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  • Natalie Taylor

STORIES OF SAN MIGUEL: Father Eusebio Espinosa

One of the fascinating aspects of San Miguel is its long reach into the past. The founding of the city goes back to 1492, 50 years after Christopher Columbus landed in the New World. Twenty years later, in 1565, the oldest city in the United States, Saint Augustine, was founded—also by Spanish conquistadors. In 1620, when the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth Rock, ours was already a major city—then called San Miguel el Grande.

When I refer to the start of San Miguel, I mark its beginnings with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. It is not a disregard or dismissal of pre-Hispanic presence; there were native settlers here long before this became part of the colonies of Spain. However, the tales I relate were all documented by the Spaniards, and the descendants of the first inhabitants—stories that span a total of 530 years.

During those five centuries, tales, true and apocryphal abound. I keep discovering bits and pieces serendipitously—through historical written sources; from local historians; and often word of mouth from residents who have lived here all their lives, and whose ancestors came centuries before. Some stories have circulated for so long, they acquire the ring of truth. They are literally “grandfathered,” or perhaps “great-grandfathered,” and the borders between history and legend become blurred.

The following story, though it has the flavor of legend, was unfortunately a real event. It took place on the premises of el Oratorio—the church of the Oratory.

It was mid-July in 1924, and Father Eusebio Espinosa Tovar was in his cell in the Oratorio. This room was on the upper floor, at the corner between the atrium of the church and the high walls of that connect to the church of La Salud. Father Eusebio had chosen this room because a window gave him a view of the Plaza de la Soledad, and all the activities there.

His cell, like a watchtower, was an ideal place to look at the blue San Miguel skies. From his vantage point he could see, and hear people gathering in the plaza, going to the Ignacio Ramirez market, a large thriving market that had been built in 1889. In 1969 the market was torn down,

and an equestrian statue of Ignacio Allende was placed in the center of the square—known today as Plaza Civica. But on the day Father Eusebio was in his room, the market was at its peak and he would have seen people coming and going, then continuing past his window on their way to Insurgentes Street. Far in the distance he could discern the bluish silhouettes of the Sierra de Santa Rosa Mountains, and watch the sun set, creating magnificent colors in the sky.

Father Eusebio had a gentle, kind character and had joined the congregation only recently. He had come from a family of rich landowners; his father, Cesáreo Espinosa, had a ranch famous for crafting leather clothing for ranchers.

The church bells had just rung the angelus, and Father Eusebio, breviary in hand walked back and forth in his cell, mouthing prayers. A sudden, loud bang reverberated through his room and the floor simply broke through, taking Father Eusebio down with the rubble. He disappeared beneath stones, broken beams, and a thick cloud of dust.

Priests and seminarians heard the powerful noise, and ran forthwith in the direction from which it came. When they opened Father Eusebio's cell, they saw immediately that the floor had collapsed to the lower level—there was a giant gaping hole, and dust was settling in the air. They rushed down the stairs, and once there, were joined by schoolboys. Everyone began to dig through the rubble. Some of the most determined began to pull the beams that impeded their passage.

“Be careful!” called out the elders, “You can cause more damage!”

Despair spread on the faces of priests and seminarians. There were so many fallen beams, some over two-hundred years old. The beams had crushed everything in the lower room, as if creating a sheet, making rescue work difficult. But after the first moments of confusion and disorder, the work was coordinated to rapidly remove the rubble. The debris was stacked onto a large pile, like a mountain range. Students on the inside passed the rubble to others on the outside.

About a half hour later Father Eusebio appeared. He was unconscious, his body trapped under part of the collapsed floor. They pulled him out quickly and taken to a room where he was given first aid. He regained consciousness, and smiled as he opened his eyes to see the terrified, sweaty, and dusty faces of those around him.

"How do you feel?" asked Father Gregorio Hernández, the elder priest in charge.

“Well, your reverence, nothing happened to me” said Father Eusebio. “Just a scare and a tumble.”

“Excellent! God willing it is so,” said Father Gregorio.

But on July 12, only a few days after the incident, Father Eusebio died of his injuries. The accident shocked, and saddened the people of San Miguel.

Years later his sisters talked about their time at his bedside after the fall. They were in tears, watching him slip away, but he consoled them, saying that what was happening was the will of god.

Then he added some prophetic words: “We are on the eve of very difficult times for the church. Many priests will be martyrs…” He felt at peace in dying before those events were to occur. And indeed, two years later, on July 31, 1926 began the bloody Cristero Wars which resulted in many deaths of both clergy, and the secular population.

The Espinosa family home—a house called Pachón, was located in front of the post office, and his sisters lived there until their death. Many religious objects remained in the house, such as a life-size Virgen de los Dolores and a sculpture of the Virgen de la Luz. Up until 1952, you could still see the family piano, and part of their select library. These have all disappeared.

(Story translated, and adapted from: Ciudad de San Miguel de Allende, by Cornelio López Espinosa, pp. 29-31)

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