A grave fit for kings at the Parroquia

By Jesús Ibarra

Where are you going so rushed, sanmigueleño?
Turn your eyes to the shadowed place that contains the ashes of your beloved.
Do not look at it so coldly! Spread your tears on it, watering it as the dew does the moss.
Cry, since there lies—and I’m a witness—your priest and your best friend.
Epitaph for Father Francisco de Uraga (died 1830)

Not everybody knows that the mezzanine of the Parroquia houses an ornate crypt built in the mid-19th century and attributed to the famous guanajuatense architect Eduardo Tresguerras, who is thought to have worked there around 1830. When Maximilian of Habsburg, emperor of Mexico from 1864 to 1867, visited San Miguel on September 14, 1864, on his way to celebrate the Fiestas Patrias in Dolores Hidalgo, he noted that the crypt was “a grave fit for kings.” Before the crypt was constructed, there was a cemetery at the Parroquia. The crypt is opened to the public only once a year during two or three days around the Day of the Dead.

According to city chronicler José Cornelio López Espinoza in his book Estampas Sanmiguelenses II, the parochial crypt was built between 1760 and 1762. However, historian Graciela Cruz said that there is no a real evidence of this. “The exact date of its construction is uncertain, but according to the type of burials and to the people buried there, it was certainly built in the 19th century. The ornamentation is attributed to Francisco Eduardo Tresguerras. In 1842, the mortal remains of the priests buried in the parochial cemetery were moved to the crypt.”

Who is buried in the parochial crypt?

Many prominent figures were buried in the parochial crypt during the 250 years it was used. Under a window is the grave of Father Juan Manuel de Villegas, parish priest from 1736 to 1776, who was also the commissioner of the Inquisition in San Miguel. As parish priest, Villegas stamped his signature on Ignacio Allende’s birth certificate, which is safeguarded at the parochial archives. He was originally buried at the parochial cemetery but his remains were among those moved in 1842. Unfortunately, his grave is missing its stone plaque.

Other remains moved from the parochial cemetery, which according to Cruz, used to be in front of the Parroquia, where the esplanade and part of the Jardín are currently locate, to the crypt were those of Father Francisco de Uraga, who was the parish priest at the time of the outbreak of the War of Independence. He had been a conspirator along with Allende and survived to see Mexico become an independent country. He died in 1830. His stone plaque displays the epitaph quoted at the beginning of this article.

Father Remigio González and his brother Felipe are also buried in the crypt. Father Remigio died in 1837 and his remains were moved to the crypt in 1842. He was chaplain at the Shrine of Jesús Nazareno in Atotonilco, where he received Allende and Hidalgo leading the insurgent army on September 16, 1810, when one of the devoted women at the shrine gave the insurgents an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Father Remigio is also the artist who sculpted the venerated statue of Our Lord of the Column, currently at the shrine, which is carried to San Miguel each year before Holy Week. His brother Felipe was also a conspirator, and it was he who suggested that Allende ask Miguel Hidalgo to lead the insurrection.

One of the most famous graves in the crypt is that of former Mexican president Anastasio Bustamante, who at first had fought against the insurgents but then joined Agustín de Iturbide to bring independence to Mexico. He became president in 1830 but had to resign in 1833 because of protests over his ordering of the murder of independence hero Vicente Guerrero. He became president for the second time from 1837 to 1839. He retired and moved to San Miguel, where he died in 1853. His heart was taken out of his body and sent to the cathedral in Mexico City, where it is entombed near Iturbide’s remains.

Other famous figures buried in the crypt include the priest José María Busce y Allende, a nephew of Ignacio Allende; and Ignacio Hernández Macías, supreme authority in San Miguel during the Porfirio Díaz era and founder of Parque Benito Juárez. Hernández Macías died in 1920.

Outside the parochial crypt, to the right of the Parroquia’s main altar and alongside the altar to the Virgin of Guadalupe is the grave of María Guadalupe Dolores de la Canal y Lanzagorta de Lámbarri (1822–1848), who was a great-great-granddaughter of don Manuel Tomás de la Canal (founder of the Santa Casa de Loreto and of the Mayorazgo de la Canal, and the town’s benefactor), and a grand-niece of Ignacio Allende (granddaughter of Allende’s sister Manuela, who married Juan María de Lanzagorta). She was the wife of Ignacio de Lámbarri, a grandson of don Pedro de Lámbarri, whose store (located in what is now Restaurant San Agustín, across from the church of San Francisco) was sacked when the insurgents arrived in San Miguel.

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