September 7, 2010

Mexico: 200 Years of the Construction of the Nation

Mexican heroes The 14 heroes and heroines of the Mexican War of Independence are lying in state for the first time in 200 years. Their coffins and urns were removed from beneath the Angel of Independence monument.

Thousands of Mexican people lined the streets to watch their procession through the capital. Now the general public may pay their respects, at an exhibition, which is part of the country's bicentennial and centennial celebrations.

On Sunday, Mexican President Felipe Calderón launched the exhibition, 'Mexico: 200 Years of the Construction of the Nation', at the National Palace (Palacio Nacional), in Mexico City. It will run until July 2011, with admission free. The caskets are only part of the overall displays, which compile, commemorate and honor two centuries of Mexican culture and history.

6,000 square meters have been set aside for the exhibition; including the President's Halls, which will be accessible by the public for the first time ever. The area is filled with collections, including artwork and the personal possessions of some of Mexico's most representative figures. Significant historical documents, like original Certificate of Independence, will also be shown; alongside items such as Miguel Hidalgo's gun, General Emiliano Zapata’s flag, José María Morelos’ sabre and Benito Juárez’s Presidential Chair.

Mexican heroes

However, most people will be visiting to pay tribute to the 14 Independence Heroes. Miguel Hidalgo, Ignacio Allende, José María Morelos y Pavón, Víctor Rosales, Juan Aldama, Mariano Jiménez, Mariano Matamoros, Pedro Moreno, Francisco Javier Mina, Vicente Guerrero, Leona Vacario de Quintana Roo, Guadalupe Victoria, Andrés Quintana Roo and Nicolás Bravo are the men and women who, 200 years ago, sacrificed their lives to liberate Mexico from Spain.

Their remains were exhumed from beneath the Angel of Independence Monument and taken with military honors to Chapultepec Castle. Here they were examined and treated for preservation, by experts from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). This was necessary, because historians have long since feared that the bones were jumbled and/or replaced, during their initial move to the monument from their original resting places at the Metropolitan Cathedral.

There was a surprise in store. Until now, it had been believed that only 12 of the heroes were interred beneath the monument. Pedro Moreno and Victor Rosales, who had been thought to lie in unknown graves, were undoubtedly amongst their peers. INAH were able to establish that all 14 were present and correct.

On August 15th, 2010, the remains of all 14 were placed upon horse-drawn carriages and taken in procession to the National Palace. Hundreds of mounted soldiers rode alongside. Crowds thronged the streets to watch them pass, calling out their thanks and other salutations.

Mexican heroes

Upon receiving them, the president gave a speech to the assembled thousands. He told them that, "The insurgents gave their lives so that we Mexicans could be free, so that we could break the chains that tied us to slavery and servitude."

The best known name of all is Padre Miguel Hidalgo. He was the priest who gave the first Grito de la Indepenzia (Shout of Independence), which is echoed across Mexico on September 15th-16th. It was a call for Mexicans to take up arms against their Spanish overlords and, for many, it was the opening sequence in the whole War of Independence.

After 'Mexico: 200 Years of the Construction of the Nation' closes, in July 2011, the bodies will be returned to their crypt, beneath the Angel of Independence.

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