By Dawn X. Spectre for xpatradio.mx
The Virgin of Guadalupe – A Mexican Symbol of Unity
In early December, as Christmas and other seasonal festivities begin, the Virgin of Guadalupe is celebrated by Mexicans throughout the world. Her image is enshrined within the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City; the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world. For Mexicans, she is a uniquely Mexican religious symbol, rooted in the formation of the nation of Mexico.
The story of the Virgin of Guadalupe (Virgen de Guadalupe) also known as Our Lady of Guadalupebegan on December 9, 1531; when a young acolyte named Juan Diego (an indigenous converted Catholic) on his way to mass along Tepeyac Hill, was visited by an apparition of the Virgin Mary. This apparition gave her name as Guadalupe, and spoke of her mission of love for all:
“I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, and of those who have confidence in me.”
Guadalupe asked to have a temple built on that site in her name, so she could watch over and help the people, and provide a sanctuary for worship and solace.
Juan Diego quickly informed his spiritual leader; but Bishop Zumarraga initially did not believe him. Finally, after curing and saving Juan Diego’s uncle’s life, Guadalupe promised Juan Diego she would provide solid proof for the Bishop; asking him to pick some flowers. Juan Diego miraculously found and gathered Castilian roses, growing in the harsh Mexican desert climate. He brought them to the apparition of Mary and she arranged them in his tilma – a type of poncho. The Virgin then dispatched Juan Diego to the Bishop with the flowers as proof of her authenticity. When Juan Diego opened his tilma to present the roses to the bishop, an impression of the Virgin appeared on the tilma and the Bishop was finally convinced. It is this tilmawhich is enshrined in the Basilica.
The image of Guadalupe is a lone brown–skinned woman, often referred to as the Virgen Morena. (Morenameans brown in Spanish.) This image is accompanied by the sun, moon, and stars, as well as a supporting angel. The golden sun’s rays and the angel were added to the original image, according to collective historical agreement. The tilma was originally laid at the altar in Bishop Zumarraga’s chapel. An adobe structure was built on Tepeyac Hill in honor of “Our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe” and dedicated on December 26, 1531. It is this tilma that resides in the Basilica.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world, visited by millions annually. Pilgrims offer gratitude for her benevolence, and acts of kindness.
On the days leading up to December 12, Guadalupans begin their annual pilgrimage to the Basilica de Guadalupe in Tepeyac to pay homage to La Virgen. Many crawl, carrying candles, flags and illustrations of her likeness to honor the ‘Queen of Mexico’. At midnight on December12th, over 800,000 people gather to honor the Virgin by singing Las Mañanitas, a traditional Mexican birthday song.
In 1487 when Juan Diego would have been 13 years old, the 89-year-old Aztec ruler of the time dedicated his new temple, the Pyramid of the Sun, in the center of Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) by sacrificing more than 80,000 people during a four-day ceremony. In the early 1500’s in Mexico amongst other sacrifices, one in five children were sacrificed to Aztec tithing (reduction of population).
However, by 1520, Hernando Cortes had outlawed this brutal human sacrifice. He had priests cleanse the Pyramid of the Sun and bless it without human sacrifice.Strangely, this act resulted in provoking an eight-month bloody war.
Thus, the image of love and ease from suffering was a well-needed balm after the loss of life and ongoing war. Another significant factor contributing to the Virgin’s popularity is its location. On the site of Tepeyac an indigenous temple had been built; dedicated to the mother of their gods, Tonantzin(meaning“Our Mother”). Tonantzin represented to indigenous Mexicans, similar qualities of the Virgin Mary, such as care-taker to all.
Is it coincidence the Virgen appears in Tepeyac, the home of Tonantzin? Probably not. Regardless of her name, whether Tonantzin or Mary; the benevolent benefactress was revered by the mestizo, the indigenous and Mexicans. Guadalupe has developed into a rallying point of Mexican identity – the blending of its Spanish and Aztec heritage. She has been represented in many uprisings as a symbol of unity and Mexican identity.
Mexico’s independence leader Father Miguel Hidalgo used her image in 1910, as he launched the fight for independence. Yelling “Death to the Spaniards and long live the Virgin of Guadalupe!” Her image was emblazoned on flags and banners everywhere; and eventually became the insignia of the armed rebellion against the Spanish. Emiliano Zapata and his fighters always carried the Mestiza Virgin into battle against Mexican oligarchs.
The popular devotion to Guadalupe has been opposed by the clergy over the centuries. However, in spite of this, five centuries later, Juan Diego (the young acolyte) was canonized in 2002.
The Virgen de Guadalupe is present in all aspects of Mexican life. Her image has become synonymous with Mexico. Through its relationship with Tonanztin and many other nuances; even those Mexicans who do not practice Catholicism have her etched into their identity.