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December 12, El Día de La Virgen de Guadalupe commemorates the appearance of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Our Lady of Guadalupe, to a young Catholic Indian convert.
Figure 1: Christmas tableau of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe and Juan Diego with red roses in the church, Aduana, Sonora, Mexico, December 2000.
The Virgin first appeared the morning of December 9, 1531, on a rocky hill called Tepeyec outside of Mexico City. She spoke to Juan Diego in his native Nahuatl language and asked that he go to Bishop Zumárraga and tell him to build a church for her.
A temple to Tonantzin (Teotonantzin, Coatlicue), the Mexican Aztec Mother Goddess of Earth, fertility and rain, stood on the hill before the Spanish conquest. The Spanish had turned the ruins into a small shrine to the Virgin Mary, but without much success.
Juan Diego went twice to the bishop and told him what the Virgin requested. The bishop did not believe him and asked for a sign. Juan Diego returned empty-handed to the winter hillside.
The Virgin appeared to him a third time on Dec 12. She revealed a rose bush covered with red flowers. Juan Diego took the roses in his tilma (cloak) and again presented himself to the bishop. The bishop was annoyed and moved to throw him out.
Juan Diego fell to his knees, the tilma opened and red roses spilled across the floor. The bishop picked up the tilma. On it was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The tilma, a hand spun two piece cloak, is enshrined in the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe at the base of the hill. It was moved there in 1709 after being displayed in earlier chapels.
Figure 2: The Virgin of Guadalupe with 4 scenes from her story in an old lithograph. The print has been cut apart and reassembled with satin inserted for her robes. Heavy foil accents the rays and stars. Statues are often dressed in real clothing with their outfits renewed at the time of the yearly festival.La Guadalupana is dark-skinned like the Indians. She stands in the restrained, graceful pose of the European Renaissance with downcast eyes and folded, prayerful hands, surrounded by golden rays of light. She usually wears a red robe symbolizing royalty and the Holy spirit. Her blue cloak covered with stars resembles one worn by Tonantzin representing the heavens. Blue symbolizes fidelity, divine love and truth.
She stands on a crescent moon supported by a cherub. The moon is often interpreted as Christianity's triumph over pagan beliefs. Tonantzin's feast day was associated with bringing the winter rains. The Virgin's feast day acquired the same power. The Aztec moon symbolized Metsli, goddess of agriculture. Both represent transfers of pre-Conquest beliefs to the Virgin.
After Hildalgo chose La Guadalupana for his banner and her name for the battle cry during the Revolution of 1810, her popularity rose. Popes bestowed honors on her. N. S. de Guadalupe became the Patroness of Mexico and the Americas. From the 19th century onward, statues and lithographs appear in most Mexican homes. She is appealed to for help with any problem. In a minor aspect, she is patroness of florists because she brought red roses in winter.
Roadside shrines to the Virgin of Guadalupe appear throughout Mexico, often built in gratitude for an answered request. Candles and other offerings ask for a miracle. Her image is invoked in support of the working poor at political rallies, in Chicano murals, on low-rider cars and T-shirts.
See also: Aduana, Sonora, Mexico in Day trips and tours from Alamos
Mexican Folk Retablos, Masterpieces on Tin
by Gloria Kay Giffords, photos by Helga Teiwes-French
The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ, USA, 1974, revised edition in the mid-1990s
Retablos are small folk art paintings of religious images on sheets of tin. Ex-votos are paintings hung in Catholic churches to commemorate the recovery of the donor from illness or other serious event. Both are characteristic of the Spanish and Mexican culture of the New World.
Saints of the Southwest
by Jim Griffith
published by Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2000, ISBN 0-9700750-1-4
PO Box 5250, Tucson, AZ 85703-0250, USA
Pictorial book of 31 of the most revered Virgins, saints and archangels along the borderlands of the United States and Mexico.
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