The Virgin of Guadalupe
By Monica Belen
With 490 years of tradition the cult to the Virgin of Guadalupe continues to be the most popular religious expression among Mexicans inside and outside Mexico, the manifestation of the Guadeloupean faith goes beyond, it is a cultural act that has become an identity. Every year on December 12, almost 10 million people from all over the country and from various parts of Latin America travel to the Basilica of Guadalupe on the Cerro del Tepeyac, north of Mexico City, for various reasons: to give thanks for a favor received; to ask for someone's health; to ask for help of any kind.
The journey that people make from their place of origin is called a pilgrimage and pilgrims are seen all over the country walking alone or in large conglomerates of people, in caravans of buses, cars, vans, bicycles and even tractors and horses, always accompanied by the image of the Virgin Mary and adorned with the colors of the Mexican flag: green, white and red. Along the way there are thousands of people who give them water, food and free lodging so they can continue their journey. Many of them leave months in advance to arrive punctually to the appointment on December 12, Mexico City is paralyzed as if it were a National Holiday, many workplaces do not work or give the day to the employees who request it to go to the Basilica.
The road that leads the pilgrims to the Guadalupe site is called Calzada de Guadalupe, it is specifically designed to allow vehicular traffic and the caravans can pass through it on foot in complete safety. I have seen people who upon arriving at the atrium of the Basilica begin to walk on their knees to see the Morenita in her house, they bring flowers, their children, thousands of children accompany their families as they walk.
When entering the temple you hear singing and applause, some arrive during the day others during the night of December 11 before 00:00, everyone waits for that hour to sing Las Mañanitas, Happy Birthday to the Lady of Tepeyac, many famous artists go on their own to sing at the feet of her image captured in the Ayate, that coarse cloth formed from the fibers of maguey that the Indians used in the colonial times in Mexico (1521-1821) that measures 1. 95 meters high and 1.05 meters wide joined by a white thread.
Legend has it, the myth, that the image of the Virgen Morena was a divine work brought by the Indian Juan Diego as proof to Archbishop Juan de Zumarraga. "Go away Juan Diego, go somewhere else with your fantasy stories, don't blaspheme anymore" said the Archbishop, "But tata, they are not lies or stories, excuse me for insisting, the brown girl sends me to ask you to build a house for her here, she is the nantli (mother in Nahuatl) of God, the cihuatltlatoani (The Queen)" Juan Diego insisted desperate, "go away I tell you!" At that moment Juan Diego dropped his ayate leaving everyone present in admiration, they could not believe what they saw: It was the image of a young, dark, pregnant Virgin with all the signs of being royalty, accompanied by a cherub at her feet held by a black crescent moon, her starry blue mantle, her long, black, straight hair, her clement eyes half-open, her hands joined palm to palm at her chest, symbol of communication with the divinity and a dazzling radiance all around her. They fell on their knees before such a vision and did what the Indian had requested. The year was 1531.
Some say that it was the work of the indigenous painter Marcos Cipac Aquino who worked for the Franciscans, it is said that it was prepared academically copying images of the Virgin of the Glory, with Flemish-German style of the XV century. The truth is that in this image one can appreciate the syncretism, the fusion of two cultures. The Virgin is Creole, because of the color of her browner skin, a union of Spanish and Indian, she has long hair, loose with a parting in the middle for the Indians is virginity and purity, her blue mantle symbolizes royalty for the Europeans and the flowers on her dress symbolizes royalty for the Indians, the black ribbon above the waist and her bulging belly pregnancy, her hands joined compassion and prayer, among so many symbols that united both peoples.
In pre-Hispanic times the hill of Tepeyac had been a sacred place dedicated to the mother goddess Tonantzin-Cihuacóatl, the mother or wet nurse of humanity, the Virgin progenitor, the patroness of births and of women who died in childbirth. She was the most important female deity of the Aztec gods, who was worshipped through songs and dances and was visited by pilgrims who came from far away. There are those who say that the painting of the Guadalupana was made with the purpose of replacing the images of the sanctuary of Cihuacóatl, to redirect the cult that was paid to the Virgin Mary.
Many things are said, what is certain is that today the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe identifies Mexicans wherever we are, whether we are believers or not, because whenever we see an image we think of Mexico.