Otatitlán, Veracruz
Home of "El Cristo Negro"

Photos and Text by John Todd, Jr.

The Cristero Rebellion(1926-1938)
How did all of this come about?

In 1931, Otatitlán must have been a remote backwater town. Back then there were only dirt roads, since the Pan American Highway and paved roads didn´t come about until 1948.

I just finished Jean Meyer´s book, "La Cristiada" which tells all about the Cristero Rebellion in Mexico. Parts of it will make your hair stand on end, especially some of the old photographs.

Not much is known about the Cristero Rebellion outside of Mexico. It left such deep wounds that it was barely talked about until 70 years later. Although the government simply stopped talking about it, the church maintains a vivid memory of what happened. All I can say is that it was bad.

Cristero Flag

Cristero Flags

Cristero Flag

Cristero Flags

The first 10 years of the 20th Century were relatively peaceful in Mexico. In 1910 the Mexican Revolution began, then the de la Huerta rebellion in 1923, followed by the violence of Agrarian Reform Movement in about 1925, then the Cristero Rebellion from 1926-1940, or so. No part of Mexico was left untouched by the violence.

The US border was wide open until about 1920 when Prohibition closed the borders, and streams of mostly poor rural Mexicans poured across the border with tales of violence.

The Cristero Rebellion started with mistakes on both sides. The government and the Church taking hard line positions not realizing the consequences.

In 1926, the government began to enforce the separation of 5 clauses of the Constitution of 1917, which were:

  • Article 3 called for secular education in the schools;
  • Article 5 outlawed monastic orders;
  • Article 24 forbade public worship outside the confines of churches;
  • Article 27 placed restrictions on the right of religious organizations to hold property.
  • Article 130, which was the most obnoxious. It deprived clergy members of basic rights and made them in effect second-class citizens. Priests and nuns were denied the right to wear clerical attire, to vote, to criticize government officials or to comment on public affairs in religious periodicals.

The church considered the enforcement of these articles to be a direct attack, and reacted by closing the churches in Mexico and urging people to boycott the public schools.

The Cristero Rebellion, as it known, affected primarily the area around Guadalajara and the areas not impoverished by the Mexican Revolution.

The priests defended the faith, and many started their own armies. The memories and the arms left over from the Mexican Revolution were plentiful, so the areas that had escaped the Revolution now became the scene of violence and destruction.
Dario Acosta
Dario Acosta Grave in Veracruz
Although the US ambassador in Mexico, Dwight Morrow was instrumental in engineering a peace treaty between the government and the church in 1929, the violence continued for another 10 years. It was not safe to be in Mexico during those years.

On July 25,1931, under orders of the governor of the state of Veracruz, the parish priest, Darío Acosta Zurita, was shot and killed inside the downtown cathedral. Because of this the bishop closed the churches of his diocese for another six years. It has only been in the last 10 years that his grave was placed in one of the side chapels in the downtown cathedral.

It is still a sensitive subject. In talking to my friends in Veracruz, they tell me stories they heard in hushed tones from their grandparents about how difficult times were back in those days.

Neither side was entirely innocent. Priests had become militant to the point of violence, and so had government repression.
Church and State
Eventually, over the years, the government prevailed and peace slowly returned. The old Cristeros who not hunted down in the early years are gone now.

In Guadalajara, there is now a museum dedicated to the Cristero Rebellion.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Cristeros, Jean Meyer´s book is a good place to start. If you read the book, Mexico will never look the same again.

After a years negotiation between the hostile Church and Government officials, an agreement was finally reached.

Dwight Morrow heaved a sigh of relief and remarked, "At last we will be able to hear the church bells in the beautiful churches of Mexico."

In the days around December 12, the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexican churches are festooned with colorful decorations.
The Masons and the Flag
Affirmations of the Truce
I was surprised to see the prevalent use of the Mexican flag. A strange mixture of government and religion, I thought at the time.

Now I realize that each year, it is a kind of affirmation of the peace treaty, a kind of truce, signed long ago to put an end to the strife between the Church and State. The people of Mexico are tired of fighting and want to live in peace now.

The Masons
The other day I was walking down the side street next to the Benito Juarez Lighthouse and little museum about the Civil Registry he started in 1860.

Next door is the Masonic Lodge with a similar flag draped across the front gate.

I guess they signed the peace treaty, too.
Or it could be because it is September, "El mes de la patria," and Independence Day was last week. Sometimes in Mexico you see things, and wonder what they mean.

"Now we can hear the Church Bells of Otatitlán in the beautiful churches of Mexico."

Hearing an old church bell ringing in Mexico or seeing kids playing in the streets, has a new meaning for me now. I will remember the old black and white pictures of grim faced Cristeros, and their children wearing ammunition belts across their chests in Jean Meyer´s book, and realize what it must have cost to hear the church bells ring again in Mexico. Mexico has paid a dear price.

Listen to the bells of Otatitlán Here:

<<< Back