The Jesuits arrived in New Spain (Mexico’s then name) in 1572 as a triple threat. Their work in education was unparalleled allowing sons of Spanish and Creole families to be thoroughly educated close to home. Since their allegiance was with the Pope, not the King, the Jesuits installed the thought of breaking free from Spain here in San Miguel.
Secondly, with conversion, they also educated the enslaved indigenous in the arts and sciences forming in them thoughts independent of their masters.
Thirdly, they were brilliant business men. The Jesuits firmly believed in owning property and adored receiving gifts of land. Their ownership and management of the mines in nearby Pozos was financially staggering for the time.
By the mid 1600s the 336 Jesuits in Mexico administered the most admired colleges and seminaries. By 1767 there were 678 Jesuits owning and operating 24 colleges, 11 seminaries, 102 missions and 27 strategic haciendas providing income for their various interests.
In that same year, 1767, King Carlos the Third signed secret decrees against the Jesuits. A plan was executed across the country overnight. The successful plan was carefully coordinated in an effort to surprise and thereby prevent efforts by Jesuit supporters to protect them.
Jesuits were to leave Mexico immediately with no more than the clothes they wore while soldiers pillaged their churches, schools and businesses. Those who resisted were punished by death. The ruins of smelters and mines called St. Bridget, in nearby Pozos, are remnants of the Jesuits’ business savy.
Many Jesuits fled to the mountain caves around Guanajuato and on the feast day of St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, I’d join my daughter in a pilgrimage up the mountain to the caves. The procession is an act of gratitude thanking the Jesuits for planting the seed of an independent Mexico an idea that came home to roost in San Miguel making town the cradle of Mexican independence.
Joseph Toone is the Historical Society’s short-story award winning author of the SMA Secrets book series. All books in the series are Amazon bestsellers in Mexican Travel and Holidays. Toone is SMA’s expert and TripAdvisor’s top ranked historical tour guide telling the stories behind what we do in today’s SMA. Visit HistoryAndCultureWalkin