Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Video: Basilica of Guadalupe, Mexico City

"New" Basilica building,  Basilica of Guadalupe, Mexico City
Millions of pilgrims each year visit the home of the famous image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Patron Saint of Mexico. The basilica complex has several buildings and grounds, including Tepeyac Hill where Guadalupe is said to have first appeared to Juan Diego.  Here is a link to a video that gives a look inside the complex:

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Our Lady of Guadalupe: Miracle or Colonial Marketing Strategy?

Guadalupe of Extremadura
This is the Virgin of Guadalupe, but not the Guadalupe that most people have in mind.   It is a  representation of the Virgin Mary, popular in the Spanish region of Extremadura at the time of the Spanish Conquest, and called Guadalupe. This Guadalupe  accompanied the conquistadors to the New World and was the image on their battle standards, the flags that they carried into battle.   

There is a another  Guadalupe, the one who has become world famous and whose image can be seen everywhere- on t-shirts, even beer cans. She has become the symbol of Mexico, and is considered by the Roman Catholic Church to be the Patroness of the Americas.

Figures of Guadalupe from Mexico City shop

Plaques of Guadalupe from Mexico City shop

The existence of this Guadalupe, known as the Guadalupe of Tepeyac because of the place she originated, is based on one image, the one that now hangs in her basilica in Mexico City.  All the millions of representations of Guadalupe that you encounter in Mexico and elsewhere come from this single original. This Guadalupe burst on the Mexican religious scene in Mexico in the mid-17th century  being promoted in the preaching and writing of that time.  

Guadalupe of Tepeyac in the Basilica of Guadalupe, Mexico City

Yet, this very famous image isn't as simple as it seems and comes with a very interesting history and back-story of which most people are not aware.  There is debate over the authenticity of the image, whether or not it is really miraculous or simply part of a colonial church ploy with a political agenda.

Some Background:

 She is called Guadalupe of Tepeyac because her image is closely associated with an area that is now known as Tepeyac Hill. In pre-hispanic times on Tepeyac Hill, which is in the outskirts of what is now Mexico City, there was a sanctuary to a goddess that was called Toci/Tonantzin.  This sanctuary was torn down by the Franciscan friars who evangelized the people of the area and they built a small shrine there that contained some sort of religious image.  Tepeyac  Hill is located on the grounds of what is now the Basilica of Guadalupe.

Church on top of Tepeyac Hill, Basilica of Guadalupe, Mexico City

View from Tepeyac Hill, Basilica of Guadalupe, Mexico City

History of the Painting's Appearance: 

The history of the image of Guadalupe of Tepeyac is anything but crystal clear.   Reports from 1555  tell us that some new image (presumably that of Guadalupe)  "appeared" in the shrine on Tepeyac hill.  Some modern scholars of Guadalupe contend that the new archbishop had it painted and put there while believers say it was of miraculous origins.  The Franciscans complained about the worship of this image in the shrine and were relieved of their duties by the archbishop.  The first historical record of the Guadalupe image's  existence (we can not be 100% sure it was the same image) was in 1556 when Mexican Archbishop Montufar preached a sermon promoting the growing devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.  

Nican Mopohua- the story of a miraculous image:

A Nahuatl-language document about Guadalupe, called the Nican Mopohua, was written in the 1560's by an educated Indian named Antonio Valero and tells the story of Guadalupe. To summarize it: a humble peasant, Juan Diego encountered  an apparition (presumably of the Virgin Mary) who asked him to build a shrine to her on top of the hill.  The document goes on to detail Juan Diego's meetings with the skeptical archbishop until he, Juan Diego,  at the apparition's instructions, collected roses (not normally found in that area or in the winter) that he was told by her he would find on the hill's summit and put them in a cloth to bring to the archbishop as proof of the Virgin's request.  When the cloth was opened, it revealed the image of Guadalupe that now hangs in the basilica.  The naming of this figure "Guadalupe" was because the Nahuatl name that the apparition told to Juan Diego sounded to the Spanish like the name Guadalupe, a name with which the Spanish were already familiar.

Skeptics Point of View:

Luis Las de Vega, the vicar of the Tepeyac chapel, in 1649 wrote a document, which included the Nican Mopohua and supported the cult of Guadalupe.  This document appeared over 100 years after the reported events of the Guadalupe apparition.  When historical investigations were conducted, it turned out that very little appeared to be known or written about Juan Diego or Guadalupe in the years between her described 1531 appearance and the 17th century document that promotes this story. 

Skeptics go on to propose that the image of Guadalupe might have been put in the Tepeyac chapel by Archbishop Montufar in 1555 when he preached a favorable sermon about the growing devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. In 1555 a new image suddenly appeared in the chapel; these same skeptics say that Montufar had a new image painted and put there because he sensed Guadalupe would unify the various elements of the population, and she did just this.

Significance of Guadalupe:

Despite where she came from, this Guadalupe of Tepeyac had meaning for all levels of Mexican Colonial society.   For the Indians, she was the miraculous incarnation of a Mexica (Aztec) earth and fertility goddess (Tonantzin).  The Spanish identified her with Guadalupe of Extremadura.  The most significant thing was that this new Guadalupe was something that everyone in the diverse population agreed upon and some say that it was because she unified the population that the Church promoted her cult. 

Believers contend that her image is miraculous and there have been several studies  conducted upon the image of Guadalupe.  Their conclusions are that there are unusual qualities to the fabric and pigment as well as the image itself, but there has been no consensus.  The Church and its people consider the image miraculous and despite what skeptics say, in the end this is probably what is most important ant.  As one of my professors once told me, the real miracle is what Guadalupe has done and continues to do for those who believe in her.

Sign from church in Quintana Roo, MX
Guadalupe is very important in the religious identity of many Mexicans, as this sign from  a small church the Mexican state of Quintana Roo illustrates.    It proclaims the congregation's religious identity:  that they are christians, catholics and guadalupanos, those who are dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe.  This is very much the religious outlook throughout Mexico where in the hearts of many, Guadalupe is their primary religious connection.