Over the centuries of dominion by the Spanish throne many had thought about it, some had even dared to talk about it and even a few had conspired to take action. But it was here in a tiny chapel nestled in what was then a rather remote village overlooking the Laja river where an event occurred which was to catalyze a movement that took on a life of its own.
There are different versions of how it all transpired, but I will tell you the one which is the most credible and which historical facts bear witness to.
It was the night of September 15, 1810 and a secret meeting was to take place in the chapel of Atotonilco (place of hot water in the indigenous language) between Ignacio Allende, a military man from San Miguel el Grande, and Miguel Hidalgo, a catholic priest, from the town of Dolores. Their purpose was to discuss the declaration of independence from Spain.
It is noteworthy that the motivation of these men was not altogether altruistic.
Both Hidalgo and Allende were Criollos. Criollos, in spite of being children of Spaniards or descendants of the same, were seen as second class citizens by the Spanish crown which did not trust anyone not born on Spanish soil.
The Criollos could never aspire to hold a top position in any social or political endeavor even though they were the principal landowners and thus the main contributors of taxes to the Spanish king.
Hidalgo, in fact, was especially bitter toward the Spanish throne because of the ill fate of a brother of his who succumbed to the heavy burden of taxes levied by Spain, losing his lands and, eventually, his life.
Basically, the independence movement, in its inception, was driven by the bitterness and resentment of the Criollos. Part of their dilemma, however, was that there were not enough Criollos to enable them to win a war against Spain. This made the participation of the indigenous imperative. But after 300 years of dominion, they had become complacent and religion, which was an integral part of their lives, did its part to maintain the status quo.
Now back to the night of September 15, 1810 and the little chapel in Atotonilco. Ignacio Allende, the military man, explains to the priest, Miguel Hidalgo the futility of their plan for independence from Spain because they were overwhelmingly outnumbered and their own military resources were no match for that of the Spaniards. Without a fervent support and participation by the indigenous, their plot was doomed to failure. Hidalgo was pensive as his eyes glanced around the chapel until he sighted a banner in a corner which had on it the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, an image which was introduced to the Mexicans in the 16th century by the Spanish to replace the pre-hispanic goddess Tonantzin (mother god). To this day, this image has a tremendous power over the people.
Hidalgo took hold of the banner and turned to Allende and promised that he would gain the loyalty of the indigenous by using that powerful symbol. Hidalgo was very familiar with the deep devotion of the people to this image. The rest is history, as the image which Hidalgo selected became the banner under which all the people came together to fight against the Spanish.