I am not sure when exactly I became such a history nerd. And by history nerd, I mean the kind of person who actually cries tears of excitement when she learns she will have the opportunity to stand exactly where Padre Don Miguel Hidalgo did when he made his famous “Cry of Dolores” speech on the steps of la Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows Church) in 1810. Or the kind of person who pulls a notebook out to jot down all the important information the guide shares with the group, while everyone else looks around for the ice cream cart.
Somehow, I had completely missed the item on our itinerary that indicated we would have half a day to spend in Dolores Hidalgo. That meant I did not have the opportunity to do a little pre-tour research like I had for many of our other stops. Fortunately, I had become incredibly interested in learning about El Día de la Independencia several months ago and knew exactly what had happened in this very small but mighty town many years ago, and the role Don Miguel Hidalgo played here.
The now famous church was built in 1710 by the Spanish in the town simply called Dolores. It was primarily an Indian town with very little opportunity for its population because of of the presence of the Spanish. Things changed for the better when Miguel Hidalgo, a Mexican Roman Catholic priest, arrived in 1803. He brought hope and training to the indigenous people. He introduced vineyards, the now famous pottery of the region, beekeeping, and smithing.
Miguel Hidalgo was not at all a typical Catholic priest. He challenged not only the power of Spain, but also many of the doctrines of the Catholic church itself. He had studied French, which made it possible for him to read works on the period of Enlightenment in Eurpoe, expressly forbidden by the church in Mexico. Don Miguel Hidalgo was a businessman, not bound by an oath of poverty. He was a dancer, a gambler, and he ignored his vow of celibacy. He had at least eight children with four different women throughout his life. In fact, he had to move to a larger home in town to just accommodate his growing family.
Once assigned to la Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, Don Padre Miguel Hidalgo passed on his clerical duties to another man and focused his time and energy on humanitarian efforts and advocating for and improving the lives of the Indians who lived in town. Ultimately, he became involved in the secret planning of the Mexican fight for independence. The Spanish were suspicious of him based on his activities long before they discovered the conspiracy plotting a revolution.
Rather then going into hiding once discovered, Miguel Hidalgo called for the release of eighty prisoners, and then facing his own arrest, he rang the church bells at 6:00 a.m. on September 16, 1810. He called on his 300 parishioners to join the fight against the government, in what is today known as El Grito de Dolores. The support was overwhelming! The very first of Mexico’s 260 “Road to Independence” markers is found in Dolores Hidalgo.
The famous bell rung by Don Padre Miguel Hidalgo is now at the National Palace in Mexico City. It is rung every year on September 15, as the Mexican president reenacts El Grito de Dolores, honoring all of Mexico’s freedom fighters.
We visited the church (and yes, I stood on the steps, fist in the air, and shouted “¡Viva Hidalgo!”), saw the old jail, and toured Hidalgo’s home. There were a number of students visiting “the cradle of Mexican Independence” with their teachers that day as well. Truth be told, they were most likely looking for the ice cream cart too.