|Oratorio of St. Felipe Neri, San Miguel d'Allende, MX|
|San Miguel d'Allende as above|
The Spanish brought an intense devotion to Mary with them to the new world. It was Mary whose image was on their battle standards and Mary was likely the first Christian image seen by many indigenous. When Cortes claimed Montezuma's temple for himself, a statue of Mary was used to replace that of the deity who had occupied the spot. Mary was a living presence for the Spanish and became the same for the converted indigenous.
Yet, theologically, Jesus Christ is the central message of Christianity. It is Jesus, his birth, ministry and Passion, that are the main concern of the New Testament. Mary is mentioned and we are told that Mary is a faithful servant of God and that she is the mother of Jesus, but church dogma, doctrines that define Mary's relationship with God and the role that she played in Salvation, took centuries to be settled.
The Church's answer to Mary's identity can be found in the Marian dogmas which took almost 2,000 years to finalize. These are Divine Motherhood (Council of Ephesus 431), Perpetual Virginity (end of 2nd century CE), Immaculate Conception (in Spanish, Immaculada), that Mary was without original sin, 1854, Assumption (Sp. Asuncion), that after her death Mary was taken up body and soul into Heaven, 1950. All of the artistic representations of Mary that you will see basically fit into one of these categories, although many are hybrid as would be expected with the numerous local representations or advocations of Mary.
These advocations (and I repeat, there are many) are specific instances of Mary typically centering on some miracle, that the Church has deemed worthy of belief. Sometimes a particular religious image involves both a dogma and an advocation. For instance, La Immaculada (dogma of the Immaculate Conception) is particularly revered in specific ways in the Yucatan, where she is also the Patron Saint.
|Nuestra Senora de Izamal|
|in San Miguel Arcangel, Mani|
She was a willing and animated informant and when I asked her about the statues of Mary in the church, she spent some time explaining the Marys, including their special roles and inter-relationships. Here is her understanding of the Marys in the church, as well as some who were not represented there:
- Virgen de la Luz (light) whom she said gave children.
- Virgen de los Ojos ("eyes") who she said cured problems with the eyes. She said this Virgin is a cousin of the next two in the list.
- Virgen Asuncion-( Virgin of the Assumption) who is the sister of
- Virgen Concepcion (La Immaculada Concepcion or La Immaculada), the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, also Patroness of the Yucatan whose image was shown above.
- Virgen del Carmen (Our Lady of Mt. Carmel)
- Virgen Dolorosa (Mary dressed in mourning black following the death of Jesus)
Please understand that her list was by no means complete and there may have been some theological and iconographic inconsistencies in her understanding, but I share her information because the intimacy with which she spoke about the images portrays a typical Mexican outlook on Mary. The relationships that people there have with these images are very personal and transactional. They are approachable figures, almost human, and are regularly asked for favors which they often seem to grant. My informant's understanding of familial relationships among the Virgin figures was something I had not run into before and perhaps is more common in rural areas.
Here are some images of the Mary's referenced by my informant.
|"Virgen de los Ojos", Mani, Yucatan|
|Virgen Concepcion, Mani, Yucatan|
|Virgen de Dolores, Merida, Yucatan|
|Virgen del Carmen, Cathedral Mexico City|
It is interesting that she did not mention Guadalupe, the Patron Saint of Mexico whose altar was present in the church at Mani. Perhaps she assumed I would know about her or perhaps there was a deeper reason related to the Yucatan identity and the fact that the patron saint of the Yucatan is La Immaculada. Yet, shrines to Guadalupe are a fixture in the Yucatan as they are all over Mexico.
To understand the large number of individual identities of Mary, we need to turn back to the necessities of the evangelization of Mexico. In my March 24 post, entitled "Converting Christianity", I wrote about the accommodations the Church had to make to pre-existing local beliefs and deities in order for Christianity to take root. Scholars believe that the multiplicity of local Marys that evolved were rooted in indigenous goddesses transformed by conventions of Christian belief and iconography. This was definitely the case with Guadalupe of Tepeyac, now Patron Saint of Mexico, who will be discussed in greater depth in a future post.