Ten Facts about Father Miguel Hidalgo

Things you may not have known about Mexico's warrior-priest

Father Miguel Hidalgo entered history on September 16, 1810, when he took to his pulpit in the small town of Dolores, Mexico, and declared that he was taking up arms against the Spanish…and that those present were welcome to join him. Thus began Mexico’s struggle for Independence from Spain, which Father Miguel would not live to see to fruition. Here are ten facts about the revolutionary priest who kicked off Mexico’s Independence.

Mexico, Jalisco, Guadalajara, Governors Palace, ceiling mural of Miguel Hidalgo (Mexican revolutionary hero), painted by Jose Clemente Orozco.
Jalisco Governor's Palace (Palacio de Gobierno de Jalisco), Mural of Miguel Hidalgo, painted by Jose Clemente Orozco. Gloria & Richard Maschmeyer / Getty Images

Born in 1753, Father Miguel was already in his mid-fifties when he issued his famous Cry of Dolores. He was by then a distinguished priest, well-versed in theology and religion and a pillar of the Dolores community. He certainly didn't fit the modern stereotype of a wild-eyed, young revolutionary angry at the world! More »

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He wasn't much of a priest

Father Miguel was a far better revolutionary than priest. His promising academic career was derailed by his introduction of liberal ideas into his teaching curriculum and for misuse of money entrusted to him while teaching at the seminary. While a parish priest, he preached that there was no Hell and that sex outside of marriage was permissible. He followed his own advice and had at least two children (and possibly quite a few more). He was investigated by the Inquisition twice.

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His family had been ruined by Spanish policy

After the Spanish war fleet was mostly sunk at the Battle of Trafalgar in October of 1805, King Carlos found himself in dire need of funds. He made a royal decree that all loans issued by the church would now become the property of the Spanish Crown…and all debtors had one year to pay or lose their collateral. Father Miguel and his brothers, owners of haciendas that they had bought with loans from the church, could not pay in time and their properties were seized. The Hidalgo family was completely wiped out economically.

Every year, Mexicans celebrate September 16 as their Independence Day. That’s not the date Hidalgo had in mind, however. Hidalgo and his fellow conspirators had originally selected December as the best time for their uprising and were planning accordingly. Their plot was discovered by the Spanish, however, and Hidalgo had to act fast before they were all arrested. Hidalgo gave "the Cry of Dolores" the very next day and the rest is history. More »

Among the heroes of Mexico's struggle for Independence, Hidalgo and Ignacio Allende are two of the greatest. Members of the same conspiracy, they fought together, were captured together and died together. History remembers them as legendary comrades in arms. In reality, they couldn’t stand one another. Allende was a soldier who wanted a small, disciplined army, whereas Hidalgo was happy to lead a massive horde of uneducated and untrained peasants. It got so bad that Allende even tried to poison Hidalgo at one point! More »

Father Miguel knew where his strengths lay: he was not a soldier, but a thinker. He gave rousing speeches, visited the men and women fighting for him and was the heart and soul of his rebellion, but he left the actual fighting to Allende and the other military commanders. He had serious differences with them, however, and the revolution almost fell apart because they could not agree on questions such as the organization of the army and whether to permit looting after battles. More »

In November of 1810, Hidalgo was very close to victory. He had marched across Mexico with his army and had defeated a desperate Spanish defense at the Battle of Monte de las Cruces. Mexico City, home of the Viceroy and the seat of Spanish power in Mexico, was within his reach and virtually undefended. Inexplicably, he decided to retreat. This gave the Spanish time to regroup: they eventually defeated Hidalgo and Allende at the Battle of Calderon Bridge. More »

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He was betrayed

After the disastrous Battle of Calderon Bridge, Hidalgo, Allende and other revolutionary leaders made a run for the border with the USA where they could regroup and rearm in safety. On the way there, however, they were betrayed, captured, and handed over to the Spanish by Ignacio Elizondo, a leader of a local insurrection who was escorting them through his territory.

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He was excommunicated

Although Father Miguel never renounced the priesthood, the Catholic Church was quick to distance itself from his actions. He was excommunicated during his rebellion and again after he was captured. The dreaded Inquisition also paid him a visit after his capture and he was stripped of his priesthood. In the end, he recanted his actions but was executed anyway.

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He’s considered Mexico’s founding father

Although he did not actually free Mexico from Spanish rule, Father Miguel is considered the founding father of the nation. Mexicans believe that his noble ideals of freedom drove him into action, kicking off the revolution, and have honored him accordingly. The town where he lived has been renamed Dolores Hidalgo, he features prominently in several grand murals celebrating Mexican heroes, and his remains are forever interred in “El Angel,” a monument to Mexican Independence which also houses the remains of Ignacio Allende, Guadalupe Victoria, Vicente Guerrero and other heroes of Independence.