LA HACIENDA DE BURRAS: a fragment of Mexican history
Mexico abounds with significant historic sites - some celebrated and elaborately preserved, others neglected and virtually forgotten. In Guanajuato, the "Cradle of Independence", both kinds are to be found. While the former attract many visitors, few encounter the latter. We visited one of these out-of-the-way, neglected sites recently, still a place of authentic character and nostalgic melancholy.
Located some 25 kms SW of the city of Guanajuato, just off the main Highway 45, the former Hacienda of San José de Llanos, originally known as La Hacienda de Burras, was one of the first great rural estates acquired by the silver magnate José de Sardaneta in the 1700s. Initially devoted to cattle raising and agriculture, primarily to support the needs of his family and the mining community of Mineral de Rayas, this extensive hacienda later became a strategic storage and staging area.
As part of the vertical integration of mining operations carried out by Don José's son, the first Marqués de Rayas, this expanded hacienda de beneficio was the site of a company store and most importantly, an arrastre or innovative mule-driven stamping mill and refining facility to process silver ore, which may have given the hacienda its name, thus keeping this profitable aspect of mining under family control and substantially contributing to revenues.
The Hacienda Chapel
Originally dedicated to San Antonio de Padua, the modest 17th century chapel was rebuilt in the late 1700s and re-dedicated to San José, the namesake of the hacienda owner. A statue of the saint still rests in the niche above the doorway.
The chapel played a historic part in the saga of Mexican Independence: In September 1810, following the Grito de Dolores at nearby Dolores Hidalgo, Father Miguel Hidalgo led his ragtag army towards the key city of Guanajuato. Before the final assault, his troops were quartered at the hacienda, from where he sent an ultimatum (see below) to his former friend and liberal sympathizer, the Spanish intendente, Juan Antonio Riaño, who had withdrawn to the city stronghold of Alhóndiga de Granaditas* with 500 troops and many Spanish residents of the city. Before leaving the hacienda, Father Hidalgo celebrated an open air mass in the chapel patio. After a costly and bloody battle, the 20,000 strong insurgent force, coincidentally aided by a Rayas miner now famous as El Pípila, stormed the redoubt and killed all the defenders including Riaño.
Following the capture and execution of Hidalgo and his general Ignacio Allende a few months later at the hands of Royalist troops, the severed heads of the insurgent leaders were hung in baskets from the Alhóndiga walls. After Independence in 1821, the skulls were brought back to the hacienda chapel where the second Marqués de Rayas, a patriot and signer of the Mexican Declaration of Independence, ordered a requiem mass said in their memory.
Today, what is left of the main hacienda building is being used as a school, conserving some of the handsome original arcading and now happily, serving a worthy social purpose. Despite its historic role in Mexican history, the abandoned chapel has fared less well. The roof and tower have gone and only the much altered lateral facade and part of the atrial wall remain - in a poor state of preservation despite heavy-handed stabilization measures carried out some years ago.
Especially poignant is the battered, armless statue of Father Hidalgo that still stands, its paint peeling, on an unmarked pedestal in front of the chapel - all that is left to remind the visitor of the role played by this former colonial hacienda in the turbulent pageant of Mexican history.
Headquarters: The Hacienda de Burras,
28th of September, 1810.
The numerous army that I command chose me in the fields of Celaya to be Commander in Chief and Protector of the Nation. That same city, in the presence of fifty thousand men, ratified this election, as have all the places through which I have passed.
I thus wish to inform your Excellency that I am legitimately authorized by my Nation to pursue such ends that I deem necessary for its benefit. These are equally useful and favorable both to Americans and Europeans [Spaniards] that have seen fit to reside in this kingdom, and simply proclaim the independence and the freedom of the Nation.
As a consequence, I do not view the European as an enemy, but only as an obstacle to the success of our enterprise. I charge your Excellency to present these ideas to those Europeans that are gathered in the Alhóndiga so that they may either declare themselves enemies or, if they choose, remain as our prisoners and receive humane and benign treatment - as do all those in our company - until freedom and independence are achieved, in which case they will become citizens, with the right to the restitution of such goods and possessions that, for the exigencies of the Nation, we have thus far appropriated.
If, on the contrary, they will not accede to this request, I will apply all the force necessary to destroy them, without hope of sanctuary.
May God keep your Excellency many years, as so wishes your obedient servant,
Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla.
Captain General of America
text & pictures © 2003/2023 Richard D. Perry