And under the earth our illustrious dead still rest

For some years our simply called “men” long called “illustrious”, became people. As if we had always known. The matter was rather by decree, confusion in the nomenclature, erysipelas due to gender equality and a certain resistance to admit that both Mexican and Mexican women could be buried in the former Rotunda of Illustrious Men of the pantheon of Dolores.

Today, officially, the people who make up this circle of the cemetery are, in fact, more men (103) than women (6). And for the Day of the Dead, in case the difficulty of the running winds prevents walking the past, reinventing the present and changing the future, it would be very good to visit them.

The history of this enclosure began when the Consummation of Independence had barely been declared. It was the summer of 1823 and the new Mexican Congress first came up with the idea of ​​creating a national pantheon. There the characters to whom the recently liberated country had to pay homage would rest, (at that time only the heroes of Independence). It was established, in principle, that the remains should be transferred to the Metropolitan Cathedral while a dignified and permanent tomb was being built. So far, fulfilling the order was easy. Later, small and great vicissitudes followed one another without ceasing: a surprising empire, the five years of the presidency of Guadalupe Victoria, the assassination of Vicente Guerrero, the dictatorship of Santa Anna, two foreign invasions, the War of the Reform, the rise and fall of Maximiliano and Carlota, the Restored Republic and, if there were no unfortunate reasons, the death of Benito Juárez.

The country had been in such a political bustle, so busy in struggles that seemed to have no end, that it did not take up the pantheon project until 1872, when Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada was president and granted the company Benfield, Becker and Cía the concession to build a pantheon in Lomas de Belén. In it – and not in small print – a space should be reserved for “the erection of monuments that keep the remains or perpetuate the memory of illustrious men who have been ordained posthumous honors in the future.” Meanwhile, the heroes of Independence continued waiting and sleeping the eternal dream inside the Cathedral.

Once finished, the first man buried in the Rotunda also provoked the first quarrels. It was the Zacatecan Colonel Pedro Latechipia, who although he had fought against Maximiliano’s forces, had also fought against Porfirio Díaz, who did not arouse suspicions and enjoyed the sympathy of all good consciences, those who believed him to be an emulate of Juárez for his Oaxacan origin and fierce temperament.

Guillermo Prieto and Justo Sierra, announced as speakers for such a solemn – and expected – occasion, refused outright. Not only did they not write their speech, they declined to attend. From that moment on, each burial and decision about the ossuary would bring discussions, regrets, hubbub and rivers of ink. Also underground protests, one of the first that of Joaquín D. Casasús.

It was the year 1903, Porfirio Díaz was already in a suspicious situation (his first presidential term) and under his orders, the 65 meters long and eleven wide that measures the road from the street door to the Rotunda had been cleaned and revamped. The plan was to continue building the graves until they completed a full circle. But Casasús, better, decided to propose, once again, the creation of a national pantheon. His idea was approved and the first stone was laid at the crossroads of the first and second streets of the Heroes, near the temple and the Pantheon of San Fernando. The architect Guillermo de Heredia presented a project that included a huge granite crypt on which a cenotaph mounted on a platform and four crowned porticoes in the dome would rest. Great and Porfirian. The dome was finished in 1912 and it all ended there. (The heroes of Independence – surely tired of waiting – were already sleeping elsewhere: in the recently inaugurated column of Independence).

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