Tuesday, February 1, 2011
One of the most moving and curious things about having written a book about the 19th century is that, on many an occasion, I am reminded that it wasn't all that long ago. True, everyone alive in the 1860s is long dead, but there are many people alive today who knew people who knew those people*. I'm not yet 50, and I remember my great grandmother, who grew up in the house of her uncle, William Wirt Calkins, who fought in the U.S. Civil War and wrote the magnificent History of the 104th Illinois. Several descendants of the people upon whom I based the characters in my novel have written to me; I am more grateful and touched than I can say. And there are others, who are not related, but have shared letters, documents, photographs, books, and more. One, a Mexico City editor and historian, a relative of Monseñor Eulogio Gillow, lent me a copy of Gillow's rare and very illuminating memoir, which was published, alas, obscurely, in Spanish in 1921 in Los Angeles. I had never, in all my several years of researches and reading, come upon it. (Admittedly, in the last couple of years, the google searches have begun to yield far more fruit-- google and ye shall find. Also try www.abebooks.com, the used / antiquarian on-line bookselling mega-site.)
But first a bit of background about Monseñor Gillow. Some 10 years ago, when I began my research into Mexico's Second Empire/ French Intervention, I did not know who he was, so when, in the Matías Romero archive at Banco de México, I came upon his circa 1890 correpondence with Romero and Porfirio Díaz about then cavalary captain Agustín de Iturbide y Green, I assumed he was an American. Wrong I was.
Gillow was a powerful Mexican cleric, a close confidant of Porfirio Díaz, the then President /dictator (not overthrown until the Revolution of 1910). Whence the name Gillow? He was the son of Thomas Gillow, an English jeweler who had come to Mexico from Liverpool. Don Tomás, as he became known in Mexico, had first married the spectaculary wealthy Mexican Marchioness of Selva Nevada, and upon her death, married her daughter, his own stepdaughter, Mara Zavalza. It was from this second marriage that Euologio was born, and so it was that Eulogio inherited the vast Hacienda de San Antonio Chautla, then one of Mexico's most important estates.
Eulogio was educated in England, joined the Church, served in the Vatican as Pope Pius IX's personal aide, and then, having returned to Mexico, as Archbishop of Oaxaca.
Reminencias del Ilmo y Rmo Sr Dr D Eulogio Gillow y Zabalza, arzobispo de Antiquera (Oaxaca), Los Angeles, California, 1921
The book has two chapters of special interest for anyone researching the Second Empire / French Intervention:
Chapter X, which recounts the Empress Carlota's mental breakdown in Rome in 1866, is something very unusual. I have not seen it quoted in any of the mountain of works I've read on the Second Empire-- tell me, readers, did I miss something?-- which is astonishing, for Gillow, a Mexican, was with the Pope at the time, a "camerero secreto supernumerario" (a secret supernumerary chamberlain-- that's my guess at the proper translation.)
Chapter XIX, pp. 202-207 recounts visits from Doña Alicia de Iturbide (the American mother of Agustín de Iturbide y Green) several anedcotes about the grandsons of the Emperor Iturbide, and how Doña Alicia came to to purchase an hacienda in the neighborhood. (And there is a description of that hacienda in Fanny Chambers Gooch's Face to Face with the Mexicans.)
The Ex-Hacienda de Chautla
Long an avid adopter of the latest agricultural technologies, in the late 1890s Monseñor Gillow determined to found an agricultural college on his hacienda; the lovely little English castle served as its headquarters. It was elaboraely furnished, and had a gallery with armor and uniforms of the Pope's Swiss Guards.
It was this wonderfully detailed article in MexConnect by Tony Burton that made me determined to go see the ex-Hacienda de Chautla for myself. And, last week, on the way back to Mexico City from Puebla (where I attended the book launch for Margarita López Cano's Ópera en la Puebla Imperial, I finally did.
It's just a hop off the road from Cholula. The property, drastically reduced after the Revolution, is now owned by the state of Puebla and has been turned into a family oriented trout fishing center. The little castle, terribly neglected, and used now as a cafeteria, is much prettier seen from a distance. I arrived too late to try the trout, but I can recommend the fresh air, and the views of the volcanoes.
*More about that in my article for beatrice.com, "What Connects You to the 1860s?"
Next post next Tuesday.