So who is Allende? And no, his first name isn’t “San Miguel.” His actual name is Ignacio Jose de Allende y Unzaga. When you had all those names, it meant your family was important. And at his time this town was known as San Miguel el Grande – St. Michael the Great. Ignacio lived in the building that is on the square – across Cuna Allende – from the church. He was a Commander in the Queen’s Dragoons. Dragoons are horse-riding soldiers.
When Napoleon attacked Spain in 1808 – making it vulnerable, there was a growing hunger for independence here in New Spain. Allende started conspiracy meetings in different parts of the country. Ultimately, however, these rebel meetings took place at the house of the mayor of Queretaro, nearby. The mayor was called el Corregidor then, and his wife Josefa Ortiz de Domiguez was a powerful voice in the movement. Today she is known as la Corregidora. Also at these meetings were the rich Aldama brothers, and a priest named Miguel Hidalgo.
Now the insurgents wanted to revolt on December 8th, 1810. This is Immaculate Conception Day, and all the villagers would be out. But someone snitched. On September 15, 1810, the Spanish authorities discovered the conspiracy in Queretaro. The heroes’ lives were in danger. La Corregidora sent a messenger immediately to San Miguel to warn Allende.
When the messenger arrived, Allende wasn’t there. He was in the nearby town of Dolores with the priest Hidalgo. The message got to them that evening. They decided to start revolution immediately.
At the amazing church in Atotonilco, they rang the bells in the early morning of September 16 and Hidalgo gave a rousing “Cry for Freedom.” The Spanish word for ‘cry’ in this sense is El Grito – which today is the name of the National Anthem, and mayors all over the country re-enact it on Independence Day in the main squares.
About 700 insurgents carrying tools and simple weapons, with the flag of Our Lady of Guadalupe before them, marched to San Miguel led by Allende. Upon arriving, Allende guaranteed the safety of the Spanish prisoners there. And the fight for an independent New Spain began.
There are stories that a mob followed the rebels into town and started looting stores; and that Allende broke it up with strong words, and a whip. The fight moved on to the capital of the state – Guanajuato. In a stunning victory there, they defeated the Spanish at a battle for an old warehouse known as Alhondiga.
Though the insurgents won early victories, it didn’t end well. Hidalgo wanted to lead, but wasn’t effective. Allende took over, he re-inspired his men, but ultimately the cause was betrayed and his army was ambushed.
Allende got the firing squad for insubordination, and his head was hung in a metal basket from the top of that warehouse Alhondiga. Today his remains are at the Independence Column, the very symbol of the country, in Mexico City.
On the Vino por Vino History and Culture Tour we walk the streets of the Centro. The very names recall this heroic time: Hidalgo Street, Aldama Street, Insurgents Street (Insurgentes), Corregidora Street, and of course, the Cradle of Allende (Cuna de Allende). It’s not only the birthplace of one of Mexico’s greatest heroes, but the birthplace of the Homeland itself.