Mexico Trek!   Trekkers DISPATCH: September 7 Monica's Log

Come See the Miracle! Our Lady of Guadalupe

New Friends!Cynthia and Denise live in Chula Vista, a neighborhood near the Mexican border in San Diego. They are sisters, and have eight other siblings plus 18 nieces and nephews who are all here in Mexico City for their grandmother's 98th birthday. Usually when the family goes out, they rent a microbus, or "pesero", to hold everyone, but this time they took the Metro, like Shawn and I did to get to the Basilica of Guadalupe.

Drawing of the Basilica AntiguaI met Cynthia and Denise at the "Capilla del Cerrito," or Hill Chapel, on a hill at the spot where on December 9, 1531, Juan Diego said he saw a vision of the Catholic Virgin Mary, who also spoke to him. The hill, called "Cerro del Tepeyac", or Tepeyac Hill, originally housed an Aztec temple devoted to Tonantzin, considered the mother of the Aztec gods. The story goes that Juan Diego went to the parish priest and told him he saw this beautiful vision, The Basilica Antigua todaybut the priest didn't believe him. Juan then went back to the top of the hill and saw the image again, along with many roses. This time, a picture of the lady appeared on his cloak, having dark eyes and skin, and dark hair. This image of "Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe," Our Lady of Guadalupe, soon won a following by the indigenous people (the people who lived here before the Spaniards). Spaniards promoting Catholicism among the native populations were helped by this devotion to the image, and by 1737, she was declared the Principal Patroness of New Spain.

On December 12, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and non-Mexicans alike come to the new church, the "Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe" to pray and visit. About 12 million people visit the Basilica each year! Except for the Vatican, home of the Pope, this is the most visited Catholic sanctuary in the world!

Inside the chapel - A mural of Juan Diego and the VirginThe original church, built in the 1700s, the "Antigua Basilica," wasn't safe enough for visitors - the soft soil of Mexico City (remember the city was built on a lake?) was causing the entire church to lean. Shawn and I also visited the new church, which is huge inside and has beeswax-type sculptures hanging over the vast altar, where the original piece of cloth is kept. Cynthia's mom told me the cloth is 450 years old, and encouraged me to use the moving walkways underneath the altar to view it close up.

The cloth is made from the maguey plant, sacred to the Aztecs. Supposedly this cloth cannot hold colors and is even very hard to simply draw lines on. Yet more than 250 years later the image of the Virgin is still strong.

Juan showing the image of the Virgin on the clothes he was wearingAbout 90% of Mexicans consider themselves Catholic, a legacy of the Spanish influence in this country. An order of priests called the Jesuits converted and educated thousands of Indians before they were forced to leave by King Carlos III, who questioned their loyalty to the Spanish throne. Missionaries such as the Jesuits, however, might have made the acceptance of Catholicism amongst the Indians easier by identifying Christian figures with the already strongly worshipped Aztec gods, such as Tonantzin. As you know, the Aztec religion, a strong force in the lives of pre-Hispanic people, would not easily be replaced by the foreign religion of Catholicism.

This is the original cloth and image, now framed and on displayIn Shawn’s article "The US Invades Mexico" he writes about the Mexican American War. Rosa Maria Zorrilla, a woman who studied the diary of an American soldier in Mexico, writes that "On more than in one occasion he talks about the Mexican devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe. For instance, when killing a man… this man, half dead, pulls out his rosario from his shirt and prays to the Virgencita de Guadalupe to take him to heaven."

A really extensive website (but it can take a while to download) is the "Our Lady of Guadalupe Website." But be careful of some inaccurate and very negative views of the Aztecs!

There is also an interesting small website in Spanish about the Virgin that you can visit.

There is also a nice version of the story of Juan Diego and the Virgin of Guadalupe as told by Paulette Atencio, a storyteller from New Mexico. (You can also try to find her story about Malinali/La Malinche if you are curious to find out more about her after our September 5 update!)



Related Dispatches: 
Monica - Come See the Miracle! Our Lady of Guadalupe

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