By Maria Joyouspirit
December 12th is another way to celebrate our winter holidays. It is the feast day of Our Lady or Virgin, actually Tonantzin and only later called Guadalupe by the Spaniards.
Don’t wait for the commercialized, consumerist, propagandized, later December day to celebrate. Bring your family down to La Plazita Church across from Olvera St. in downtown LA in the late afternoon and immerse yourself in an allied culture from near our own borders. Bring your children, your cameras, your appetite, and your curiosity. And a candle or flowers, too. Parking is in nearby lots. The experience will be exquisite. And fun!
But who is this special woman, Guadalupe, the image seen everywhere in LA ?
The story is essentially told that a special devotion to Guadalupe started almost 475 years ago when the Virgin appeared to an Indian, Juan Diego, on Tepeyac hill near Mexico City. Although it was December, the apparition, Guadalupe, told Juan Diego to take the Castilian roses she produced right there for him – roses which were out of season and not found in those arid lands in the cold winter. She told him to gather them in his cloak and to present them to the high Catholic bishop, as a sign of her presence. She also requested a temple be built in her name.
Juan Diego had to return to the Spanish Bishop three times before he was given any credence. Then, finally, when the poor humble Indian unfolded his cactus-fiber cloak, the beautiful roses fell out and at the same time, miraculously, Guadalupe’s image was emblazoned on his shirt — showing the dark-skinned Aztec princess, standing in front of the sun and on top of a crescent moon.
Juan is depicted as the native population were preferably seen by their rulers — as devout, submissive people repeatedly carrying out orders. He was just delivering a message man-to-man to the conquerors and their religious counter-parties. The princess did not appear or make herself known directly to those who now ruled these Mexican lands.
The Catholic version likes to claim that seven years after Guadalupe’s apparition, some 8 million Indians were converted. Conversion may be the most important aspect of a religious group appropriating another apparition, a visitation, and an actualization of a venerated female …of color. Many people now still pray to her as a miracle worker no matter what they think about the formal Church. They will pray to Guadalupe even when they won’t pray to a grey-bearded God. Many mix their own traditional beliefs with the overlaid dominant Christian version of who [all] rules the earth and heaven.
In 1754, 200 years after her noted sighting, Pope Benedict XIV declared Our Lady of Guadalupe then patron of what was then called New Spain. Much later, in 1946, Our Lady of Guadalupe was also decreed as the Patroness of the Americas by the Catholic male hierarchy. In 2002, Juan Diego was canonized in the Basilica in Mexico City.
It is not clear if Guadalupe was ever actually canonized, instead of her messenger. However, she has obviously been fully appropriated as if she was a saint or part of the religious iconography. How else could you explain the churches that incorporate her images and utilize the veneration given to her in their masses and prayers? Some assume she must be the Virgin Mary of European depiction, which seems to give credence to their taking what was not actually Christian at all. Who now is to say who Guadalupe actually is or was?
The main shrines of Guadalupe in Mexico D.F. had been preceded by the indigenous temple on Tepeyac hill, honoring the earth and fertility goddess Tonantzin – our lady mother, who, like Our Lady of Guadalupe, was also associated with the moon. In pre-Hispanic times, that temple was the site of large scale pilgrimages.
The original temple, which was dedicated to the Queen of Tepeyacac, was built near where Juan Diego had seen her. Tenochtitlan was the Aztec capital city prior to the arrival of the Spanish. The area was known then as Atzacualpa or Atzacualco.
It is written that most Mexican Catholics believe that Guadalupe was a manifestation of the Virgin Mary in the Americas, yet this was not written down by those Mexicans. [So we now ask : how did the natives record this event or even make known her appearance or presence? What media was used then? Who depicted Guadalupe before the Catholics conquered and overlaid their story with their patriarchal dominant religious views and beliefs with their parchment and ink? What was written over any original native recordings?
Though Guadalupe is NOT A SAINT nor raised to special religious status, she is defined, re-framed and utilized as a duplication and apparition of the same Holy Mary that Catholics already own for their own religious stories and carefully crafted histories of special December winter events.
Guadalupe is also seen as the sorrowful mother, a figure who embodies the suffering of Mexican & Latina populations.
Interestingly, stories & controversy abound about the credibility of proof of Guadalupe’s visit. Some consider it miraculous that the tilma maintains its structural integrity after nearly 500 years, since replicas made with the same type of materials lasted only about 15 years before disintegrating. In addition, the tilma resisted an ammonia spill that made a considerable hole, which was reportedly repaired in two weeks with no external help. (It is not surprising to note that the Catholic bishop kept the original tilma containing the sacred image in his private chapel. Upon completion of the main church, he then transferred the sacred image so that all may see…taking the now sacred object for only catholic use, keeping the valuable icon safe from and for the native people of whom she belongs.)
In 1921, an anarchist placed an offering of flowers next to the image. A bomb hidden within the flowers exploded and destroyed the shrine. However, the image suffered no damage. So, there seem to also be supernatural physical “proofs” still in existence, in Mexico City.
For further information on Guadalupe, you can visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Guadalupe.