Cristero Rebellion

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Cristero Rebellion

Cristero Rebellion, a peasant uprising from 1926 to 1929, pushed Mexico to the brink of political chaos. The Cristeros generally saw the conflict as a religious war against the anticlericalism of the Mexican government.

This anticlericalism originated in northern Mexico, where North American-style entrepreneurs, Protestant converts, and ambitious politicians built a movement to transform their traditionally Catholic nation into a center of secular economic expansion. The movement's leading proponent, Plutarco Elías Calles (president of Mexico, 1924–1928), placed rigid regulations on the church, including required registration of priests and the closing of church schools. The church responded with a strike—the cessation of religious services—which caused a panic among the faithful. In Jalisco and the surrounding states of central Mexico, this panic sparked a peasant rebellion.

Government claims that the rebels were superstitious tools of scheming priests were largely propaganda. Only about 45 of the 3,600 priests in Mexico supported the rebellion. The Cristeros were indigenous and mestizo peasants whose motives for rebellion were mixed. Most acted to defend their faith against an expansive secular state, while others seized the opportunity to demand more extensive land reform.

The Mexican army's early victories obscured the depth of popular support for the rebels. By July 1927 approximately 20,000 rebels operated in small, uncoordinated guerrilla bands that lost several skirmishes but grew in numbers. The Cristeros moved to a new level of military action under the leadership of Enrique Gorostieta, a professional military officer who developed disciplined units to confront the army with conventional battlefield tactics. His attack on Manzanillo in May 1928 forced the federal army to bring in several regiments to avoid a major defeat.

The federal army mounted an offensive in Jalisco in December 1928, but the Cristeros simply left the area to escape the army's superiority in numbers and firepower. The frustrated soldiers attacked and looted the local villages, whose outraged inhabitants actually strengthened the Cristero base of support. Gorostieta's largest offensive climaxed at the Battle of Tepatitlán on 19 April 1929, when José Reyes Vega (one of the few Catholic priests active in the fighting) commanded a 900-man force that defeated a federal contingent more than three times its size.

By 1929 the fighting was stalemated. The Mexican government saw that a complete victory in the field was unlikely because of massive popular support for the rebels in their home districts. However, in spite of their 50,000 recruits, the Cristeros did not have the resources to overthrow the central government, which had the support of the United States.

The end of the revolt came from the outside. A reluctant but shaken Mexican government heeded the pleas of U.S. ambassador Dwight Morrow and reached an agreement with representatives of the Catholic Church in Mexico and Rome. The government relaxed its clerical regulations, and on 21 June 1929 the Catholic clergy resumed public worship. By September of that year the Cristeros had disbanded.

See alsoAnticlericalism .


Jean Meyer, La Cristiada, 3 vols. (1973–1974), is fundamental. An abridged translation by Richard Southern is available under the title The Cristero Rebellion: The Mexican People Between Church and State, 1926–1929 (1976). See also David Bailey, ¡Viva Cristo Rey! The Cristero Rebellion and the Church-State Conflict in Mexico (1974).

Jim Tuck, The Holy War in Los Altos: A Regional Analysis of Mexico's Cristero Rebellion (1982).

Robert Quirk, The Mexican Revolution and the Catholic Church, 1910–1929 (1973), pp. 145-247.

Ramón Jrade, "Inquiries into the Cristero Insurrection Against the Mexican Revolution," in Latin American Research Review 20, no. 2 (1985): 53-69.

Additional Bibliography

Arrias Urrutia, Angel. Entre la cruz y la sospecha: Los cristeros de Revueltas, Yáñez, y Rulfo. Madrid: Iberoamericana, 2005.

Butler, Matthew. Popular Piety and Political Identity in Mexico's Cristero Rebellion: Michoacán, 1927–29. Oxford; New York: Published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press, 2004.

Llano Ibañez, Ramón del. Lucha por el cielo: Religión y política en el estado de Querétaro, 1910–1929. Mexico, DF: Miguel Angel Porrua, 2006.

Mendoza Delgado, Enrique. La guerra de los cristeros. Mexico, DF: Instituto Mexicana de Doctrina Social Cristiana, 2005.

Purnell, Jennie. Popular Movements and State Formation in Revolutionary Mexico: The Agraristas and Cristeros of Michoacán. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.

                                                  John A. Britton