"Profile on Hidalgo"
September 1992

     Who was he? Where did he come from? Why did he want Mexico to be independent? What motivated him? Those are questions people ask when reading about the beginning of this country’s independence movement. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla was born in 1753 of moderately well-to-do criollo (born in Mexico of Spanish blood) stock. He spent the first twelve years of his life on the Hacienda San Diego Corralejo in Guanajuato, where his father served the owner as mayordomo (resident manager). Encouraged by his father, the boy moved with his older brother, José Joaquín, to Valladolid (today Morelia) and matriculated at the Jesuit College of San Francisco Javier. The brothers had been at their studies only two years when shocking news reached the city : King Charles III of Spain had banished the Jesuits from New Spain and all Spanish possessions in the New World. Left without teachers, the boys had to interrupt their schooling, but within a year they had enrolled in the diocesan College of San Nicolás Obispo, also in Valladolid, and one of the nineteen colleges and seminaries in Mexico that prepared students for degrees eventually to be awarded by the Royal and Pontifical University in Mexico City. Young Miguel Hidalgo steeped him- self in rethoric, Latin and Thomistic theology, and, in the tradition of generations of Mexican priests before him, found time to study Indian languages. His bachelor’s degree was awarded by the University of Mexico in 1774, and he immediately began preparations for the priesthood. The bishop celebrated his sacrament or ordination in the fall of 1778.

     Enthusiastic and self-assured, the twenty-eight-year-old priest returned to Valladolid to teach at the College of San Nicolás Obispo, where he eventually became rector. But he was scarcely exemplary from the church’s point of view. Before the turn of the century, the Holy Office of the lnquisition had been apprised, by rumor and fact, of a curate whose orthodoxy was suspect, who questioned priestly celibacy, who read books proscribes by the Index Expurgatorius (from Rome), who indulged in gambling and enjoyed dancing, who challenged the infallibility of the Most Holy Father in Rome, who doubted the veracity of the virgin birth, who dared to suggest that fomication out of wedlock was not a sin, who referred to the Spanish king as a tyrant, and who-alas!- kept María Manuela Herrera as a mistress and procures. Hidalgo was hauled before the Inquisition in 1800, but nothing could be proved. The testimony was carefully filed, however, to be used later.

     Hidalgo’s future fortunes and misfortunes were cast when, in 1803, he accepted the curacy of the small parish of Dolores. Devoting only minimal time to the spiritual needs of his parishioners, Father Hidalgo concerned himself primarily with improving their economic potencial. He introduced new industries in Dolores: tile making, tanning, carpentry, wool weaving, beekeeping, silk growing and wine making. He preferred to spend his spare time reading and engaging his fellow criollos in informal debate rather than listening to the confessions of his lndian charges. A few years after his arrival in Dolores, Hidalgo’s path crossed that of Ignacio Allende, a thirty- five-year-old firebrand who was a captain in the Queen's Cavalry Regiment in nearby Guanajuato. In the company of other intellectuals, all of whom would play a role in the independence movement, Hidalgo formed a “literary club”, whose members were less interested in disputing the latest tour de force of Goethe, Schiller or Chateaubriand than in plotting the separation of the New Spain from the old. As their plans matured, a date was set for the uprising: December 8, 1810. Although the conspirators were all admonished to hold their tongues, Marino Galvan, a postal clerk, leaked the news to his superior, who, in turn, informed the audiencia in Mexico City. The arrests by the authorities began in Querétaro on Septernber 13. Hidalgo decided to strike cut for independence at once. The priest rang the church bells summoning his parishioners to mass. Assembled at the little church in Dolores they were harangued about matters of this world, not the next. El Grito de Dolores was launched and eleven years later Mexico was an independent nation.