The fiestas of Christmas begin today in Mexico. The celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe starts on December 3rd and culminates on December 12th, Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (the Day of our Lady of Guadalupe – pronounced gwa-dah-loo’-pay). This is probably the biggest celebration of the year. Those of us outside of Mexico can easily under-estimate the importance of Guadalupe in Mexico, and so, I decided to write a brief introduction.
Back in 1531, the Spanish Catholic missionaries were having very little success in Mexico. But then a Native Mexican by the name of Juan Diego came to see the Spanish bishop, claiming that he had seen a beautiful dark skinned lady – the Virgin Mary herself. She called herself Holy Mary of Guadalupe, and asked that a temple be built in her honour.
The bishop didn’t believe Diego at first. But finally Diego came with an apron full of out-of-season roses. When he opened his cloak, the bishop was startled to see a figure of Mary, imprinted on the cloak, just as Diego had described her.
Diego’s cloak, 474 years later
In the country that worshipped the sun and moon, Mary was pictured standing on the moon in front of the sun. The bishop was convinced, and eventually all of Mexico as well. This last appearance was on December 12, 1531.
I’ve seen the cloak, set in gold, preserved in the Basilica in Mexico City. You can ride a moving sidewalk past it at the front of the sanctuary. The new Basilica was completed in 1976. As you enter you’ll see the words over the door,"Am I not here, who am your Mother?" The Basilica is near the spot where Juan said he saw the Virgin, and also on the ancient site of a temple to an Aztec goddess. As you walk through the gardens, you’ll see more statues and monuments to the glory of the Virgin.
On December 12, the grounds will be packed full of worshippers, people seeking miracles, protection or forgiveness from the Virgin, or just celebrating. Aztec religious dancers will be a large part of the festivities. Many of the dancers seem to work themselves into a trance as they leap and swirl in the courtyard. Men, women and children will crawl to her images on thier knees to gain her favour. People’s own images of Mary are brought to be blessed by the priests.
Here are some lines from prayers people have made to the Virgin:
When last in Mexico, someone shared with me this Mexican Catholic rosary, prayed over and over at the death of a family member. It goes something like this: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. Holy Mother, pray for us. Mother of Christ, Holy Mother of God, Holy Mother of the Virgins, Mother of Divine Grace, Mother of Purity, Mother of Chastity, Mother Virgin, Good Mother, Admirable Mother, Mother of Good Counsel, Mother Redeemer, Mother Creator, Mother Savior, Mother All-Prudent, Mother worthy of veneration, Mother worthy of praise, Powerful Virgin, Merciful Virgin, Pious Virgin, Faithful Virgin, Mirror of Justice, Mystical Rose, Throne of Wisdom, Virgin of Virgins, Virgin of the Angels, Virgin of the Patriarchs, Virgin of the Prophets, Virgin of the Apostles, Virgin of the Church, Virgin of all the faithful…
So much could be said of the popularity of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico. I could talk about the popularity of Guadalupe (or Lupe – pronounced "loo’-pay") as a girl’s name in Mexico. It’s been said there are more that venerate Guadalupe in Mexico than there are Catholics. I could talk about the shrines to the virgin that are found on streetcorners, in homes, in stairwells, in stores. But I think it was said very eloquently by Judy King in her article on Christmas Holidays in Mexico. I’ll quote a paragraph:
The devotion to Guadalupe transcends any form of religious scope to become a symbol of Mexican nationalism and patriotism. Guadalupe creates a bond, a sense of being Mexican, of profound pride in being Mexican. Her influence crosses all borders and boundaries. She transcends the normal division of social strata found yet today in Mexico, and her devotees are the rich and humble, the industrialized and the farmer, the educated and the illiterate, the religious and the cynical. Her altar is a glitter of lights, roses and hope, the Mexican love for her is an endless hymn, the Mexican’s contact with her is hourly, she is the Mother of Mexico, the Queen of the Americas, She IS Mexico.
A picture of a typical shrine to Guadalupe in a market in Mexico