As we wander the streets of Puerto Vallarta we find ourselves, this week, at the steps of the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of the iconic landmarks in the city. The street in front of the church is Calle Hidalgo, named for “the Father of Mexico”, Miguel Hidalgo, a Roman Catholic priest and a leader of the Mexican War of Independence. He was a bit of a strange fellow.
Born in 1753 to wealthy parents whose families were both descended from Spanish immigrants, Hidalgo benefited from private education, studied at university in Morelia, Michoacán, and was ordained as a priest in 1778. He stayed in academia, taught at his university and became a dean when he was just thirty-nine. He was a very bright intellectual and influenced by some of the new philosophy coming from Europe. His liberal ideas ( he disagreed with the Catholic church’s opinions on the virgin birth, the power of popes and, especially, the celibacy of priests) got him in trouble with the church leaders and they kicked him out of the college and sent him out to minister to the flock as a parish priest in Colima, then in San Felipe Torres Mochas and, in 1802, he was assigned to Dolores in the state of Guanajuato.
Celibacy was not his strong point. Not only was he father to his parishioners he fathered quite a few. Records show that he sired at least eight children from four different women. His family’s wealth allowed him to hire priests look after his liturgical responsibilities while he helped his parishioners with improving their income and living conditions and they loved him for it. The church authorities took a different view.
Complaints to the Inquisition while he was the priest in the parish of San Felipe Torres Mochas were about his moral and theological behaviour. His accusers agreed that he had a “fine brain” and a “cheerful disposition” but he also had some extravagant habits. Statements show that “he was a professional gambler and free in his treatment of women” and that “ his house is a place where you find male and female musicians, games of chance and dancing”. His opinions about church lore were also problematic. Hidalgo was said to have denied the existence of hell, he read books that were banned by the church and “even went to the extreme of jovially arguing (in the confessional, according to some) that fornication was not a sin”. Somehow, he escaped punishment by the Inquisition.
He had spent his childhood around Indians on his father’s hacienda Hidalgo and was able to speak a number of their dialects and he was very sympathetic to their poverty and the domination they suffered at the hands of Spanish officials.
In the early years of the nineteenth century thoughts of Mexican independence from Spanish domination began to be voiced and plotted by the criollo intellectuals in Guanajuato including Miguel Hidalgo, Ignacio Allende and Mariano Abasolo.
The names of the plotters were discovered before the planned date of the insurrection but, before he could be arrested Hidalgo, on the morning of 16th September 1810, rang the church bell to summon his parishioners to the church square in Dolores and delivered his famous cry, El Grito De Dolores, The Cry Of Dolores, calling the people of his parish to join with him in a rebellion against the current Spanish government in Mexico. He called on his followers to open the jails and free the prisoners of Dolores, to lock up the Spanish officials and their families in their place and to sack the houses and haciendas of the Spaniards. Within days the whole central region of Mexico, the Bajío, was in flames. It was the beginning of the War of Independence and, consequently, the Catholic Father, Miguel Hidalgo, became known as The Father of Mexico.
Hidalgo was the religious father of his parishioners, a father to numerous children and the father of his country. Few, if any, men can claim that trio of accomplishments.
The street, Hidalgo, is one of my favourites. The traffic drives one-way, either to the north or to the south….depending on which block you’re on. Casa Tradicional and Gaby’s restaurants are two good places to eat, the church has wonderful acoustics and there are all sorts of school kids and food carts that provide a relaxed and happy atmosphere. Take a stroll along Hidalgo. It has lots to offer.