16 November 2009

Dolores Hidalgo

I have been caught up again in my dabbling in Mexican history. It can capture one's imagination. While it is fascinating for me, it does not make for compelling blogging. Let me try taking you on the sightseeing tour that I went on this weekend, while at the same time keeping the text about Mexican history under control.

I live on the colonial route of silver from the mining centers close by in the north as it moved south to be shipped out in those days. Consider this economic arrangement. Or let us put it this way. Consider this management/labor relationship. During the colonial era the Spanish at times put Indian men down mine shafts and left them at the bottom of the mine. Those Indians then spent the remainder of their lives in the mine without ever seeing the light of day again. They had no way of getting out of the mine. The Spanish mine managers would then drop provisions of food and water and equipment down into the mine to the Indians at the bottom in return for ore that the Indians sent up and out. If the Indians at the bottom of the mine sent no ore out, they got no provisions in return. I tell you this in order to give you a better feel for the nature of the situation of the Indians in colonial times.

This weekend I visited the city of Dolores Hidalgo a short trip to the north. In colonial times it was known only as Dolores. The name Hidalgo was added after the War for Independence in honor of Father Miguel Hildalgo. Father Hidalgo cared a great deal about the fate of the Indians under Spanish rule. He himself had also been fucked over by the Spanish financially by the way. Father Hidalgo was not your run-of-the-mill priest. He was known for wearing knee breaches with a black cape instead of an alb, and under his cape he carried pistoles stuck in his cumberbund.

In 1810 he stood on the steps of the church in Dolores and called the Indians to arms against the Spanish. He ended his call to arms with what has come to be known as the Grito, the cry. Vive México! A call and response between the leader and the crowd that is still repeated on Mexican Independence Day, as I have explained earlier.

This is the church in Dolores Hidalgo where it happened, and these are the steps.

I was moved to be there. It was a sensation that I had experienced only one other time, even though I have visited many historic locations. In 1971 I was able to stand in the spot in Worms, Germany, where Martin Luther had stood before the Diet of Worms and after days of debate with the most learned of Catholic clerics, finally said, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

On the way south to take the city of San Miguel el Grande, as my city was called in those days, Father Hidalgo's Indian “army” stopped in a village called Atotonilco on the way. They grabbed all of the painted images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of the Indians, from the Santuario de Atotonilco there to use as standards in the forthcoming battles.

The Santuario de Atotonilco is surrounded by the ruins of other earlier adjunct stuctures.

This is the Santuario de Atotonilco as it looked to me on Sunday. It has traditionally and historically been a place to do penance. In the market that bustles in the street in front as masses are held inside, you can still buy rope whips to use in flagellating yourself as well as crowns of thorns to wear on your head while you do so. There is some restoration work being done in the chapel today and hence the scaffolding you see in the picture.

I mention this in case any of you become interested in doing some serious penance. As for me, I plan on simply saying “I'm sorry” as the appropriate occasions may arise in the future.

The Indian army of independence did take San Miguel el Grande and swept on to the south to the gates of México City. The Indians were difficult to control after they had taken a city, probably for reasons arising out of their resentment of their treatment in the past. They wrought havoc.

There seems to be little doubt that the Indian army could easily have taken México City at that early point in the war because the relatively small Spanish garrison there had not yet been reinforced. The War for Independence would have been over immediately. There is no doubt about that. For reasons that nobody understands to this day, Father Hidalgo ordered that the city not be invaded, and the Indian army turned to take Querétero instead. The supposition is that Father Hidalgo, a man of culture himself, feared what his own Indian army would do to the cultural institutions in México City if they took it.

Militarily, it was a huge mistake. Father Hidalgo along with his allies, General Allende, General Jimenez, and General Aldama, one of the famous Aldama brothers from my town, were soon trapped and taken by the Spanish. They were beheaded and their heads placed upon the four corner posts in the square in Guanajuato where their heads stayed for months. The war for independence carried on then for another roughly nine years until independence was won.

The 2010 candle in the square of Dolores Hidalgo anticipating the bicentennial next year.


Four Dinners said...

I wonder what Father Hidalgo would make of having his name tagged onto Dolores?....;-)

Great post old bean. Well enjoyed that bit of history.



Anonymous said...

I think Dolores is a delightful name for a town.