The key facts about Mexico's national coat of arms

Golden eagle, snake, cactus, snails, olive tree, oak tree; water, air, earth and fire, summarize the richness and strength of a nation in the national coat of arms of Mexico.

The key facts about Mexico's national coat of arms
National coat of arms of Mexico. Image: Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources

Restoring the symbolism of the golden eagle in the coat of arms of a nation denied and destroyed by the Spaniards, responded at the dawn of the 19th century to the imperious need of the insurgents to recover the umbilical cord of independent Mexico with pre-Hispanic Mexico. Perched on a cactus, the sacred eagle represented Huitzilopochtli, solar and war god, who is identified with the Sun, being the bird that flies at the highest altitude, as does the star, and is the representation of the tutelary god of the Mexica.

The foundational myth

Huitzilopochtli gave the ancient Mexicans the signs of the exact site where they were to build the great Tenochtitlan. And from that passage kept in the memory of the times, under the reign of the Tenochca king Moctezuma an anonymous artist sculpted the Teocalli of the Sacred War, where on one side appears the tlatoani (Moctezuma) and the numen Huitzilopochtli flanking a solar image, and on the obverse an eagle standing on a cactus arises from Tlaltecuhtli, the Earth, in the middle of the lake of Texcoco.

The Dominican friar Diego Durán relates in his Historia de las Indias de la Nueva España e islas de la tierra firme ("History of the Indies of New Spain and Islands of the Mainland") that in the image of the golden eagle highlighted in the Teocalli of the Sacred War, the atlachinolli (water of fire) or symbol of war, which could well be confused with a serpent, emerges from its beak. There the components of the emblem of Tenochtitlan are united: the eagle, the nopal and the absence-presence of the ophidian.

The Durán Codex points out that the bird imprisons birds between its talons and devours them with its beak, but it also warns about the figure of the serpent, since in one plate it presents an eagle devouring birds and another one grabbing a snake. The anthropologist Eduardo Matos Moctezuma clarifies these passages of the story in his article "The eagle, the cactus, and the snake? From reality to symbol; from symbol to reality" (Escudo Nacional. Flora, fauna and biodiversity, Semarnat-Secretaría de Cultura-INAH-Museo Nacional de Antropología, 2017).

Morelos redeems the symbolism of the nation

Matos recalls the beginning of the armed struggle in 1810, when Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla carried the banner with the image of the Guadalupana, and then, when the command fell to General José María Morelos, he also adopted the effigy of the eagle standing on the tunal, as attested by a flag of his army of 1812. The eagle and the cactus, figures evocative of ancient beliefs, were thus superimposed, because redeeming them responded to the imperious need of the insurgents to reestablish the umbilical cord of independent Mexico with pre-Hispanic Mexico, denied and destroyed by the Spaniards.

This is one of the main reasons why the ancient symbol of Huitzilopochtli and the Tenochca city was chosen to take its place in the flag and coat of arms of Mexico.

When the War of Independence came to an end on February 24, 1821 and the Trigarante Army was formed, Agustín de Iturbide and Vicente Guerrero adopted the flag of diagonal stripes with the colors that prevail to this day: green for independence, white for the purity of religion and red for the union, with a star each. But on November 2 of the same year, also by decree, the same colors appear only in vertical position, and on the white the Tenochca symbol of the eagle on the cactus carrying an imperial crown. The crown would also disappear by decree two years later.

Eagle, serpent and nopal

The milestones in the history of the national flag with the eagle in the center date back to 1892, when Porfirio Díaz decreed to place the golden eagle in front holding the snake with the right claw and an olive branch under the nopal cactus. It remained this way until Venustiano Carranza decreed, on September 20, 1916, to incorporate the eagle in profile standing on a cactus and holding in its beak a rattlesnake, ornamented by a semicircle of laurel and oak leaves.

The coat of arms that appeared printed for the first time in the original edition of the 1917 Constitution was made by Jorge Enciso, an artist who was nurtured by the cosmopolitanism of the late 19th century and the national airs of the early 20th century.

Enciso worked at the then Dirección General de Bellas Artes and was inspector of the office of Artistic and Historic Monuments, where one of the roots of the current Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (National Institute of Anthropology and History) is found. Assisted by another artist, Antonio Gómez, Enciso turned to the left and placed in profile the body of the eagle that had managed to move as the center of our emblem under very different modalities in all the Mexican governments prior to the new revolutionary State.

Integration of ancient Mexico

He incorporated the iconography of ancient Mexico into the plumage of the eagle, which resulted in the modern primordial accent of the endearing foundational scene to which the eagle and the serpent refer.

In 1973 Luis Echeverría Álvarez ordered the current design, which presents a more slender and upright bird, with a bristly plume, holding a rattlesnake in its beak, its wings closer together and a cactus extended horizontally, rooted in the earth emerging from the water. The garland of oak and laurel joined with tricolor festoon completes the aesthetic and symbolic picture.

Mexican national emblem is recognized as one of the most beautiful in the world for containing different elements of nature: the golden eagle, the rattlesnake, the cactus, the snails, the laurel and the olive tree, the water with its double meaning of vital liquid and water of fire (atlantic), and the water of fire (atlantic). and fire water (atlachinolli or war water), air and earth.

Biodiversity exalted

Symbol of Mexican identity, the national coat of arms with its flora and fauna placed in the center of the national emblem synthesizes the biological richness of a country that with only 1 percent of the planet's territory is home to 10 percent of the flora and fauna species that exist in it.

The golden eagle, a strategic species for conservation; the nopal cactus, a substantial food of Mexicans that reached its greatest diversity in our country after 5.12 million years of evolution, and the rattlesnake, which represents "an endemic element of our biota and clearly shows Mexico's biological personality", according to Alejandro de Ávila Blomberg, co-author of the work Escudo Nacional. Flora, fauna and biodiversity ("Coat of Arms. Mexico's Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity").

The golden eagle has flown through history, from the founding myth of Huitzilopochtli, to the national coat of arms along with the rattlesnake and the nopal cactus that appears in successive versions of the national emblem throughout history.