This is the story of two men from the town of Tepatitlán in the state of Jalisco. Don Pedro Medina, a poor farmer who had a religious epiphany and gave his findings to the residents of the city, and a short story of Don Mariano Esparza’s honest business dealings, which are still spoken of in the city.
Led by the conquistador, Captain Pedro Almíndez Chirinos, a group of Spanish men arrived in 1530 to the area now known as Tepatitlán in the state of Jalisco. Prior to the Spaniards arrival the area was inhabited only by the Otomí Indians. The Spanish had been sent by Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán to search for gold and silver, and to subdue the Indians. While this encounter was peaceful, a year later in 1531, Almíndez was accused of the massacre in Morocito, Sinaloa, and in many places for destroying and burning everything he passed. “Mocorito” in the Cahita language signifies the place of the dead. The indigenous people named it for the Indians that Pedro Almindez Chirino killed.
The area languished for many years until 1742 when construction was begun on the San Francisco Parish. In 1811 the city of Tepatitlán was besieged by Rev. Ramos, who fought against the “Faithful Royalist” for eight consecutive days before he claimed the town square, which is today named the Plaza de Armas after this incident.
However, it would be another 97 years until Don Pedro Medina would bring fame to the small town of Tepa.
Santuario del Señor de la Misericordia
In 1839, according to popular legend, an older and very poor farmer, Don Pedro Medina, after having completed his farm work, was leaning on the rustic exterior wall of his home of El Durazno in the countryside. Staring into the distance upon the Cerro Gordo, at dusk he saw an intense light shining that he judged was some kind of a coal or wood furnace, those that burned 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on the big hill to feed the insatiable throats incandescent tepatitlenses stoves, which eventually would consume the large oak forest that surrounded the town, and for many kilometers around. Don Pedro did not agree with such predation, and promised to investigate the next morning.
When it was barely dawning, he headed to the hill, and when Don Pedro finally reached the place where he had seen the light, he found no trace of ash or coal, nor was there an oven. although not sought nor found any trace of ash or coal: there was no oven. He was astonished that the light could have been extinguished so quickly and all traces of the ashes could disappear.
The next afternoon Don Pedro again saw the mysterious shining light and this time took great pains to set up in his mind the distance and direction of the light. He speculated that the light would be in the Canyon de las Varas, one of the many gorges of the hill, bluish in the distance.
Again, the following morning, Don Pedro walked the long distance that separated him from the place, and searched thoroughly but found nothing revealing. Sweating from the heat, he sat down to rest under the leaves of an oak tree, crossing himself about what he had seen and could not find even a trace. As his eyes wandered upward in thought of the light that he knew he had seen, with slight astonishment Don Pedro saw that the trunk and two branches of the oak tree under which he sat, formed an almost perfect cross. His surprise grew when he realized that it was indeed the rough outline of the shape of a crucifix. On closer observation his astonishment became stupefaction as he realized that he was looking upon an image of Christ, which he named his “Father”.
Don Pedro hurriedly ran to his small home to break the news to his wife and to gather his ax in order to cut the tree down with the intent to take it to his home. His wife excitedly accompanied him back to the tree, but it was impossible to move the enormous weight, even with the strength of he and his wife, together. Don Pedro’s wife suggested that they needed a team of oxen to move the huge tree.
Being poor and without any cattle or oxen of his own, Don Pedro called upon a neighbor for the loan of a couple of oxen to bring the tree down to the village. His neighbor was excited enough to offer to help him and returned to the tree with Don Pedro. On the way to the tree, the neighbor begin to suffer from a very strong colic. When they arrived at the tree, Don Pedro gave his neighbor a bit of peel from the oak tree and the neighbor was instantly healed of his colic.
Together they worked to cut the tree down and as it was felled, the side with the image lay on the bottom. In order to turn the tree with the image facing up, the two men attached the oxen to the tree and try as they might, the oxen could not move the tree. However, when the two men attempted to assist with the move, as soon as they touched the trunk the oxen were able to move the tree with great ease.
Eventually two artists, who earned their living retouching retablos in the churches, came by Don Pedro’s small home, and offered to carve the details in the tree that would make it more lifelike, but keeping the integrity of the piece. Don Pedro agreed and received what he deemed a gift from heaven who surely must have sent the two artists to him.
Very soon the news spread of the “Christ of Don Pedro” and so many pilgrimages began as miracles succeeded one another, that in 1840 it was brought to Tepatitlán at the behest of Don Pantaleón Leal, a wealthy landowner and man who enjoyed much consideration for charity and good people. Thus he began the process building a temple, which was consecrated on April 28, 1852. The town priest, Father Cervantes, dubbed Leal the “Lord of Mercy” and thus the Christ of Don Pedro came to be known as the Lord of Mercy.
Word spread and today in Tepa over 2 million visitors arrive each year to adore the internationally famous Santuario del Señor de la Misericordia and ask favors. The temple is not large, and is insufficient for the big feast of Feria Tepabril on April 30th of each year to celebrate the day that the image was brought to the current shrine. Today the image is the patron of the city of Tepatitlán de Morelos and each year is carried through the streets of Tepatitlán, accompanied by a large caravan of floats.
From the altar of marble and gold leaf the Lord of Mercy has presided for the past 163 years. The memory of the many miracles is inventoried in thousands of votive offerings or “retablos” painted sheets, to form together with the sacred image, the greatest artistic treasures of the city.
In the corridor on the north side of the temple are four murals that tell the story of the discovery of the sacred image, created by four women painters who well appreciated, along with his master Don Ruben Mendez, a course on restoration of votive offerings given by the state government.
Should you go to Tepatitlán, the shrine dedicated to Lord of Mercy is located down the street Hidalgo, three blocks from downtown.
Don Mariano Esparza
There is another person who deserves mention during any discussion of the city of Tepatitlán de Morelos. For this we present the story as told by Francisco Gallegos Franco in this book “Leyendas de Tepatitlán”.
In 1870, the richest man in Guadalajara was, without a doubt, Don Manuel Escandón, owner of La Escoba Yarn and Fabric Company. In this year, however, a terrible setback had befallen him. The brand new and expensive equipment he had recently imported all the way from Germany was now sitting idle because something had damaged the intricate gear assembly which made the whole thing work. Local engineers had tried to fix it without success and experts called in from Puebla and Monterrey had thrown up their hands in despair. To make matters worse, it was impossible to find replacement parts, even in the USA.
Don Manuel was nearly out of his mind because it would take up to eight months to get the parts from Germany and, besides, he’d have to buy a whole new assembly, not just the gears that needed replacing. Meanwhile, his 300 employees would be sitting idle while the competition stole all his customers.
Now, right in the middle of this crisis, Don Manuel happened to receive a visit from his friend Don Lucas González Rubio, a businessman from Tepatitlán. No sooner had he explained his aggravating problem than Don Lucas exclaimed, “Hombre, your troubles are over. There’s a man in our parts who can fix your machine in the blink of an eye.”
“¡Caray!” exclaimed Don Manuel, “but I can’t believe anyone in Tepatitlán could… tell me, is this man an engineer?”
“Engineer?” Well, not exactly. The fact is, he barely made it through elementary school, but I tell you, he’s dead smart.”
“Thank you so much, my dear friend, but this machine has a whole new kind of gear train that our best engineers can’t fix. It’s hopeless.”
“Maybe you’re right,” said Don Lucas, “but after all, you have nothing to lose.”
“Whatever you say,” replied Don Manuel politely and promptly forgot the whole thing.
Don Lucas returned to Tepa and told the story to Don Mariano Esparza, whose accomplishments included the construction of the parish clock which has run continuously for 130 years and is still running today, even though some of its cogwheels are made of mesquite wood. It was also rumored that Don Mariano had invented an automatic revolver far superior to the famous Colt, but had smashed the prototype to pieces when he realized it would be used to kill people.
Without much difficulty, Don Lucas convinced him to undertake the long trip to Guadalajara, which involved spending two days on horseback.
So it was that one week later Don Lucas reappeared in the sprawling factory accompanied by a man of humble aspect wearing a poncho and a wide sombrero. Don Lucas was greeted by one and all whereas his companion barely received a nod and was no doubt taken to be a servant.
Upon seeing Don Manuel Escandón, Don Lucas shouted, “Buenos días, my friend, where’s your machine? There’s not a minute to waste!”
“Machine? Oh, the broken gear train? Why do you want to see it?” asked the fabric magnate, confused.
“You forgot? I told you I was bringing the man who could fix it,” said the man from Tepa.
“What? Who? Where is he? Asked Escandón, looking around.
“Mariano Esparza at your service,” said the inventor.
“You?” cried the factory owner. “Let me tell you up front that I’ve consulted the very best experts and they told me the parts can’t be made here, only in Germany.”
“Germany?” Where’s that?” said Don Mariano.
“In Europe, across the sea.”
“To me that sounds like somewhere on this earth and if that machine was made on this earth, then I can fix it. Let me give it a try and we’ll see what happens. Do you have a workshop — with a lathe?”
Escandón nodded and then took the inventor to the German machine. Don Mariano examined the workings with the greatest of care, made meticulous measurements and then shut himself up in the workshop, asking not to be interrupted.
For three days, he stayed inside, receiving his meals through a little window. Then he carefully installed the new parts.
The machinery worked with water power and Don Manuel told his foreman to turn the pressure on slowly, expecting to see parts flying across the room at any moment. Don Mariano saw what he was doing and opened the valve full blast. The gears meshed and the machine sprang to life… and continued to work for many years thereafter.
Words cannot describe the factory owner’s joy when he realized what had happened. “You are a genius, Engineer Mariano!” he shouted. “Tell me what your fee is and don’t be shy. Whatever you ask, I will pay.”
Don Mariano took out a notebook and mumbled. “Let me see… Don Lucas paid my travel expenses and you paid my meals… Now, three days work at one peso per day plus… bueno, that comes to ten pesos total.”
“You must be kidding, engineer! Anyone else would charge hundreds of pesos, maybe thousands! Think again.”
“I have already thought. What you owe me is ten pesos, exactly what I would have earned in Tepa. So if you’d like to pay me, I’ll be on my way.”
It seemed no human power could change Don Mariano’s mind and off he went with his modest payment.
Several weeks later, Don Manuel Escandón took a trip to Tepa and handed the man who could fix anything the deed to a house in Tepatitlán. This, Don Mariano could not refuse because he had been specifically told that it was a gift and as a persona educada — a properly brought up Mexican — he was bound to accept it. And to this day, the street where this house was located still bears the name of Don Mariano Esparza.
From “Leyendas de Tepatitlán” by Francisco Gallegos Franco, published in 2006 by the Consejo de Cronistas de Tepatitlán. The 126-page book may be published at the Tepatitlán museum, TEL: (378) 782-4277.