San Miguel el Grande, birthplace of independence

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

During the War of Independence, the Villa of San Miguel el Grande (now San Miguel de Allende) was all but a ghost town, but this month the traditionalists and local government will demonstrate during the 213th celebration of the patriotic festivities that San Miguel is a city full of life. In September we also celebrate the festivities in honor of St. Michael the Archangel.

Several factors led the inhabitants of New Spain to dream about independence, among them the fact that for 200 years the Spanish owned the arable land, mines and the best places to grow livestock. The land only changed owners when it was sold or donated to charity organizations administrated by the clergy. The educated creoles (children of Spanish parents born in New Spain) and mestizos (descendants of Spaniards and indigenous peoples) were relegated to the lowest governmental positions, and the highest were taken by the Spanish. The dispossessed indigenous and mestizo people were resolved to follow those who could offer them social change and a better quality of life. The first attempts to gain independence started in 1642, but they did not succeed. It was not until September 16, 1810, when all those in disagreement with the social and political conditions of the country took up the arms against the Spanish colonial government.

Meetings to conspire

In 1808, after the invasion of Spain by Napoleon Bonaparte, in New Spain secret meetings began to be held by conspirators who wanted independence from Spain. Some of those meetings took place in Valladolid, Mexico City, Oaxaca and Xalapa, but all were uncovered and the members were punished.

The San Miguel el Grande conspiracy, initiated by Captain Ignacio Allende, a member of the regiment of the Dragones de la Reina (Queen’s Dragoons), took place upstairs in the house located on the corner of Plaza Principal and San Francisco. Several creole sanmiguelenses, such as the brothers Juan and Ignacio Aldama, Father Manuel Castiblanque (chaplain  of the chapel of Our Lady of Loreto), Luis Malo, Felipe González, Francisco de Lanzagorta, and don Juan de Umarán, among others, took part in the meetings. Later, the priest from Dolores, don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, was invited. The conspiracy spread to Querétaro, where the corregidor (mayor), Miguel Domínguez, and his wife, Josefa Ortiz (known as La Corregidora), were among the leaders.

The conspiracy was uncovered in Querétaro in the first half of September. Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, who heard the news on September 15, 1810, asked the prison warden of Querétaro, Ignacio Pérez, to warn Allende about the discovery. When Pérez came to San Miguel late that evening, he couldn’t find Allende, who was in Dolores with Hidalgo, and so he delivered the message to Juan Aldama, who left for Dolores to warn his friends.

Plans to initiate the fight had been scheduled for December 8 that year in San Juan de los Lagos, where many people attended the festivity to honor the Virgin. But because of the discovery of their plot, Allende and Hidalgo decided to start the fight that same night. In the early morning of September 16, a Sunday, the bells of the church in Dolores rang out, and Hidalgo explained the plans to the crowd that gathered. The people who chose to fight were provided with rustic weapons, and as Hidalgo shouted, “Long live Ferdinand VII, and death to bad government!” they set off for Atotonilco.

The entrance to San Miguel

In Atotonilco the chaplain gave Hidalgo a banner bearing an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the rebels continued their march toward San Miguel. The Spanish in the village, at the news of the rebel advance, took refuge in the Casas Reales, today the former Presidencia building, and they demanded that General Narciso Maria Loreto de la Canal, commander of the Dragones de la Reina, protect them. When Allende came to the village, he came to the Casas Reales and asked de la Canal to surrender, promising to spare the lives of the Spanish. De la Canal, knowing Allende’s honesty, delivered the Spanish as prisoners, who were taken to the College of St. Francisco de Sales, now the University of León . However, according to historian Guadalupe Jimenez Codinach, when the multitude that followed Hidalgo entered the village “the mob gathered and opened the doors of the store owned by don Francisco de Landeta, today La Coronela, and sacked it,” as well as the store owned by Pedro de Lámbarri, which today is San Agustín, the churros restaurant. Allende, according to Jimenez Codinach, “disbanded the mob with a whip, and they retreated. Shortly after 10pm, everything was calm.”

The next day, September 17, the first independent city council was formed in San Miguel, chaired by Ignacio Aldama. After the insurgents had left San Miguel, the creole and Spanish families left the village and their properties were confiscated by the Spanish Crown, so haciendas and houses were abandoned and constantly sacked by guerrillas.

Every September 16 at 6pm, as part of the Mexican Independence festivities, there is a reenactment of the entrance of the insurgents into San Miguel. Allende, Hidalgo and Aldama are represented by actors on horseback, leading a large group of men, women and children dressed as peasants of the time and armed with stones, sticks, tools and torches. The group enters through Insurgentes, turns on Hernández Macías and proceeds down Canal. Actors portraying Allende and de la Canal reenact the taking of the Casas Reales at the old Presidencia building, and then they give the “Grito” from the balcony of that building. This year marks 30 years of this tradition.

A grand fiesta for all

The celebrations start on Friday, September 13, with the symbolic race through the main streets of the city. The winners of this race will be those who on September 15 will go to Querétaro and take part in a ceremony in which the mayor of Querétaro will deliver the message that the conspiracy has been discovered, reenacting the request made by Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez. The athletes leave Querétaro at 5pm and come to San Miguel along the same route taken by Ignacio Pérez in 1810.

At 10pm, a contingent of people dressed as insurgents will walk from Calzada de la Aurora toward the historic center. At 10:30pm the Mexican flag will be transported by Mayor Mauricio Trejo from the old city hall building to Allende’s house. At 11:55pm the athletes arrive from Querétaro with the message at the Casa de Allende, and at 11pm Mayor Trejo will give the “grito”of independence from the right balcony of Allende’s house.

The party will continue in the Jardín Principal with fireworks displays and Mexican music. The band Son Latino will play live music at 12am, and the celebration will end at 3am.

On September 16, an early-morning a civic ceremony will be held at the Jardín Principal and local authorities will light the flame of freedom. At 11am a civil and military parade leaves from El Cardo and passes through the main streets of the city, featuring members of the army, students, beauty queens, floats and some civic organizations. At 6pm the entrance of the insurgents takes place.

Finally, on September 17 there is a reenactment of the formation of the first city council of the independent Mexico.

You can find the whole program in Que Pasa.

House of conspiracies

The House of Conspiracies is located on the corner of Plaza Principal and San Francisco; and at the time of the uprising it belonged to Domingo Allende, Ignacio Allende’s brother. On the third floor the family used to hold dances while on the second floor the conspiracy meetings took place.

When the independence war started, the families of the insurgents abandoned the city and the houses were looted or confiscated by the government.

The House of Conspiracies remained in the hands of the family’s employees. It was purchased in 1845 and since then it has been passed down in the same family. The furniture in most of the house is from the 19th century, but the furniture in the room where the conspiracy meetings took place has not been changed since 1810 and has been preserved under the supervision of the National Institute of Anthropology and History.

Visits to the house must be scheduled by calling Fernando Liceaga at 152-4758.

The house that belonged to Ignacio Allende was turned into a museum, and the second story is a recreation of how the house looked before the War of Independence. It is on the corner of Umarán and Cuna de Allende.

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