Virgen de Guadalupe

San Felipe, Baja, Mexico 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 dashboard effigies.

Virgin of Guadalupe
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 Aztec beliefs.

Icon 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 pre-Columbian imagery.

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 population.

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 demons.

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 nation.

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 for females.
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."

Secondary Sources:
Castillo, Ana. ed. Goddess of the Americas/ La Diosa de las Américas. Riverhead Books, N.Y. 1996.
Chabram-Dernassian, Angie. "I Throw Punches for My Race, But I Don't Want to be a Man: Chica/nos (Girl, Us/Chicanas) into the Movement Script." ed. Nelson, Cary; Paula Treichler; and Laurence Gross-berg. Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge, 1992.
De la Maza, Francisco. El Guadalupanismo Mexicano. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1953.
Gonzales, Sylvia A. "La Chicana: Guadalupe or Malinche" ed. Beverly Lindsay. Comparative Perspectives of Third World Women: The Impact of Race, Sex and Class. New York: Praeger 1980.
Paz, Octavio. The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought in Mexico. New York: Grove, 1961.
Rodriquez, Jeanette. Our Lady of Guadalupe: Faith and Empowerment among Mexican-American Women. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.
Lafaye, Jacques. Quetzalcoatl and Guadalupe: The Formation of Mexican National Consciousness. tr. Benjamin Keen. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.
Harrington, Patricia. "Mother of Death, Mother of Rebirth: The Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe." Journal of the American Academy of Religion LVI/I 25-51.
Valdés, Maria Elena. "Guadalupana Syncretism and Postcolonial Literature in Mexico." Canadian Review of Comparative Literature. vol 22, 729-743.
Wolf, Eric R. "The Virgin of Guadalupe; A Mexican National Symbol." Journal of American Folklore. 71, 1958.

Sites about the Virgen de Guadalupe

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