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.  

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This Week in History

December 25, 800:
A Reluctant Emperor Crowned 

Reliquary of Charlemagne
Charles faced other enemies besides the Saxons and the Muslims in Spain. When a duke in Bavaria rebelled, Charles had to force him to submit fully to his rule. The Lombards, too, briefly revolted, only to be subdued by the king. Then, in 791, he had to deal with a pagan tribe, the Avars, whom he also defeated.

In the last years of his reign, Charles had once again to defend the pope. Leo III, who had become pope in 795, faced powerful enemies in Rome. Four years later, Leo fled Rome, seeking protection from Charles. The king was determined to seat the pope once more in his own city; so, in late 800, Charles and his troops crossed the Alps and headed swiftly to Rome. There he held a synod, reestablished Leo on the papal throne, and executed or imprisoned the pope’s enemies.

A few days after proclaiming the pope’s innocence, Charles — with the royal and papal courtiers — thronged St. Peter’s for the festival of Christmas. When Mass was ended, Charles remained kneeling at the altar. Leo advanced with a crown.

He placed it on the bowed head of the king and cried, “God grant life and victory to Charles, Augustus, crowned by God, great and pacific Emperor of the Romans.” All present joined in the cry, Vivat! Then all there — Frankish nobles, Lombards, Roman senators and citizens, Italian clergy, even the pope himself — knelt before Charles and saluted him with the reverence paid to the ancient emperors.

The Coronation of Charlemagne
Charles later said that the pope crowned him emperor without his prior consent and that he would never have entered St. Peter’s on that day if he had known what the pope had planned to do. But Charles did not refuse the crown. In return for the ceremony of coronation, Charles confirmed papal control of central Italy.

Charles made all his subjects swear allegiance to him a second time, not as king of the Franks and Lombards, but as emperor of the Romans. The clergy warned the people that they were not merely promising obedience to Charles, but to God and his law. The new empire thus was to be a close union of Church and state. From then on, this empire was to be the embodiment of “Christendom,” a Christian society.

* * *
To get the sound of the Carolingian age, the age of Charlemagne, listen to this scholarly recreation of music from the time of Charlemagne, recorded by the Ensemble Ligeriana.

                  Carmina Carolingiana -
 Chants epiques au temps de Charlemagne

This Day in History

December 16, 1770: Beethoven Born

“The Wanderer above a Sea of Clouds,” 
by Caspar David Friedrich,
 a painting that epitomizes the spirit of Romanticism 
Though Romanticism started as a literary movement, the Romantic spirit moved into other art forms as well. For instance, a Romantic school of painting developed whose artists depicted scenes of drama, mystery, and even horror. Nor was Romanticism a purely German movement. From the group of early Romantics at Jena, it spread throughout Germany, into England, and eventually into sou-thern Europe, France, and Russia.
But, besides literature, no art form was more affected by the Romantic spirit than was music. As in other art forms, music in the 18th century had followed the classical style; but with Ludwig van Beethoven, Romanticism entered music. 
Born December 16, 1770, in Bonn, a city on the Rhine in the German archbishopric of Köln, Beethoven came from a family of musicians. Ludwig grew up in poverty, and his father was a violent and rough man, so Ludwig’s childhood and youth were not happy. Hoping to make money off his son’s musical talent, the father forced Ludwig to undergo a severe musical training from his fifth to his ninth years. After that, he received lessons on the piano, at which he excelled. As a teenager, Ludwig began supporting his family after his father, a singer, could no longer find employment.

It was the archbishop-elector of Köln who, recognizing Beethoven’s musical talent, sent him to Vienna in 1792. In the capital of the Austrian Empire, Beethoven earned the reputation of a great piano virtuoso and began composing works for piano solo, quartets, and symphonies. His first and second symphonies, performed in 1800 and 1802, were very much in the classical style; but his Symphony Number 3, premiered in 1806, was the first of his truly Romantic works. 
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, “Eroica,”performed by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, conductor. (Symphony begins, after commentary,  at 6:35.)

Called the Eroica (“Heroic”), the Third Symphony was originally written to honor Napoleon. (Beethoven removed the dedication when Napoleon proclaimed himself emperor.) The Eroica Symphony was longer than the symphonies of the time and contained passages of soaring heroism and poignant sadness. Indeed, in his remaining six symphonies and in his other works, Beethoven showed the emotional power that music can express. And he inspired an entire generation of composers to follow the Romantic ideal.  

Beethoven composing music in his 
study, by Carl Schloesser
The depth and beauty of Beethoven’s music arise, perhaps, from his sufferings. In 1798 he detected the first signs that he was going deaf. As the years passed, his deafness grew worse until, by the early 1820s, he could hear nothing at all. This ailment caused him to withdraw himself from the society of his friends, and his frustration threw him into bitter rages. Though he was naturally gentle and kind, he nevertheless drove people off, for he could not let them know he was going deaf. This he explained in a letter to his brothers, written in 1802. In the letter he described, too, his feelings of despair, from which he said he was saved by his art.

“What a humiliation,” wrote Beethoven, “when one stood beside me and heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard the shepherd singing and again I heard nothing, such incidents brought me to the verge of despair, but little more and I would have put an end to my life — only art it was that withheld me, ah it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon me to produce.”

Caricatures of Beethoven,
by Johann Theodor Lyser
Beethoven was baptized a Catholic and outwardly professed the Catholic Faith. But, like so many men of his time, Beethoven was really a Deist. His greatest and last symphony, the Ninth, closes with a choral hymn to the “loving Father” who dwells “beyond yon starry canopy” — but this father is not the Catholic God. It is told, however, that on his deathbed, Beethoven agreed to have a priest come into his room and give him last rites. When the ceremony was over, Beethoven expressed hearty thanks to this servant of Christ.
Beethoven died on March 26, 1827, while the heavens raged in thunderstorm.

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”