Dolores Hidalgo

Guanajuato, Mexico

Visited December 2007

Cuna de la Independencia Nacional -- Cradle of Independence

Like its upscale neighbor, San Miguel de Allende just down the Río De La Laja, Dolores Hidalgo added a revolutionary surname to the Christian name given by the Spanish viceroys.  Before 1570, the hamlet was an Otomi settlement called Cocomacan.  Arriving a millennium before the Spanish, the Otomi were never subdued by the Aztecs who would occasionally use them as mercenaries. But when hired to fight the Spaniards, the Otomi turned the tables and worked for the latest conqueror. Spaniards would often move Otomi into these central Mexican parts to provide agricultural labor for the haciendas when the Spanish were unable to "tame" the local fierce Chichimecas.  Miguel Hidalgo

In 1570, Spanish Viceroy Enriquez de Almanza established the Congregation of Nuestra Señora Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows) -- but no church was built until 140 years later when the village grew to support the nearby Hacienda de la Erre, a large cattle ranch established by the viceroy.   

After the last Spanish viceroy officially recognized Mexican independence through the 1821 Treaty of Córdoba, the town took as its last name that of its most famous citizen, the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla (see drawing at right).  Currently this town of about 50,000 has added a moniker as "cradle of independence" and now sports the jawbreaker name of Dolores Hidalgo Cuna de la Independencia Nacional.  Nowhere near as attractive to the expat crowd as nearby San Miguel de Allende, the center of the town has an authentic Mexican feel to it throughout.  Somehow it prepares for the upcoming bicentenary (1810) of the War of Independence without Starbucks and Wifi in the central park.

The rebel with a cause

The town of Delores was so far off the beaten track that 51-year-old Hidalgo was sent here in 1804 as punishment for his rebellious attitude![239] Soon he came to love his indigenous flock and vice versa. In order to get them work, he started the Talavera ceramics industry that employs half the town to this day, rivaling Puebla. Hidalgo also introduced silk worm and grape farming -- a no, no as the Spanish crown controlled (and profited highly) from wine making. Hidalgo eventually turned wine into whine with his Grito de Dolores late on September 15, 1810.  Mexicans today celebrate September 16 as their Independence Day since most of the action got started then. That date has all the significance and much more drama than the American 4th of July which was, after all, a bunch or aristocrats voting on a cleverly wordsmithed piece of paper.  (Flip charts and PowerPoint were yet to be invented, otherwise we might still be drafting our grievances with George III.) By contrast in Delores we had a peasant mob about to surge and spill theiraristocrats' blood with the shovels and picks used in their daily life.  (Don't underestimate the power of a multitude armed with agricultural implements.  In the last 20 years, more combat deaths have been caused by machetes than any other weapon.)

2007_12_06_Mexico_Guanajuato_Dolores_Hidalgo 12-7-2007 1-28-37 AM.JPG

Erected on the anniversary of the Cry of Delores in 1891: Sculptor Miguel Noreña bronze of Miguel Hidalgo

Hildago was always a bit of a rebel and many of his fellow priests considered him a heretic. A great friend of the Indian population, he learned Aztec and several indigenous languages.

Despite Hidalgo's clerical shortcomings, he was a better priest than commanding general, making many disastrous military decisions and failing to capitalize on victories he won by brute force. At first the huge numbers of his mostly unarmed peasants would eventually overwhelm the better armed and trained -- but much fewer -- Colonial protectors.  Eventually the Spanish began to gain the upper hand.

The rebel army demanded that an experienced military man from the next town of San Miguel take over the military decisions.  His name was Ignacio Allende and he was not only one of the original plotters of the revolution in Hidalgo's "study group," but was supposed to have headed the war of independence from the start.  Hidalgo jumped the gun (literally) when the plot was discovered and he had to either rebel or flee. The change of command was too little too late; within a year, both Allende and Hidalgo were captured, shot, and had their heads displayed for the duration of the war (10 years) on the corners of the granary they had previously  successfully stormed in nearby Guanajuato. But eventually the spoils went to the victors, in this case naming rights for the neighbor towns of Delores Hidalgo and San Miguel de Allende.  Today each of these men raise pigeons on their bronzed arms in public squares.

Hidalgo statue detail

Above we see the bronze eagles choking serpents and guarding the base of Father Hidalgo's statue. These critters pay homage to the Mexican coat of arms which is itself based upon Aztec legend. Hidalgo's statue holds a flag: is it the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe, symbol of the people's faith, which Hidalgo acquired on the way to San Miguel that fateful night when his mob stopped at Atotonilco?

Another Francophile Square

Dolores Hidalgo is a bit dusty, but the square and the exteriors of the buildings that line it are well preserved and colorful. This is a busy place, ringed with ice cream vendors selling exotic flavors such as chile, avocado --you name it and they'll have it the next day

Former Prison on Plaza Principal

The main square (called the Plaza Principal) is lively and well landscaped with the same French garden feel of other squares remodeled around the turn of the 20th century when dictator and Francophile Porfirio Díaz ordered their redesign.  

The arcaded building above is now a museum; it was built in the 18th century as a prison.  Father Hidalgo emptied it at the start of the revolution so its occupants could share in his fun.

Plaza Principal

The Mexican sun flowers Bougainvilleas in this immaculately maintained garden 6200 feet above sea level.

The Plaza Principal supposedly has a tree grown from a sapling of the Noche Triste--the tree where Hernán Cortés wept after the Aztecs nearly wiped him out in 1521 as he tried to escape their Capital at Tenochtitlan (now part of Mexico city).  The Aztecs had picked Tenochtitlan after following an Eagle carrying a snake (just like those bronzed at the foot of Father Hidalgo's statue nearby).  We could not locate Cortés's tree but thought we'd include a gratuitous bougainvillea shot in its place.

The famous Parroquia de Neustra Senora de Dolores

Pictured below is ground zero of the war of independence from Spain. From these steps of the Parroquia (parish church), late on the night of September 15, 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo issued his famous Grito de Dolores-- the call to insurrection for the indigenous population. Or maybe not: what Hidalgo really said was not written down; mythmakers have created several versions and the Mexican president reenacts this event annually after Delores Hidalgo's church bell, since moved to the National Palace in Mexico City, is rung.   This bell summoned the natives to their ill-organized rebellion on September 16.  The rest, as they cliche, is history.  

Our Lady of Sorrows Church

Although built over 65 years, this church is consistent and symmetric in its baroque Churrigueresque ornamentation.  While the artistic roots of the Churrigueresque are somewhat in dispute (what part of Spain did it come from, exactly?) we know it when we see it.  And we see it here:  Those six impossibly tall and impossibly ornamented columns (called estipites) rising from the church door to the central Crucifix.   These passionately suggest influence that made the Mexico of its day including the Moorish Mudéjar filtered through Spain.  The central window is anything-but-rectangular with ornamentation wrapping around it and a relief sculpture above. On both sides of the highly decorated facade rise completely plain edges -- forming a picture frame to heighten the "surprise" that is characteristic of the baroque, which tolerates many variations including the Churrigueresque. (Click on any of these pictures to study enlargements).

Below we have a tile of two steeples, one Churrigueresque and the other neoclassic:
steeple of Parroquia, Dolores Hidalgo San Francisco Steeple, San Miguel de Allende
Left: The Churrigueresque style of Dolores Hidalgo's Parroquia tower was out of vogue when... The Neoclassic tower at San Miguel de Allende's San Francisco Church. This church had started construction in the Churrigueresque style.   Click here to see more of this church.

Below is a close-up of one of six statues on the 1768 facade:

Saint Nicodemus statue

This is of the obscure St. Nicodemus.  Note the leaf ornamentation.  While commonly thought of as architecture, Churrigueresque is really a lavish style of ornamentation.

The interior of the church (below) is Mexican baroque.  Our late afternoon arrival found a lively service in progress so we were unable to get many pictures.

Interior Parroquia

The main altar with its Corinthian columns looks neoclassic.  However, the wall of the right transept contains one of the regions most significant retables (the ceiling-high altar backgrounds).  Unlike most retables in this land of silver and gold, it is not gilded. Father Hidalgo's town was, after all, quite poor. It's hard to start a social revolution among the rich.  

Want to explore more of this region?  If so, see our overview page of the neighboring San Miguel de Allende by clicking here.

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