’s commitment to knowledge, enlightenment, and social progress


  • Sermones para la profesión de dos religiosas (1778)
  • Sermón sobre los dolores de la Virgen (1779)
  • Nuevo Luciano de Quito (1779)
  • Marco Porcio Catón o Memorias para la impugnación del nuevo Luciano de Quito (1780)
  • Carta al Padre la Graña sobre indulgencias (1780)
  • Sermón de San Pedro (1780)
  • La Ciencia Blancardina (1781)
  • El Retrato de Golilla (Attributed, 1781)
  • Reflexiones acerca de un método para preservar a los pueblos de las viruelas (1785)
  • Defensa de los curas de Riobamba (1787)
  • Cartas riobambenses (1787)
  • Representaciones al presidente Villalengua (1787)
  • Discurso sobre la necesidad de establecer una sociedad patriótica con el nombre de “Escuela de la Concordia” (1789)
  • Segunda carta teológica sobre la Inmaculada Concepción de María (1792)
  • Memorias sobre el corte de quinas (1792)
  • Voto de un ministro togado de la Audiencia de Quito (1792)
  • Sermón de Santa Rosa (1793)

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