Category Archives: Oaxaca Mexico art and culture

The Virgin of Guadalupe Revisted: Who is she?

December 12 is the Feast Day for Mexico’s beloved Virgin of Guadalupe. The devoted make pilgrimage to her shrine in the Mexico City basilica named in her honor. Many arrive crawling on their knees in supplication. She is honored and revered. Her image appears on every form of religious and commercial iconography you can imagine, from altars and pendants, to tote bags and dish towels. Here in Mexico, I might say she is more popular than God and Frida Kahlo.

She is officially known as Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the common vernacular she is also called The Patron Saint of Mexico.

What motivates me to write about the Virgin of Guadalupe today? It is Sunday in North Carolina, where I now sit after completing two intense medical procedures upon my arrival (completely cleared of any issues, BTW).  I am not Catholic, nor am I a woman of extreme faith. I have my beliefs and was raised in the tradition of question asking and skepticism. I am not an expert in social, cultural or religious history of Mexico by any stretch of the imagination. However, I am a keen observer and appreciate analysis. At university, I majored in history and political science.  I have always been curious about revisionism, myth and how storytelling can be interpreted as fact. I also like to hear others’ points of view. This is how we learn and respect differences. 

So, who is the Virgin of Guadalupe? She is Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the common vernacular she is also called the Queen of Mexico and the Patron Saint of Mexico. That’s where I got in trouble: I called her a saint in my blog post about the opening of the Virgin of Guadalupe textile exhibition at the Museo Estatal del Arte Popular in San Bartolo Coyotepec.  

First, my friend Rebecca wrote to set me straight: Catholics would put her [the Virgin of Guadalupe] above the saints and wouldn’t refer to her as a saint. They might call her Our Lady, The Blessed Virgin, etc.

I replied that Wikipedia and Huffington Post call her the Patron Saint of Mexico, after I went back to verify my facts.  

Rebecca came back with: I think the Huff Post is inaccurate. They just didn’t have a word and “patron saint” sounds reasonable. No one would say Jesus is the patron saint of anything. No one ever refers to her as Saint Mary. Jesus, Mary, The Holy Ghost (Spirit), and God the Father are in their own category. I don’t know how things translate in Spanish. I know Our Lady of Guadalupe is beloved. But again Our Lady is not saint.

On Monday, December 10, 2018, I posted on Facebook asking the question: Is the Virgin of Guadalupe a saint?  

Hector replied, yes, she is a saint and included in the Catholic Church’s Martirologium Romanum: a list of the people considered to actually be in the presence of God. She is actually considered to be ascended to heaven in her physical human form: Guadalupe is an “advocacy” a kind of suit or custom in which Mary is considered to be willing to present herself to some culture.

Helen reminded us that the Virgin is Tonantzin, the Aztec Mother Goddess.

I reminded myself that syncretism — the blending of indigenous and Spanish conquest religious, social and cultural practices is how acceptance of the new religion — Catholicism became embedded in the New World. 

A Federico Gama portrait at the Basilica

Hector wrote back saying: Guadalupe (cave of wolves in Latin) was an advocacy of Mary meant to be used in the Christianization of Moorish people in Spain (that is the origin of her dark skin)… and it was also used in Mexico where it blended with the local Mother Earth Tonantzin.

Cristina noted: There is a saying in Mexico: “No todos somos católicos, pero todos somos Guadalupanos.” (We are not all Catholics, but we all believe in Our Lady of Guadalupe.)

Then, my long-ago friend Evangeline added this link from Skeptoid: The Virgin of Guadalupe.  This was a history version well-worth reading, since the article postulates that it was Cortes the Conqueror who brought Guadalupe to Mexico from Extramadura, his home region in Spain, to use in the evangelization of the Indios. Seems there was a Guadalupe Shrine there, too. Perhaps the image was repurposed and adapted to a new location, and the accompanying Juan Diego (he is a saint) Virgin Mary sighting told to make conversion more appealing. 

You can read the Skeptoid article if you want to know more. 

Nevertheless, what is most important, I think, is that the Virgin of Guadalupe has taken on ecumenical proportions as a powerful female figure around the world. Not only is she the most revered in Mesoamerica, she represents woman as Mother Earth, Goddess, strength and perseverance, and yes, of freedom. But, she has evolved. 

This paper: The Virgin of Guadalupe: Symbol of Conquest or Liberation, offers an important explanation of the politics of conquest and conversion, race and classism, and how the Virgin of Guadalupe was used to turn a recalcitrant indigenous population from paganism to the new religion. This gives us context and understanding for her popularity. Eventually, later paintings of her included the angel being draped by the Mexican flag, giving legitimacy to nationhood.  

Needless to say, the Virgin of Guadalupe is embedded into the popular culture of Mexico. Perhaps it doesn’t matter who she is or what she is called: Virgin Mary, Tonantzin, an amalgam of both. Perhaps she is no longer a unique religious symbol, but an icon of the divine feminine in each of us.  

Itzel Guadalupe Weaves Her First Rug

Itzel Guadalupe is my sobrina and I am her tia. We have adopted each other. In truth, this fourteen-year old is the daughter of my friend Ernestina who lives down the lane from me. Her name Itzel translates as Star throughout Mesoamerica. Her namesake is the Virgin of Guadalupe, and she goes by Lupita.  There must be millions of women named Guadalupe in Mexico, but this one is very special!

Lupita just finished weaving her first complete rug. Because I am her madrina, Ernestina came to me first to ask me to buy it. This is what happens here and I was happy to say yes as a way to encourage her to develop her artistry, craft and skill. I’d say she did a very good job for the first one. 

SOLD and going to Canada!

My friend Scott, a California expert in tapestry loomed rugs here in Teotitlan del Valle, and one of the original exporters of Southwest Style, said that the weaving is very good and the color palette very pleasing. It is natural color Churro sheep wool with synthetic dyes. 

I took Lupita with me on Sunday for the opening of the Virgin of Guadalupe textile exhibition at the Museo Estatal del Arte Popular in San Bartolo Coyotepec to expand her perspective. It was her first visit to this village.

The show featured finest woven tapestries from Teotitlan del Valle.  In the main floor galleries was an exhibition sponsored by FOFA (Friends of Oaxaca Folk Art) featuring the work of talented young artisans ages 10 to 30 in all media.

Children start playing with yarn here very early. By the age of six or eight, their parents have turned a chair upside down and a child starts weaving warp and weft using the four legs. By the time they are pre-teens, many of them can weave a small rug.  They learn more complex techniques with practice, perseverence and dedication. Weaving on a floor loom where one stands for hours requires stamina. 

At the exhibition, Lupita and I paid special attention to the weaving work done by the young people of her village. We talked about their designs and I asked her if she knew any of them. She does. My hope in taking her was to give her confidence that she could aspire to reach for more.  

I’ve known this young woman since she was two years old. I’ve watched her curiosity and intelligence develop. Perhaps she will go to college and/or become a very accomplished weaver or teacher. She told me her New Years resolution for 2019 was to go to the USA and to make more rugs to sell.

Would you like to buy Itzel Guadalupe’s first rug? $200 plus $15 mailing. I’m bringing it to the USA tomorrow in my luggage. I’ll be in North Carolina for a medical procedure and then return to Oaxaca on Christmas Eve. 

Virgin of Guadalupe in Textiles at San Bartolo Coyotepec Folk Art Center

The Virgin of Guadalupe is Mexico’s iconic symbol of feminism and the divine. She appears everywhere since Juan Diego first saw her apparition in 1531. She represents Mexico’s syncretism — the Tonantzin Aztec mother goddess and the Catholic Virgin Mary.* (See footnote.) Her origins are pure fertility, plenty, and indigenous. She is the spirit of Mexico and the most widely honored woman in the world. Many call her Mexico’s Patron Saint.

Textile exhibition focuses on Mexico’s tradition and faith.

December 10-12, 2018, Artisan Expoventa at Convivio, Parque Llano.  All the artisans in the exhibition will sell their work here.

Elida Lucina Merino Hernandez, San Pedro Amusgos, Oaxaca
Fito Garcia’s elaborate ikat rebozo with hand-knotted fringe, Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico
Tapestry loomed ruana by Erasto Tito Mendoza, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Linda Hanna, Oaxaca’s textile maven, curated this exhibition Rosas y Revelaciones working with a myriad of native Mexican weavers and embroiderers for three years. All the pieces were commissioned by her and I was told are part of her personal collection. 

Just in time for the December 12 Dia del Virgen de Guadalupe, the opening celebration was yesterday, December 9, at the Museo Estatal de Arte Popular (Folk Art Museum) in San Bartolo Coyotepec. It will stay up until March 2019. 

Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, embroidered blouse
Villa Hidalgo Yalalag, Oaxaca

These are just a sampling of the more than 60 textile works of art on exhibit. It is so stunning, so mesmerizing, so meaningful that it is difficult not to be emotionally overwhelmed by the magnitude of human creativity that is displayed here. 

The power of woman, Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca
Flouncy Virgin apron, San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca
Gilardo Hernandez Quero, San Pablo Villa de Mitla with his crocheted homage

Highest accolades to Linda Hanna for putting this extraordinary exhibition together, and for assembling the artisans to sell their work in an expoventa. It is always most gratifying to be able to buy from artisans directly to support them. 

Catalog available at Museo Estatal del Arte Popular, San Bartolo Coyotepec

*Footnote: A discussion, a dialog and opinions have surfaced around whether the Virgin of Guadalupe is in fact a saint. On my Facebook page

I asked the question: Is the Virgin of Guadalupe a saint? Many have responded. I invite you to join the discussion if you have an opinion or read what people say. 

Rare Find: 18th C. San Pedro Quiatoni Necklace, Coral and Blown Glass Rod Pendants

This necklace is SOLD.

It could be that this San Pedro Quiatoni necklace is from as early as the 17th century, or maybe even the 16th century. When Hernan Cortes, the Spanish Conquistador, came to Mexico and other parts of the Americas in 1521, he brought with him Venetian glass trade beads to use for barter. 

For some reason, there is only one village that adopted this particular style of beading using these trade beads — San Pedro Quiatoni, which is high up in the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains almost three hours from Oaxaca city. 

These necklaces are rare, prized and very collectible.

I came across one last week in my wanderings around the Tlacolula valley with my friend Gretchen who was visiting from Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, located on the Sea of Cortes within an hour’s drive from the Mexico-USA border. I was showing her some of my favorite haunts. It just so happened that someone had just brought this necklace down from the mountains.  

Since I already have two in my collection that I do wear, I decided to send this necklace on into the world for someone else to enjoy. Perhaps that someone is YOU!

22 inches long, coral and blown glass necklace, San Pedro Quiatoni, Oaxaca

16 vintage, mouth-blown glass pendants suspend from this double-strand coral and Venetian trade bead necklace likely from the 17th or 18th century, found only in the Oaxaca mountain village of San Pedro Quiatoni, located about 2 hours from Oaxaca city. Hernan Cortes brought trade beads and European glass rods to the new world in 1521 with the conquest. The people in this village coveted the beads and strung them with Mediterranean coral on hemp and agave rope to hang around their necks. The more beads, the greater the symbol of wealth.

This particular necklace has blue and clear glass rods that are uniform and rare in color. I had the necklace professionally restrung (it was strung by the man who took it in trade) so it is now more secure with a sterling silver hook clasp. Traditionally, the necklaces were tied with blue ribbon (which has a tendency to come loose). This is a rare and collectible piece, perfect for wearing on that special occasion, too. The necklace is 22 inches long. Each rod measures approximately 2-3/4″ long, with some variation in each because they are hand-made. I just came across this spectacular beauty and want to pass this along to another collector since I already have two in my collection.

Here is the listing I have published on ETSY, priced at $695. If I sell it on Etsy, I will need to pay a fee. If you buy it HERE from me directly, the price is $595 USD plus $8 USPS priority mailing. Extra for insurance. Please purchase by Tuesday, December 11. I leave for the USA on December 12.

16 vintage, mouth-blown glass pendants suspend from this double-strand coral and Venetian trade bead necklace likely from the 17th or 18th century, found only in the Oaxaca mountain village of San Pedro Quiatoni, located about 2 hours from Oaxaca city. Hernan Cortes brought trade beads and European glass rods to the new world in 1521 with the conquest. The people in this village coveted the beads and strung them with Mediterranean coral on hemp and agave rope to hang around their necks. The more beads, the greater the symbol of wealth.

This particular necklace has blue and clear glass rods that are uniform and rare in color. I had the necklace professionally restrung (it was strung by the man who took it in trade) so it is now more secure with a sterling silver hook clasp. Traditionally, the necklaces were tied with blue ribbon (which has a tendency to come loose). This is a rare and collectible piece, perfect for wearing on that special occasion, too. The necklace is 22 inches long. Each rod measures approximately 2-3/4″ long, with some variation in each because they are hand-made. I just came across this spectacular beauty and want to pass this along to another collector since I already have two in my collection.

Best of Oaxaca’s Biodiversity at Ejido Union Zapata: Day of Plenty

Oaxaca celebrates indigenous food and handmade at the annual Agro-biodiversity Fair in Ejido Union Zapata. This once a year event is building traction. The main street of several blocks, cordoned off for booths and foot traffic, was packed by noon. The natural food color was beyond belief.

Day of Plenty: native corn varieties with tortillas

Criollo, organic-natural tomatoes + More

Billed as a seed exchange, farmers came from as far away as Chiapas, the Coast of Oaxaca and the Mixteca Alta, the high mountain range that borders the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero. Weavers working in natural dyes and mask makers joined in. For sale were seeds, fruit, vegetables, flowers, tortillas and tamales.

Coconut from Oaxaca’s coast. Have you tasted coconut crackers?

Fitting for Thanksgiving Weekend, it was a day of plenty.

Amaranth seeds, protein-rich, makes sweet treat

There is a big and growing movement in politically active Oaxaca to conserve native food: chiles, tomatoes, corn, peppers, squash, coffee, chocolate, amaranth, jicama and more. There are so many different varieties of each.

Sierra Mixe handmade ceramics, utilitarian beauty

One of the leaders, Rafael Meir, was present along with government representatives of Oaxaca and Mexico. Leaders are becoming more conscious about the importance of keeping GMO contained to what has already infiltrated the commercial tortilla business. Yet, there is still much more to do.

Public education has so much to do with the success of programs like this one.

House made sesame crackers — yummy, or buy seeds and make your own.

Backstrap loomed textiles rom San Juan Colorado

I was so happy to see Yuridia Lorenzo and her mom, Alegoria Lorenzo Quiroz from the Colectivo Jini Nuu in San Juan Colorado. They were selling their beautiful blouses and dresses made with native coyuchi, white and green cotton and natural dyes. Participants in my Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour will visit them in mid-January.

Alegoria Lorenzo Quiroz and me.

If you missed it, I hope you will mark your calendar for next year. Although the dates may float, so I’m not sure exactly when it will be held. Check out these Facebook pages to keep track: Rafael Meir, who is director of Fundacion Tortilla de Maiz Mexicana. Watch a VIDEO of the fair. 

Zapotec words describe native food

Another benefit of attending is to taste and buy mezcal, Oaxaca’s organic, artisanal alcoholic beverage distilled from fermented agave.  I bought a bottle of sylvestre (wild) jabali mezcal grown and distilled in Teozacoalco in the Mixteca Alta  by Mezcalero Javier Cruz. Que Rico!

San Juan Colorado Katyi Yaa coop, native coyuchi cotton, natural dyes

I’m noticing that Oaxaca is becoming inundated with foodies and followers of What’s Hot on the food and beverage scene. We’ve got free walking tours led by guides holding colorful umbrellas and flags downtown who get paid with tips. We have USA restauranteurs coming for cooking classes to bring the cuisine home. Rent prices are escalating in the historic center. If one lives on the peso, everything is at a premium now. Those of us who live here always ask if the influx of tourist dollars trickles down to the pueblos, the makers, the field and kitchen workers.  What is your experience?

Corn, snake, cacao symbols on wool, back-strap loom

Back-strap loomed wool, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, corn, snake, cacao symbols. That’s why fairs like this one are so important — to buy direct from those who produce.  Slow food. Slow fashion. Slow mezcal. Saludos.

Know the Natural Richness of Mexico

Chiles, squash, Mexico’s gift