This Week in History

January 1, 1927:  
The Cristero Revolt Begins
In July 1926, tensions between the Catholic Church in Mexico and the revolutionary government of President Plutarco Elias Calles reached a crisis point. On July 2, Calles issued a penal code that laid down penalties for those who violated the anti-clerical articles of Mexico’s Constitution of 1917. Not only did Calles insist that all priests in Mexico register with the government — a measure preparatory to exile, or worse — he deported 200 foreign born priests and religious. In protest, the bishops of Mexico supported an economic boycott that the lay Catholic leader of the Liga Nacional Defensora de Libertad Religiosa, René Capistran Garza, had called for. Then, with the support of Pope Pius XI, the bishops placed on interdict on Mexico. At Vespers on July 31, 1926, all public religious ceremonies ceased; the next day, no public Masses were said in all Mexico.

(The following comes from our high school American history textLands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America.) 

The bishops had calculated that an interdict would rouse faithful Catholics against the government. They did not realize how terrible the response would be. From August to September 1926, spontaneous armed uprisings occurred, north of the capital, in west-central Mexico. In Guadalajara, 400 armed Catholics barricaded themselves in the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The insurgents stoutly defended themselves and only surrendered when they ran out of ammunition, leaving 18 dead and 40 wounded. Though other uprisings also ended in failure, they gave evidence that devotion to the Faith in Mexico was far from dead. Indeed, it was growing revolutionary.

Boycott against the Calles Law
The Liga Defensora caught the wind of revolt and decided to try to organize a full-scale rebellion On January 1, 1927, Capistran Garza issued a call to arms: A la Nación  “To the Nation.” The response was immediate. Anacleto González Flores, though he had been urging peaceful means, gave his approval to the rebellion, and thus the Union Popular entered the fight. On January 2, at San Miguel El Alto in Jalisco, Miguel Hernandez and Victoriano Ramirez organized a force of ranchers and farmers, armed with old guns, clubs, machetes, and axes. Similar uprisings occurred in Nayarit, Guanajuato, Zacatecas, and in Colima, chiefly among small farmers and ranchers, share croppers and laborers. Like the Zapatista peasants (some of whom joined the rebellion)the peasants of central Mexico had risen  this time in defense of the Church.

Who Were the Cristeros?

Anacleto González Flores
Not everyone who joined the ranks of the Cristeros did so for the best of reasons. Some Cristeros leaders did so, not for the defense of religion, but to further their own aims. Even some of the rebellion’s true adherents had mixed motives; for, other consider-ations (such as frustration over the slow pace of agrarian reform or, even, a hankering for adventure) influenced a would-be insurgent. Still, considering the movement as a whole, it was the religious motive that was paramount. Too, middle class, professional men (such as Capistran Garza and Anacleto González Flores) were central to the rebellion; nevertheless the rank and file of the Cristero insurgent army (which included women and children as well as adult men) were drawn mostly from the peasant classes — the same sort who had followed Emiliano Zapata.

Calling the Cristeros peasants should not invoke disdain. For, though roughly 60 percent of them had never attended any school, like other peasant societies, they had a rich and evocative oral culture. Their dialect of Spanish, which would have been hard for a city-dwelling Mexican of the period to understand, was not, on that account, an inferior avenue of expression. The Spanish spoken by many of the Cristeros was essentially the Castillian dialect of the 15th-16th centuries, the period of some of Spain’s greatest literary achievements. It had a wide vocabulary drawn in part from the Gospels and the literary works of the Middle Ages. Yet, though their culture was oral, the Cristeros were not uninterested in literary works. Indeed, many of them taught themselves to read and indulged, not only in devotional books, but textbooks on law and even astronomy. Moreover, it was not unusual for those who were literate to read to their companions in camp or while they were engaged in work. Even the illiterate insurgent had an intellectual curiosity.

Commanders of the Cristero 
Castañon Regiment with their banner

“Sacrificing themselves for the Cause of God” — this phrase aptly sums up how the Cristeros saw themselves. Still, it would be mistaken to think of all Cristeros as holy or as strict followers of Catholic moral precepts. The fact that General Michel had to forbid gambling, drunkenness, and prostitution among his men demonstrates that they were not strangers to these vices. And though in many regions, such as Jalisco, the peasants had benefited from sound catechesis and a vibrant sacramental life, in others (where priests had been few or even nonexistent) the Catholic Faith was confused with Indian pagan beliefs and practices.

Some among the peasant Cristero leaders — when circumstances called them to it — discovered an aptitude for political organization. To maintain order in the liberated regions of Jalisco, Colima, Zacatecas, and Michoacán, Cristero leaders had to establish governments that, though led by military men, were nevertheless democratic in character. Religion inspired these civil governments to crack down on immoral behavior, including speculation in trade. For instance, General Manuel Michel, who was both military and civil leader in south Jalisco, did not allow drunkenness, gambling, and prostitution among his troops, and insisted that they say a daily rosary. If wealthy hacendados refused to supply his army, he seized from them whatever he needed. He punished severely dealers in maize and other foodstuffs who tried to make money over and above a just return for their product and services. “Those who are making money,” said one Cristero leader, “are our enemies, the maize dealers, and that is not what we want, it is not the time to be making money and sucking the blood of the people who are sacrificing themselves for the Cause of God.” 

Still, the Cristeros were men committed to their Catholic religion, which they encapsulated in the phrase, “Kingship of Christ.” They did not rise up against the government because of any natural proclivity for revolution, for these peasants had a deep regard for constituted authority and were profoundly patriotic (they continued to carry the Mexican tricolor flag in battle, but emblazoned with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe). They rose because the civil authority had dared to assert itself against Cristo Rey. It had threatened to starve their souls by removing their priests, who alone could effect the sacramental bread that feeds men with God. Calles, they thought, was the servant of Freemasonry, Protestantism, and the United States — the great northern nation that had stolen vast amounts of territory from Mexico, that (as some Cristeros themselves had experienced) mistreated Mexican workers within its borders, and was now backing those who would kill Mexico’s very soul. And though most of their bishops opposed their uprising, the Cristeros saw themselves as the defenders of the Church, joined in the epic battle that had first pitted the Archangel Michael against the enemy of mankind. “…All history is the history of this war,” said the Cristero, Ezequiel Mendoza:
Woe to the tyrants who persecute Christ the King! They are the beasts in human shape of whom the Apocalypse speaks!… Now the Calleses are pressing us, they say it is because we are bad, because we are stubborn in wanting to defend the honor and glory of Him who died naked on the highest Cross between two thieves, because he was the worst of all humans he did not wish to submit to the supreme lord of the earth.
Like Cristo Rey, the Cristeros refused to submit to the “lord of the earth” or his minion, Plutarco Calles.

Music of the Cristeros

The Cristero “Himno de la Accion Catholica Mexicana” – Hymn of Mexican Catholic Action.

Cristero corrido (balladabout the priest martyr, Saint Toribio Romo,who was murdered by Federal troops on February 25, 1928.

Give the Gift of History

Christianity is an historical phenomenon, and our Catholic faith is the precious gift that has been handed down to us over the generations. History is essential to our faith. And our faith is essential to any history worthy of the name. 
- Marvin R. O’Connell, Professor of History emeritus, Notre Dame University

Please consider making an end-of-the-year donation to the Catholic Textbook Project. CTP is a  501(c)(3) non-profit corporation and your gift is tax deductible. 

Thirty five years ago there were 20 major publishers producing history and social studies textbooks for American schools, including several Catholic publishers. Today there are five, and none is Catholic. In that time, content has steadily diminished in quality and quantity, becoming centered around images as the text and language has been “dumbed down”.  At the same time, the national system of textbook review, dominated by a few big states like Texas and California, has politicized the books that are produced to the point that history is now written more for committees of professional reviewers and activist organizations than for children.

As a result of all this, contemporary social studies books have become blander and emptier with each revision. The influence of activist organizations and the secular education establishment has produced textbooks in which the facts of Christian history are also blurred and softened – when they not ignored or distorted completely. In addition, contemporary social studies and history textbooks are prone to numerous errors of fact.  

Since 2000 CTP’s goal has been to provide a remedy for this bleak situation. But your help is vitally needed. Your gift helps  us create the tools that our Catholic schools and teachers need for our Catholic children.  Your gift also helps us develop programs to get our history books into financially struggling parochial schools.  So, please make a gift before the end of 2013 to help us in our mission. Thank you for your generosity.

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A Medieval Lady of Adventure

052_Queen.jpg - 84638 BytesDecember 16th is historically the feast of St. Adelaide or “Adelheid,” which in German means “nobility.”  Most people are probably only familiar with the name as that of a large city in Australia. Devotees of children’s literature may remember that in the classic, Heidi, the heroine’s full first name is “Adelheid,” only used by the strict housekeeper Fräulein Rottenmeier, who disapproved of the common-sounding nickname. “Heidi.” 

Just as the fictional Adelheid, the saintly Adelaide also was born in Switzerland, and her life was so full of the stuff of dramatic novels that the composer Giacomo Rossini (famous for The Barber of Seville and William Tell) even wrote an opera about her.  She was the daughter of a king — Rudolph II of Burgundy — and was betrothed at the age of two as part of a peace treaty. Her father and Hugh of Provence had been at war over the crown of Italy. In 933 the rivals came to peace terms, with Hugh getting the Italian throne but also promising  that Adelaide would eventually become his daughter-in-law.  At the age of 15, Adelaide married Hugh’s son, Lothaire. By this time a villain had come on the scene — Berengarius of Ivrea — desiring the throne of Italy for himself.  This powerful man forced Hugh to abdicate in favor of the weaker Lothaire, who suspiciously died soon after,  probably poisoned.  Before of her husband’s death, Adelaide had given birth to their only child, daughter Emma. 

Berengarius, now King of Italy, tried to force Adelaide to marry his son, Adelbert. She refused and fled, but was hunted down and imprisoned in a castle on Lake Garda.  The 18-year-old Adelaide did not sit pining in captivity; she escaped four months later with the help of a priest, who dug a tunnel to the castle and then hid her in the nearby woods and marshland until he could obtain further aid. The Duke of Canossa, learning of her plight, carried her off to the safety of his impregnable castle. Berengarius soon discovered Adelaide’s whereabouts and began a siege of the castle.

Meanwhile, the Italian nobles were tiring of Berengarius’ reign and did not resist when the German king, Otto I, invaded Italy. Otto was also encouraged in his campaign by Pope Agapitus II, who hoped the German monarch would bring some order to the northern realms of Italy. The besieged Adelaide sent a message to Otto, begging for rescue and protection.  Otto drove Berengarius from Canossa and Adelaide was freed from her danger.  A marriage between the widower Otto and  the beautiful, wealthy, widowed queen was suggested by someone (perhaps Adelaide herself); and since there were no objections, the 38-year old Otto married the 19-year-old Adelaide on Christmas day in 951. Adelaide had five children with Otto — three sons and two daughters. Adelaide’s popularity with her people and her romantic story helped to make Germanic rule over Italy easier to accept.  Otto also was the great- great- great grandson of Louis I,  son of Charlemagne, and so had a claim to the imperial throne. In 962 Pope John XIII crowned Otto, Roman emperor and Adelaide, empress. 

The thick red line indicates the borders of Otto I’s empire

Although Adelaide’s resentful stepson from Otto’s first marriage caused some political turmoil, the next ten years of her life seems to have been mostly free from drama. Then in 973 her husband died and their eldest son, Otto II, succeeded to his father’s throne. Otto II had married the Byzantine princess, Theophania. Theophania, jealous of her mother-in-law’s popularity and resentful of her generosity to the poor, turned her husband against his mother and made things very uncomfortable at court. Adelaide took up residence with her brother, Conrad, in Vienna. The Abbot of Cluny was successful in bringing about a reconciliation, with Otto begging his mother’s forgiveness; and Adelaide returned to court. 

File:Оттон и Адельгейда.jpg
Empress Adelaide and Emperor Otto I
Alas, the reconciliation seems not have been deep or lasting with Theophania; for when Otto II died in 983, trouble again arose. Since Otto’s son — Otto III — was a baby, Theophania became regent, ruling the empire during her son’s infancy. Without her son’s sympathy and protection, Adelaide thought it best to leave the court again. However, Theophania died suddenly in 991, and so the dowager empress returned to court to act as her grandson’s regent. From thenceforth, Adelaide’s life seems to have been peaceful, but not inactive.  Throughout her life she had many churches built and founded and supported many monasteries, being especially close to the Benedictines of Cluny and its abbots, St. Majolus and St. Odilo (who later wrote her biography).  She was zealous for and promoted the evangelization of the pagans in the North, especially the Slavic peoples. She was described as gentle and forgiving, gracious, wise, and a devoted daughter and guardian of the Church.  In her last year of life, she undertook a trip to Burgundy to attempt a reconciliation between her nephew Rudolph III and his rebellious subjects. However, she died on the way at Seltz Abbey in Alsace on December 16, 999. 

It seems that St. Adelaide was a fascinating medieval woman, definitely a worthy subject matter for an opera, as well as canonization.

A stone marker at the cathedral in Magdeburg, Germany
commemorating the reign of St. Adelaide
“Queen of Italy, Queen of the East Franks, Empress”

The following text is taken from our book, From Sea to Shining Sea: The Story of America.

The Bishop and the Men of Blood

Fray Juan de Zumárraga was troubled. Being a bishop is never easy, but being the bishop of New Spain (it seemed) was a task beyond the power of any man. Indeed, Fray Juan had not wanted to be bishop. For over 30 years he had lived the quiet life of a Franciscan friar. He had prayed and fasted; he had said Mass, administered the sacraments, and preached to the people. Then one fatal day, in 1527, King Charles I had stopped at the Franciscan convent in Valladolid in Spain. The king was so impressed by Fray Juan, who directed the life of the convent, that he wanted him to serve as the first bishop of New Spain. Fray Juan, the son of poor parents, did not think himself worthy of that great office; but his religious superior told him that he had to obey King Charles. So it was that one year later, Fray Juan found himself in the city of Mexico, the bishop of pagans, new Christian converts, and half civilized Spanish adventurers. 

Read the rest of the story here.

Cyber Monday Sale!

Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America (Textbook)

Get 30% off when you purchase the new e-book, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America.

Go here to purchase and use the code “MONDAY” when you check out (on the final page, after entering payment information).  Sale ends Monday at midnight PST.

Lands of Hope and Promise is a high school level book which presents the history of North America from the landing of Columbus in 1492 to the late 20th century. It tells the story of the French, the Spanish, Dutch, Russian, and English settlements, and of the native peoples and cultures with which they interacted and came in conflict. It continues the story of the European settlement, focusing on the United States as the representative of Anglo-American culture and Mexico a the representative of Latin American culture. Though Lands of Hope and Promise tells the secular history found in standard textbooks, it includes the contributions of the Catholic Church, Catholic communities, and individual Catholics – along with Catholic ideas – to this rich and tempestuous story. And it tells this history as a story, with all the color and drama that belongs to it. End of chapter reviews and other material highlight dates and events, characters in history, and definitions of key terms.  

Dr. Jeffrey Burton Russell (Professor of History, emeritus, University of California, Santa Barbara) tells you why you should buy this book:
Other middle and high-school history textbooks lack the qualities that Catholic Textbook Projects’ Light to the Nations I and II and Lands of Hope and Promise offer. These book present all the main themes along with plenty of detail to flesh them out. They are beautifully and clearly presented. Without proselytizing,and without pressing any worldview other than the importance of understanding the past, the books present the material of Catholic history interwoven with other important themes. In fact, they offer more about those important themes than most textbooks do. Teachers and students who use the Catholic Textbook Project series will be happy to know that in college its readers will know more about history than many of their professors as well as most of their classmates.
Go here to see all the history books and to learn more about The Catholic Textbook Project.