The Cristero Rebellion

The Mexican People between Church and State  1926-1929

By Jean Meyer 1976

How is one to understand the Cristero rebellion, the great peasant uprising of 1926-1929 in central Mexico against the revolutionary government, and what is one to make of the anticlerical persecutions that precipitated and followed it?  One story, put out by the government, and accepted through most of the world, goes like this:  The peasants were stupid and superstitious dupes of the clergy, and the clergy pushed them to rebel.  The clergy in turn were tools of the wealthy classes, who were threatened by the government’s selfless quest for social justice.  As Jean Meyer shows in this book, every part of this story is a lie.  There is another story, put out by the Church, of priests heroically facing martyrdom at the hands of socialist revolutionaries.  Meyer shows this story to also be absurdly unrepresentative.  Both accounts ignore the experience of the movement’s protagonists, the peasants themselves.  This is what Meyer captures for the first time through an impressive study of the primary material, including new surveys and interviews of former Cristeros.

Let’s correct the inaccuracies in the common beliefs one by one.  It was not true that the Church represented the interests of the upper classes; the Church had led movements for social reform before the state ever thought of getting involved.  She had started and encouraged the Mexican trade union movement, and so far from being an instrument of wealthy landowners, the Church and her massive federation of unions were feared by the revolutionaries as competitors for the allegiance of the workers.  For that matter, the Church got along perfectly well with the more radical movement of Zapata.  Meyer shows that the Cristeros were drawn entirely from the lower classes, while the wealthy classes all supported the socialist government.  Nor were the peasants incited to rebellion by the clergy, who followed a craven policy of appeasement before, during, and after the revolt.  In fact, it was the women who proved to be the most enthusiastic rebels.  The bishops were mostly hostile to the uprising, and they ordered their priests to abandon the rebellious countryside for the government-controlled cities.  About one hundred priests refused to abandon their parishes, and many of these were martyred by the federal troops.  For each martyred priest, a hundred peasants gave their lives for Christ, on the battlefield, before firing squads, or under the hideous tortures unleashed by the army against Catholic peasants.  Finally, Meyer’s interviews and his review of the preceding history of evangelization refute the myth that rural Mexico was pagan with only a veneer of Christianity.  Meyer finds evidence of a profound and orthodox faith.

What then was the Cristiada?  It was a reaction of a society against the aggression of a centralizing state.  The ambitions of the Mexican revolutionaries were openly totalitarian: to destroy every authority outside the state, to uproot the village and family, to control the minds of the young.  The Catholic Church was their largest and best-organized obstacle.  Not only was the Church the center of religious life, it was the center of the social life of the countryside, and the attack on the Church was here an attack on communal life itself.  The revolutionaries were all men from the Protestant-anticlerical north, men who hated the religion and traditions of central and southern Mexico.  Their policies harassing the clergy and restricting worship eventually triggered the rebellion, much to the surprise of the bishops.  The three year war was extremely asymmetrical.  The Federal troops had much more money and arms, and they had the support of the United States.  The Cristeros had only the ammunition they could steal from their enemies.  But they had strong support in the countryside among those whose religion, traditions, and community they were defending.  This support was only strengthened by the behavior of the Federal Army, who decided the way to pacify the countryside was to forcibly relocate villages, desecrate churches, torture men who refused to apostasize, rape women, and loudly proclaim their allegiance to Satan.  The government set up in Cristero-controlled regions was the Catholic equivalent of a puritan democracy:  very little social hierarchy, strong enforcement of public morality.  Neither side could decisively defeat the other, so a compromise was inevitable.  In 1929, the government and the Church cut a deal—without consulting the rebels—which allowed the resumption of public worship.  No sooner had the Cristeros, on the order of their bishops, dispersed, than the government tracked down and murdered 5000 of their leaders.  The government then resumed its policy of persecuting the Church, which, because of the stupid naivety of bishops who traded an army for a worthless promise, was now defenseless.

This book has lots of interesting details about the experiences of the rebels and the Federal troops.  Apparently, trash-talking your enemy during battle was a common practice.  Here is one recorded exchange:

“If you don’t surrender, we will bring our women to bugger you good and proper.

“If you let them that means you are not men, and long live Christ the King, son of a whore!”

“Death to Christ and to his mother the great whore, long live Satan, long live the great Devil!”

“Long live Christ the King, you son of a whore!”  I like that.  I may have to put it on my banner.

5 Responses

  1. Sir: I was delighted to find a kindred spirit in agreement with so many elements of Catholic culture. I strongly recommend to you Solange Hertz, the most prolfic writer on the evils of the Americanist heresy. Though Mrs Hertz does not always come to the proper conclusion, especially in her earlier books, she is the best source of information about Satan’s “universal republic.’ (see the prophesies of Our Lady of Good Success)
    Viva Cristo Rey “Death to the Republics!
    Mr Thomas Brophy

  2. PS As far as I know, there is only only one clergy who believes everything the Roman Catholic Church teaches. That is His Excellency, Bishop Bryan Clayton @
    Sincerely, Mr Brophy

  3. Hello Mr. Brophy,

    It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed this blog so far.

  4. Interesting Thinking. By the way – Bishop Clayton is not a believer in what the Church teaches. He openly denies the Church’s teaching on the particular judgment, the Sovereignty of God, and much regarding the Papacy. He believes that every true Pope since Leo XIII up to this day was an anti-pope, and also he holds some occult theology based in Hinduism regarding bodily healing, is involved in an occult medicine practice and occult demonism. Really a bad guy with a hidden agenda. Just a warning. Anyway, again interesting.

  5. […] Members of the governing National Action Party voted in favor of the amendment, as well as the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which led Mexico for 71 years starting in 1929 at the conclusion of the Cristero Rebellion. […]

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