The war of Cristeros (also known under the name of Cristiada), indicates the armed conflict which opposed 1926 to 1929 a country rebellion which wished to defend the Catholic church vis-a-vis the Mexican State, then strongly anticatholic.

After one period of peaceful resistance, a certain number of local risings took place in 1926. The revolt strictly speaking began on January 1st 1927, when the rebels took the name of Cristeros - they indeed said to fight in the name of the Christ itself. Less than two years later, while Cristeros started to make good match with the troops of the Federal state, of the diplomatic negotiations, in which the American ambassador Dwight Whitney Morrow played a great part, allowed to put an end to the conflict.

Causes and first steps of the conflict

The Constitution of 1917

Five articles of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 are particularly intended to reduce the influence of the Catholic church in the country. Article 3 imposes the secularization of teaching; article 5 interdict monastic orders. Article 24 interdict the exercise of the worship in-outside churches, and article 27 restricted right to the property of the religious organizations. Lastly, article 130 undermines the civic rights of the members of the clergy: the priests do not have the right to wear their habits, lose the right to vote, and see themselves prohibiting any comment on the public affairs in the press agencies.

The tendency anticlerical of the government also appears by surface changes, for example in the " laïcisation" place names; for example, the State de Vera Cruz (“of the True Cross”) is famous Veracruz.

Context of the revolt

When the provisions anti-catholics are registered in the Constitution in 1917, the president of Mexico east Venustiano Carranza; this last is however reversed by its old ally Álvaro Obregón in 1919, then this one is elected president at the end of 1920. It shares the ideas anticlericals of Carranza, but makes apply the dipositions in question only in the areas or the attachment with Catholicism is weakest.

The election of Plutarco Elías Calles in 1924 puts an end to this truce between the government and the Church. The new president indeed makes strictly apply anticlericals measurements, and this to the whole of the territory; he makes vote other laws anti-catholics: in 1926, the Law for the reform of the Penal code envisages specific sorrows for the priests and the monks who would contravene the articles of the Constitution of 1917 already quoted. For example, the port of the clerical dress can be punished of a fine of 500 pesos (250 American dollars of the time); a priest who criticizes the government can be condemned to five years of prison.

Peaceful resistance

In reaction to these measurements, the resistance of the catholic movements hardens. Most important of them, the National league for the defense of the religious liberty, created in 1924, is joined by the Mexican Association of catholic youth (created in 1913) and the Popular union, a founded catholic political party in 1925.

The July 11th 1926, the Mexican bishops vote the suspension of the public worship in all the country, in reaction to the law Calles. This suspension must apply starting from August 1st. July 14th, they start to implement a plan of economic boycott against the government, which appears particularly effective in the mid-west of Mexico (states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes and Zacatecas). The catholics living this area cease going to the cinema and the theater, and do not use any more public transport; the catholics teaching in the public schools put themselves in strike.

However, this boycott quickly loses its importance, as of the autumn 1926, mainly because of the lack of support which this tactic meets among easiest catholics, who also undergo the economic consequences of the boycott. The easy Mexicans come from there to pay the federal army to protect them, and to call the police force to break the strike pickets, which makes them very unpopular.

The catholic bishops work during this time to make amend the most awkward articles of the Constitution. The pope Pie XI approves explicitly the means of resistance used hitherto; however, the government Holds, in reprisals against what he regarded as an opened rebellion, makes close many churches. The proposals for an amendment to the Constitution presented by the bishops are finally disallowed by the Congress the September 22nd 1926.

Rise of violence

The August 3rd 1926, with Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco, 400 catholics armed are raised, and are locked up in the church of Notre-Dame de Guadalupe. A confrontation begins with the federal troops, and finishes only when the insurrectionists are with court of ammunition. According to American diplomatic sources, the engagements would have made 18 died and 40 wounded.

The following day, in Sahuayo, in the state of the Michoacán, 240 soldiers of the government take by storm the parish church. The priest and his vicar are killed during violences which follow. August 14th, of the governmental agents intervene at the time of the chapter of the Association of catholic youth, in Chalchihuites, in the state of Zacatecas, and carry out the spiritual adviser of the movement, the father Luis Bátiz Sáinz.

Consequently, the events accelerate. After having heard of the assassination of the Bátiz father, a group of local owners, under the command of Pedro Quintanar, seize the collecting office and are declared in rebellion. With most extremely of the insurrection, they control all the northern part of the state of Jalisco.

Another rising occurs in Pénjamo (state of Guanajuato), with the head of which the mayor of the place is, Luis Navarro Origel: its men are beaten in open country by the federal troops, but take refuge in the mountains from where they carry out a guerilla. The same scenario reproduces in Durango, where Trinidad Mora is with the head of the rebels, and in the South of the state of Guanajuato, where the general Rodolfo Gallegos takes the command.

During this time, the rebels of Jalisco (in particular in the North-East of Guadalajara) are reinforced little by little. The area becomes the nerve center of the rebellion, carried out by Rene Capistrán Garza, president of the Mexican Association of the catholic and youth 27 years old hardly; it is at this time that the rebellion itself and asserted like such starts.

The war

The first risings

January 1st, Garza makes publish a proclamation entitled " In Nación" (With the nation). It affirms there that " the hour of the battle has sonné" and that " God will decide victoire". This declaration causes an insurrection of great width in the summer of Jalisco. Groups of rebels settle in the area of Los Altos, in the North-East of Guadalajara, then seize several villages, armed only with old rifles and clubs. Their war cry is ¡ Viva Cristo Rey! ¡ Viva Virgen de Guadalupe! (Lives the Christ-King! Live the Virgin of Guadalupe).

At the beginning, the government Calles does not take the threat with the serious one. The rebels appear effective vis-a-vis the agraristas (a rural militia recruited in all Mexico) and with the forces of Defensa Social (another local militia), but are overcome as soon as they face the federal troops, near the big cities - the federal army has at the time a manpower of approximately 80.000 men. The commander-in-chief of the federal troops of the state of Jalisco, the general Jesús Ferreira, declares at the time to start itself towards insurgent: " we do not leave to shift, but to the chasse".

However, if it is considered that the very large majority of the rebels did not have any experience of the war, the operations whom they undertake are rather well carried out. The most qualified military chiefs are Jesús Degollado, Victoriano Ramírez, Aristeo Pedroza and Jose Reyes Vega.

Recent university work lets think that for much Cristeros, from the motivations political, but so material, came to reinforce the religious motivations. Indeed, the insurrectionists often came from rural communities which had suffered from the policy of land reforms carried out by the government since 1920, and also felt threatened by the recent political changes and economic. Many agraristas and people supporting the government were enthusiastic catholics.

The support granted or not by the episcopate and the Papauté for Cristeros is a discussed question. Officially, the Mexican episcopate forever constant the rebellion, but several testimonys show that the legitimacy of their cause was recognized by several Mexican bishops. The vast majority of the 38 Mexican bishops refuses armed resistance, and speaks about the " respect due to the autorités". Only three bishops invite to resist, including by the weapons; it is the case of Mgr Gonzalez there Valencia, young archbishop of Durango, which sends to a its faithful pastoral letter since its exile to Rome. The bishop of Guadalajara, Mgr Jose Francisco Orozco Jiménez remains there at the sides of the rebels; for much of contemporary historians, it would have was the true chief of the rebellion.

On its side, the Black and white pope XI tent to regulate the conflict peacefully: the March 4th 1926, Mgr Caruana, apostolic nuncio, is sent in order to find a diplomatic solution, but it is expelled manu militari on May 12th. September 18th, 1926, Pie XI publishes the afflictisque encyclical Iniquis and evokes the Mexican martyrs (Jean-Paul II béatifié and canonized of them 34, priests and laic).

The apogee of the rebellion

February 23rd, 1927, Cristeros are victorious federal troops in San Francisco del Rincón, in the state of Guanajuato, and gain a new success with San Julián, in the state of Jalisco, a few days later. However, the rebellion is blown; April 19th, the Vega father attacks a train which convoyait funds. In the ambush, his/her brother is killed, and in reprisals, it makes sprinkle the gasoline coaches and fire puts at it, thus killing 51 civilians.

This massacre turns over most of the public opinion, which becomes unfavourable in Cristeros. The government starts to concentrate the populations in the urban centres, depriving the rebels of supply. To the summer, the revolt is almost reduced to nothing. Garza resigns of its command of the insurgent forces in July, after an attempt to collect funds with the the United States failed.

But the efforts of Victoriano Ramírez start again the rebellion. Illiterate, this last appears nevertheless very skilful in the art of the guerilla. Under her impulse, the National league for the defense of the religious liberty manages to recruit a general mercenary, Enrique Gorostieta, which receives wages twice higher than that of a federal general. Gorostieta, however very far away from Catholicism, so much so that he made fun of the piety of his soldiers, involves the rebellious troops effectively, and reorganizes them in units disciplined and ordered by better trained officers. Cristeros then seem to take the top.

June 21st, 1927, the first female brigade of Cristeros is created with Zapopan, under the patronage of Jeanne d' Arc. Of seventeen members, his manpower exceeds the dix-mille women in March 1928, and culminates to 25.000 at the end of the conflict. They have as a main mission of collecting money, weapons and provisions for the combatants, but are also seen entrusting tasks of information.

Cristeros have the top during the year 1928. In 1929, the government must face a new crisis: in Veracruz, the general Arnulfo R. Gómez takes the head of a revolt within the army. The rebels benefit from it to attack Guadalajara at the end of March. They do not manage to take the city, but seize Tepatitlán on April 19th. The Vega father is killed on this occasion.

However, the military revolt is quickly overcome, and of divisions appear at Cristeros. Mario Valdés, many historians think today that he was a spy of the federal government, contributes to launching a movement of suspicion against El Catorce, which is finally carried out after a summary judgment. June 2nd, Gorostieta is killed in an ambush set-up by the federal army.

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