Tina Melstrom

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The Chilean Independence Movement (1810-1823) is an epoch that has captured the popular imagination of twentieth and twenty-first century Chileans; the stories of the próceres patrios (national patriotic heroes) have resounded in Chilean popular culture.1 However, the canonical body of literature that deals with this revolutionary epoch in Chilean history often focuses primarily on the victorious heroes—and not the heroines— who ultimately established the independent Chilean state. As reporter Natalia Núñez, a writer for Revista Ya of the top-selling Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, rightly notes: “Detrás de ellos [los héroes de la independencia], hubo mujeres que fueron confidentes, amantes y amigas.” While few publications—academic or popular—dedicate themselves to these feminine “victors” of the Independence Movement, their stories have not always been relegated to playing a secondary role in Chilean history. In 1878, Vicente Grez—a renowned reporter, writer, editor, and civil servant of nineteenth century Chile— published one of his first historical texts titled Las mujeres de la independencia.2 This text is composed of a series of short, biographical essays that narrate the lives of the women of the “Generation of 1810” who played central roles in the movement for Chilean autonomy and sovereignty, including names like Javiera Carrera, Luisa Recabarren, and Mercedes Fuentecilla. While Grez’s accounts of these women are largely secular in nature, his hyperbolic and idealized descriptions of the Generation of 1810 and their efforts are reminiscent of the hagiographic texts of the medieval and early modern period. In secularizing the hagiographical genre, I argue that Grez creates a number of lay saints who—by their example—contribute to the consolidation of Chilean national identity. Their function as secular saints is to spread a new religion, a religion that makes sense in an increasingly anti-clerical climate: patriotism.