Revolutionary Mexican Priest, Jose Morelos

Dan Graves, MSL
Revolutionary Mexican Priest, Jose Morelos

Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon could scarcely walk because of the shackles on his legs. His eyes were bandaged with a white handkerchief. The Royalist commander made a mark on the ground with his sword and ordered the prisoner placed there.

"Must I kneel here?" asked Jose.

Father Salazar, who had heard the victim's final confession moments before, answered, "Yes, here."

Jose knelt. Just a few weeks earlier, the liberal priest had ruled the roost in Southwest Mexico. It was he who put Royalists to death, not the other way around. A key player in Mexico's revolutionary war against Spain, he was a brilliant leader who won many battles. It was Jose who called Mexico's first Congress and issued its first constitution.

When government forces surprised Jose and his troops, the priest bravely allowed himself to be captured so that other revolutionary leaders could escape. Jose was tried before the inquisition and removed from the priesthood with degrading ceremonies. Among the accusations against him was heresy. The churchmen declared that Jose was a heretic (one who believes false doctrine), an apostate (one who falls away from the truth), an atheist, a materialist, a Deist (one who believes in an impersonal, distant God but not Christ), a libertine (he had three children out of wedlock), a vile seducer, a hypocrite and a traitor. Although Jose and the revolutionaries had declared that Catholicism was to be the only religion permitted in their new nation, he was declared an implacable enemy of Christianity.

Despite all this, the inquisition recommended that his life be spared. Jose had cooperated by revealing many details about the revolutionary troops and leaders and had even suggested the best way to defeat them.

The government of Mexico had no intention, however, of showing mercy to such a trouble-maker. Jose's explanations for his actions did not go over well. He said that he had not considered King Ferdinand VII the true king of Mexico, since Ferdinand had been a captive in France under Napoleon and had acted as a puppet of the French. Although Jose cooperated with the secular government in this trial, betraying more information about the rebels, the judges sentenced him to death. Jose was blindfolded and shackled on this day, December 22, 1815.

He knelt down as ordered. Raising his head in prayer he said: "Lord, you know if I have done well; if ill, I implore your infinite mercy."

At the officer's command, the troops fired. Jose crumpled forward under the impact of four bullets. But the rebel priest was not dead. The officer had to order a second volley. As the second blast of lead slammed into him, Jose finally died.

In spite of the way Jose cracked under interrogation and betrayed his comrades, he is considered one of the great leaders of the Mexican fight for independence. When Mexico gained its independence, it named a state for him and his remains were placed in the Cathedral at Mexico City.


  1. Crivelli, Camillus. "Jose Maria Morelos." Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1911.
  2. "Jose Maria Morelos, Man of God, Warrior and Patriot." Sons of Dewitt Colony, Texas.
  3. "Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon." Encyclopedia Britannica. Britannica, 1967.
  4. Various encyclopedia and internet articles.

Originally published April 28, 2010.