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El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro: Music, Beverages, Death and History

By Jesús Aguado

History notes that even before the conquest of the land of current Mexico, natives had established well-traveled routes for trade. The conquerors took advantage of the paths for the same purpose after the fall of the great Tenochtitlan (1519). According to traditionalist Santiago González, the Spanish began expeditions in the territory aimed not only to increase their domination, but also to search for riches for the Spanish kingdom. Those journeys (through the indigenous path that would later be known as the Royal Inland Path) led to the discovery of silver and gold mines that they wanted to exploit. However, that work also created the necessity of places for workers to stay, as well as the production of goods and products for survival. That is how the haciendas emerged. These places were great extensions of land that were granted by the Spanish king to the expeditionary groups who could take advantage of livestock, water, land, and all the goods within their granted land. Buildings and commerce rose along the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (the Royal Inland Path,) beginning in what is now Mexico City and heading towards Santa Fe, New Mexico.

It is along the path that crossed the city through Barrio San Juan de Dios where the Hospital of San Rafael as well as a nearby cemetery were founded. It is so important that it was appointed as World Heritage Site eight years ago. To celebrate this appointment, the local authorities have prepared a special program.

Gustavo Vidargas, San Miguel Director of Culture, told Atención that celebrations were organized to help and support Sanmiguelenses, to generate identity, and to make them feel proud of their history, to love it, and to respect it. The program also intends to recover forgotten stories that could be lost due to the influence of foreign cultures.

The celebration will feature music, ancestral beverages, ritual dances, and a lecture on the first public cemetery in the city-by-city historian Graciela Cruz.

The Cemetery

The Cemetery of San Juan de Dios (located on San Antonio Abad at the corner of Insurgentes) is a historical vestige. It was restored and opened to the general public in 2010.

Curiously, according to city historian Cruz, the first body was buried in this cemetery on November 2, 1770. The unknown man was found lying at the entrance to the Parroquia. He was taken to the hospital of San Rafael and San Juan de Dios, where he died.

Cruz said that the cemetery has been closed for 50 years but was used from 1770 to 1970, 200 years during which people of all social classes, ethnic origins, and locales were buried there. San Miguel was at that time an important crossroads, visited by travelers and merchants from all over Mexico and other countries. “It can be considered the first public cemetery since it belonged to a public hospital although the term “public” was not used at that time,” said Cruz.

The historian added that the hospital took in the most patients during the epidemics and droughts in the 18th century, the worst being in 1785-1786. During the independence movement, both insurgents and royalist troops were interred in this cemetery. Among the famous people buried here are the conspirators José María Arévalo and Miguel María Malo, whose brother Luis died with Allende. During the War of Independence, Miguel Malo defended the village from the incursions of the bandit Bernardo de Lara, called “El Huacal,” who is also buried in San Juan de Dios Cemetery. Allende’s youngest sister, Mariana, is buried there as well. Their gravestones cannot be seen anymore, but their burials are registered at the Parroquia.


The events are free

Monday, July 30

5:30pm Opening of the photographic exhibition Post mortem. The exhibition will feature medical tools, historic documents, paintings, and drawings related to the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. Hermanos Aldama School

7:30pm Presentation of traditional dances. Esplanade of the church of San Juan de Dios

8pm Live music by Red de Coros. Church of San Juan de Dios

Tuesday, July 31

6:20pm Students of the UTSMA will offer samples of ancestral alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. Former cemetery of San Rafael

6:30pm Lecture, “Cemetery of the Hospital of San Rafael,” by Graciela Cruz. Former cemetery of San Rafael



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