Saturday, February 24, 2007

"It is for you to judge . . ."

While in Mexico City, we decided to go on a small tour to several areas of interest around the city. Our main interest was in seeing Teotihuacan, the pre-Hispanic, pre-Aztec archeological site just outside Mexico City, but the tour included a couple of other stops along the way. One was the Basilica of Guadalupe. Guadalupe is the name given to the image of the Virgin Mary that is seen throughout Mexico, on everything from little figures stuck to the dashboard of your taxi, to T-shirts, to candles. She is known as "the patroness of the Americas" and is especially beloved in Mexico.

We had an excellent English-speaking guide and he began his story of Guadalupe by saying, "I will tell you the story. It is for you to judge, but all Mexicans believe this." It is essentially the story of an Indian named Juan Diego, who saw a vision of the Virgin Mary who instructed him to go to the local Bishop and tell him that she requested that a church be built on the hillside on which she appeared. When the Bishop required proof of Juan Diego, the Virgin told him to pick the roses from a nearby bush (one that normally does not grow in Mexico), gather them in his poncho and take them to the Bishop. When he opened his poncho to show the roses to the Bishop, the roses tumbled out and miraculously imprinted on his poncho was an image of the Virgin Mary.

The church was built and it effectively served its mission of converting hundreds of thousands of Indians to Catholicism. The story is fascinating because much of the success of Guadalupe lay in the symbols present in the image. While she is a typical Virgin image in most ways, to the Indians the sun, behind her, and the black moon, at her feet, represented the Aztec and Zapotec gods of the sun and moon, and Mary, herself, the mother earth they had always worshipped. It gave them a way to integrate their traditional religion into the new one.

Inside the Basilica we could stand on a conveyer that took us past the framed cloak of Juan Diego. Yes, this is the very poncho, still viable after more than 400 years. You see it from below on the conveyer, then you can go up one level to the church itself and see that it is actually on the wall behind the alter.

The original Basilica became dangerous as it was beginning to sink into the unstable ground on which it was built and the new one was built nearby. It is very beautiful and receives millions of visitors each year.
At the end of our tour we were taken to a gift shop where you could purchase anything and everything Guadalupe!
I have given you the very brief version of the story. There is much more information at this web site for anyone who is interested. (The magnifed images that show human figures in the Virgin's eyes are pretty interesting.) I am not Catholic, but I was glad we had visited the Basilica and heard the story and seen the image. What an insight into Mexican history and culture.


  1. Terry, thanks so much for this great tour. I loved the pster from yesterday and the story about Our Lady. Also, the music was wonderful and now I can't get the song out of my head if I wanted too--which I don't. Hallelujah right back at you!

  2. The V.D.G. is a favorite. I love her aura / halo
    thanks for this