Thursday, June 20, 2013

Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, Nuestra Señora de la Soledad: Beloved Statues, Beloved Ladies

Although both of these figures are statues,  "statue" is not really the appropriate word to describe Nuestra Señora de los Remedios and La Virgen de la Soledad.  In so many ways both of them are alive for the people who love and worship them and their legends claim a kind of life and history for both.

Nuestra Señora de los Remedios
Virgen de la Soledad 

It is difficult for outsiders to understand the depth of relationship that believers have with these statues.  They dress them, physically care for them and the relationships they have with them are transactional ones in which they ask for and seem to receive answers for their requests.  In the past,  figures similar to these have been almost family members and could be legally inherited  as a part of an estate.  They are less statues than living beings and as French anthropologist Serge Gruzinski has pointed out, in many ways, they are like the original indigenous "idols"  that the Catholic Spanish tried so hard to destroy in the early years of the Conquest.  With the Catholic counter-reformation in Europe which began in the mid-16th century, the Church began to promote the use of images including statues and the situation changed. 

Both of these Virgins have, as is almost always the case with miraculous images,  a very interesting pre-history.  Each appeared without human intervention and although the details differ, there is this basic theme.  Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (Remedies) arrived in the Americas undetected within the habit of a friar.  This friar had been assigned to come to Mexico and when he boarded his ship he felt a weight within his habit, exploring which turned out to be the statue (Remedios is a small figure).  Fearing he would be accused of stealing the statue, he got off the ship and replaced the Virgin in her sanctuary.  When he once again sailed at a later date, he again felt a weight within his habit and, again, it was Remedios; this time he went ahead and sailed, bringing the statue to the New World.  Virgen de la Soledad (Solitude because after Jesus and Joseph died, Mary was alone) appeared one day in 1543 in a box of shoes on the back of a mule; a church was built on this site.

Church of Nuestra Senora de los Remedios, Cholula, Puebla, MX
This church, built 1574-75 and consecrated in 1629, sits on top of a huge pyramid dedicated to Quetzalcoatl. The site was initially chosen because it was customary in the early post-conquest days to put churches on top of pre-Columbian holy sites and the presence of one within the hill was suspected.  There was no confirmation of this until the 1930's when excavation began. This church and the pyramid on which it sits have subsequently become quite famous.   In terms of tourism, much more attention has been focused on this enormous pyramid than the church-sanctuary of Nuestra Senora de los Remedios.  No photography is allowed in the church, but I managed to shoot a few images from the outside.
Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, facade of church

Interior of Church
View of Altar showing Nuestra Señora de los Remedios

View of Statue 
View showing elevation of church

The view from the Remedios Church is spectacular because of the elevation of the 

place.The pyramid on which it sits is huge and considered to be the largest in Latin 
America. Tours focus on the pyramid and the entire excavated area which is extensive 
with further excavations planned.

Basilica of  Virgen de la Soledad, Oaxaca
 In contrast with the Church of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, which is historically significant, but tucked away on the top of a hill/pyramid,  the Basilica of the Nuestra Señora  de la Soledad, built in-between 1682 and 1717,  is one of the two major churches in the city of Oaxaca. This stunning example of Oaxacan Baroque architecture (see April 16, 2013 post of this blog) is central in the religious and communal life of the city and its status as a Basilica designates it as a pilgrimage site and accords it a special status.  

Basilica de la Virgen de la Soledad, interior

Nuestra Señora de la Soledad is, in many ways,  the emblem of Oaxaca   She is not just revered in the city of Oaxaca, but throughout the state and has importance regionally.  The figure below is found in the beautiful church of San Jeronimo Tlacochuaya in a village about a half-hour outside of Oaxaca city.

Soledad in San Jeronimo Talcochuaya

Soldedad was my introduction to Oaxaca.  On my very first night  in the city I saw a young girl dancing in the main square  holding a figure above her head.  This figure, as I was to discover, was Nuestra Señora de la Soledad who apparently has found a niche in the commercial as well as the religious life of the city. 

Girl dancing with figure of Virgen de la Soledad in Zocalo of Oaxaca

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