Blueroadrunner.com was generously
given permission to reprint the following two articles
about the significance and importance of the Virgen de
Guadalupe in Mexican culture. Education, science and time
seem to have little effect on the psychological territory
claimed by her. Iconography devoted to this potent symbol
is evident everywhere in San Felipe, from T-shirts to
by RoseAnna Mueller
The Virgin of Guadalupe is a powerful
cultural symbol of Mexican identity and nationhood. In
colonial times the Virgin of Guadalupe was interpreted
as a native, loving and forgiving mother, the intercessor
to God the Father and his son, Jesus Christ. Today Guadalupe
has been reinterpreted as an empowering symbol of liberation
and action rather than as female passivity. In contemporary
society the populist appeal of the image cuts across all
sectors of Mexican life, and her image is displayed not
only in churches, but can also be seen in taxis, buses,
on tee-shirts, amulets and as tattoos. Chicano and other
Latino societies helped establish the Virgin of Guadalupe
as an archetypal emblem of mestizaje. The devotion, Guadalupanismo,
was first promoted among the non-Indian Mexican population,
but later acquired a strong Indian and mestizo following.
Criollos interpreted Mary's appearance that Mexico was
a favored city. The image became linked to a passage from
Psalm 147:20 "Non fecit taliter omni nationi"
or "He hath not done this for any other nation."
The origin of the importance of the Virgen
de Guadalupe can be traced back to the religious beliefs
and ceremonies that animated the daily lives of pre-Hispanic
people from birth to death. Even though the Spanish conquest
imposed Christianity and colonialism on the original populations,
the Catholic Church allowed--some say even encouraged--the
association between specific locations and Aztec deities
as a means to effect an easier transition from native
religions to Christianity, resulting in the introduction
of localized patron saints. Worship of the Virgin Mary
was encouraged through a variety of manifestations, such
as the Virgin of Remedios and the Immaculate Conception.
After the conquest, the church destroyed shrines to indigenous
gods and goddesses, and tried to stamp out the cult of
Tonantzin, an Aztec virgin deity. Since manifestations
of the Virgin had encouraged the conquistadors, many images
of the Virgin Mary had made their way to the New World.
Indians, mestizos, and criollos lent new meanings to the
cult of the Virgin Mary. The devotion to the Virgin of
Guadalupe is a syncretic manifestation of Catholic and
in the capilla
of San Felipe.
According to a legend first published in
1648, in 1531 the Virgin Mary appeared in the form of
a young mestizo woman to the neophyte Indian Juan Diego
on Tepeyac hill, the location of Tonantzin's shrine. Between
December 9 and 12, the Virgin of Guadalupe continued to
appear and requested through Juan Diego that a church
dedicated to her be built on the site. When the bishop-elect
of Mexico City, Juan de Zumárraga, demanded proof,
the Virgin told Juan Diego to gather roses from a nearby
hillside, put them into his tilma (cloak) and bring them
to the bishop. When the roses where released, the Virgin's
image was imprinted on the tilma, which now hangs in the
Basilica in Mexico City and is an object of veneration,
daily devotion, and a major pilgrimage site.
The apparitions were first made known by
a Mexican priest, Miguel Sánchez, in 1648. The
vicar of Guadalupe, Luís Lazo de la Vega, published
a Nahuatl version of the apparitions, The Nican Mopuhua,
(Here it is Written) in 1649. With its origins in what
is now Mexico City, devotion to Guadalupe spread throughout
the Anahuac Valley and became the first Marian devotion
that was not strictly local in character.
The Virgin of Guadalupe continued to play
an increasingly important role in the development of Mexican
national identity. The criollos interpreted her appearance
as a legitimization of their national aspirations and
propagated the cult as part of a plan to build New Spain
in Mexico. The campaign to legitimize the Virgin of Guadalupe
began in 1648 with Miguel Sánchez's book which
argued that Guadalupe was authentically American, emphasizing
her appearance to a poor, humble native and stressing
the Virgin's use of Nahuatl to address Juan Diego. Sor
Juana Inez de la Cruz wrote one known sonnet to the
Virgin of Guadalupe in 1680, published in 1729, which
retells the story of the apparition and reinforces Mary's
function as protectress of the Americas in her role as
"la Rosa Mejicana."
In the iconography of the Virgin of Guadalupe
the European image of Mary, probably based on the Immaculate
Conception, was modified. The skin was darkened, the hair
became dark and straight to produce what would be referred
to as the "standard image" from which numerous
copies were made and distributed throughout Mexico. The
iconography of the Virgin is the imprint produced during
her third apparition to Juan Diego, which became the basis
for the standard image. The image merges allusions from
the Song of Songs 6:10, "I am dark but I am lovely"'
and Revelations, ch. 12, "the woman of the Apocalypse,
a woman clothed with the sun." The syncretic image
links family, politics, national identity and religion.
The Virgin's face is Mexican, her dress Judeo-Christian.
By incorporating the imagery and symbolism associated
with female deities, such as sun, moon, and stars, the
colonial image of the Virgin Mary assumed new significance
for the native population, rather than just reflecting
a purely European deity. As both an imposition and an
adaptation of an alien religion, guadalupanismo provided
a kind, loving, giving mother, forgiving and accessible,
the intercessor, the go-between to God the father. The
cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe was a reconciliation of
Catholic and pre-Hispanic beliefs. The symbols embedded
in the syncretic image borrow from both Christian and
The Virgin of Guadalupe was declared the
Patroness of Mexico City in 1737, Queen of Mexico in 1895,
Patroness of Latin America in 1910, and Empress of the
Americas 1945. During the revolutionary period of 1810
the image acquired liberationist associations when Father
Hidalgo adopted the image for his standard. In the mid
eighteenth century the devotion took root among the indigenous
people as a sign of liberation and nationality and became
a deeply personal devotion. In the nineteenth century
she became a symbol of freedom for the oppressed native
The separation of Church and State served
to disperse the image into popular culture more than ever.
Contemporary Mexican Americans continue to revere the
image and draw a profound sense of empowerment from it.
In 1910 the revolutionary army of Zapata carried the image
into battle and made the Virgin's name a rallying battle
cry. She became the female warrior of the revolution,
and since then both priests and rebels have turned to
her power and her authority to overthrow oppressive conditions.
José Guadalupe Posada, the Mexican
muralists, and other artists have used this image for
its liberationist and powerful meanings. Female artists
have mined its potential as a feminine symbol of empowerment.
In some instances Guadalupe assumed a more active stance
than the prayerful pose of folded hands and downcast eyes
of the "standard image." She ceased to be an
intercessor for her son, becoming a potent and active
woman in her own right. Two 1933 paintings by P. Gonzalo
Carrasco, "The Virgin of Guadalupe Defending Mexican
Youth" depict a very active Virgin attacking demons
while keeping an infant in her arms, out of reach from
In the 1960's César Chavez marched
with the image when The United Farm Workers went on strike.
Ester Hernández's 1975 depiction, "The Virgin
of Guadalupe Defending the Rights of Chicanos" is
a radical interpretation of the religious icon as warrior-defender
of minority rights. The 1978 Yolanda López series
of paintings and collages converted the passive, colonial
Guadalupe into a more relevant role model for contemporary
Chicana women. There continues an ongoing attempt to rediscover
the "indigenous" origins of Guadalupe, depicting
her as an embodiment of Tonantzin-Coatlicue, goddess of
the cosmos, sacred guardian and mother image for the Mexican
In the 90's the appeal of Guadalupe/Tonantzin
is evident in Chicana feminist writing, in which the Virgin/Goddess
has been enlisted against the patriarchy. In the 1996
collection Goddess of the Americas, the Virgin of Guadalupe
is a complex, mystical and transcendent spiritual figure
who evokes the pre-Hispanic cosmos, and is also linked
to African Orishas and other female deities. Mary is not
only the queen of heaven, and a source of emotive power
but she is the female goddess life-giver who empowers
feminists who seek the female face of god.
According to Carlos Fuentes, the orphaned
children of the New World were granted a mother through
Juan Diego's apparition, allowing the Spanish authorities
to transform the Indian people from children of violated
women (see Malinche) to the children of the pure virgin.
Feminists who find it difficult to accept a patriarchal
God have appropriated Guadalupe as the Earth Mother or
the Great Mother Goddess who can heal the wounds of the
past. Along with Frida Kahlo's images, the Virgin of Guadalupe
continues to be a strong emblem of chicanismo, especially
A symbol of popular religiosity, a proof of God's unconditional
love, and a feminine metaphor in the comprehension of
the divine, The Virgin of Guadalupe continues to convey
a paradoxical message that can be manipulated for political
purposes. According to Octavio Paz "There are two
beliefs deeply imbedded in Mexican consciousness: belief
in the lottery and belief in the Virgin of Guadalupe."
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