Tag Archives: Virgin of Guadalupe

Who Is the Virgin of Guadalupe? Digging Deeper

We are fascinated by the Madonna, the Virgin, the Mother Earth Goddess known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, celebrated as The Queen — La Reina — of Mexico. Her feast day, December 12, has come and gone, yet the discussion about her meaning and origins continues.

My last blog post, La Reina de Mexico: Celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe, evoked responses.

The most complex came in the form of questions from Tim Tempel. Since I’m not a scholar of Mexico and the virgins — Juquila, Guadalupe and Soledad — that are celebrated here in Oaxaca, I asked Tim to research his questions and share with me his findings. He did, and agreed to my publishing what he found here.

Thank you, Tim, for adding your insights. I’m quoting Tim’s original questions below with his follow-up communication with me. Plus, I’ve offered comments, too.

La Virgen, Tapalpa, Jalisco

Norma,

Based on your article on the Virgin of Guadalupe I had asked the following questions of you:

“How does the Virgin of Soledad relate to the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Virgin Mary? Somehow I thought the Virgin of Soledad was specific to Oaxaca. Also, I thought that both Virgins were the equivalent of the Virgin Mary. In Mexico you generally see either the Virgin of Guadalupe or the Virgin of Soledad at the altar. You don’t also see the Virgin Mary. This led me to believe that they were all a likeness of the Virgin Mary.”

In addition to these questions I have been interested in understanding better how religious faith has evolved in Mexico and the impact, not only on “socio- religious identity” but also on the culture, politics and economy of Mexico.

After doing a little, and I do mean little, research on the subject at your suggestion, I have the following unscientific observations:

1. An article from the “International Journal of Frontier Missiology” which provides an interesting discussion of the origin of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The article is entitled “The Virgin of Guadalupe: A Study of Socio-Religious Identity.” Type in the search area of Google international journal on frontier missiology Virgin of Guadalupe and you will see a PDF of the article.

2. My original limited understanding of the subject was that the Virgin Mary is the Virgin Mary regardless of the name ascribed to Mary. The article attached points out that: “The fact that nearly every Latin American country has its own version of the Virgin shows that the conquered people all desired an image with whom they could identify. In Cuba, she became known as the Virgin of Caridad del Cobre; in Bolivia she is Our Lady of Copacabana; in Brazil she is Our Lady Aparecida; in Nicaragua she is Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of El Viejo; and in Venezuela she is the Virgin of Coromoto.” I also add that in Oaxaca there is the Virgin of Soledad as well as the Virgin of Guadalupe.

From Rosas y revelaciones exhibition, poncho, Zinacantan, Chiapas

3. I subscribe to the article’s point of view that while Mary is Mary, there may be differences in how Mary is perceived by country or region, or region within a region, based on each region’s need to identify with someone who can understand and relate to their specific issues. For example, in Oaxaca, there is a celebration of the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe on December 12th and a celebration of the Day of the Virgin of Soledad on December 18th each year. Each represents an adoration of the Virgin Mary but each is accommodating different needs of segments of the population.

4. In Catholic Churches I have attended in the US or Europe, the focal point of the altar is Jesus Christ nailed to the cross. In the churches I have been to in Mexico the focal point is the Virgin of Guadalupe or the Virgin of Soledad. The attached article points out that the Virgin, in some ways, has a greater status that Jesus Christ in Latin America for several interesting reasons identified in the article.

5. As another variation on the subject, in a town near Lake Chapala in Guadelajara, Cajititlan, there is a church where the three kings are the focal point of the alter, not the virgin.

6. In a church in the village of Chamula, outside of San Cristobal in Chiapas, the formally Catholic Church now practices the indigenous faith of the region, not the Catholic faith. There are also some villages outside of San Cristobal that are so fully invested in the Catholic faith that the village encourages people with other faiths, such as evangelical or protestant, to leave the village even to this day.

7. Relative to the subject of your blogs (i.e. Mexican arte popular, culture, etc.), the Catholic Church, via Bishop Vasco de Quiroga was appointed Bishop of Michoacan in 1537, was somewhat responsible, on the upside, for arte popular and crafts in Mexico. The skills Quiroga implanted among Purépecha of the Pátzcuaro region have been passed down to their descendants, who some consider among some of the most skilled craftspersons in Mexico. Quiroga’s method of specialization by community continues to this day: Paracho produces guitars, Tzintzuntzán pottery, Santa Clara copper products and Nurío woven woolens.

La Virgen, from the Zeny Fuentes studio, San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca

Norma’s comments in response:

Re: #2 — Regarding the Oaxaca celebrations, we celebrate the Virgin of Juquila, the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Virgin of Soledad. All three are important here. Juquila and Soledad are more regional, whereas Guadalupe is universal throughout Mexico. As Mexicans have migrated to El Norte, they take their saints with them. Celebrations extend beyond borders, either state or federal.

Re: #3 — Santa Catarina Juquila is very important here as well. Her feast day is December 8. Throughout Oaxaca, villages make pilgrimages to the Juquila shrine in the Costa Chica region of Oaxaca, center of the Chatino people.

Re: #6 — In Chiapas, especially in San Juan Chamula, non-Catholics who have converted to evangelical Christianity, are expelled from villages.

Re: #7 — Each region of Mexico was evangelized by different Catholic denominations: Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians, Jesuits. It is true that Quiroga introduced artisan craft specialties to Michoacan and especially the Lake Patzcuaro area. The region was evangelized primarily by Franciscans and it was a jockeying of power there between all. In Oaxaca, the Dominicans controlled the region and trained Teotitlan del Valle artisans in rug weaving using the European treadle loom and imported sheep/wool. Pottery and back-strap loom weaving were pre-Hispanic skills. Alebrijes are a 1970’s innovation.

Painted tin, Oaxaca

Interesting Reading:

10 Things to Know About the Virgin of Guadalupe

Virgin of Guadalupe: Religion and Identity

The Virgin of Guadalupe and Religious Syncretism

Skeptic’s Journal: Virgin of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Watsonville

From Rosas y revelaciones exhibition, huipil, San Pedro Ixcatlan, Oaxaca

La Reina de Mexico: Celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe

I’ve been corrected. The Virgin of Guadalupe is not a saint. She is Our Lady of Guadalupe, giver of miracles. In reality, she is the quintessential symbol of Mexican syncretism, combining indigenous roots/beliefs with Spanish Catholicism. In reality, she is more indigenous than Catholic receiving much more attention than the Virgin Mary or Jesus.

A few of the many Virgins created on Virgin Play Day 2019

As a spiritual symbol, Guadalupe, or Lupita as many call her, sings to us. Especially women. She is Queen. She is Corn Goddess. She is Mother Earth. Protectress. She is Tonantzin.

A Virgin in the making
San Martin Tilcajete woodcarvers and painters made Virgins, too

To celebrate her, regardless of religious beliefs or spiritual disposition, is therefore easy and fun.

Virgins come in all sizes, shapes and genders
And, now for the finishing touches.

In the spirit of fun-ness, I participated in a Virgin Play Day at the home of Linda Hanna, who has been hosting this event for years. This was my first time and it was a glorious respite from my routine (whatever that is).

Our host Linda Hanna with the Virgin she created
Don’t miss this Virgin of Guadalupe exhibition in Mexico City, organized by Linda Hanna, there until April 2020
Purely Mexican Goddess, the Virgin of Guadalupe

About forty women, extranjeras and Zapotecas, gathered in the courtyard to create our own version of the Divine Lupita. There was a wood form which we would spend the day breathing life into.

Calavera Virgins are a popular theme this year
I’m with ceramic artist Angelica Vasquez, Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art

Creating a goddess icon was easier for others than for me. Too many choices of bric-a-brac, magazine images, cloth, glitter, paint, and every other creative type of decorative materials you could imagine. I managed to burn my fingers using the glue gun, another first for me.

Four Virgin Versions
Ruth came from Philadelphia to participate

I was reminded about how important it is to take a creative day away from the everyday. It was good to catch up with women I rarely have the opportunity to be with. And, of course, the potluck interlude for lunch was over-the-top! There are a lot of good cooks in Oaxaca — even extrajeras!

Virgin of Guadalupe altar, Teotitlan del Valle church

Then, to put a cap on an already glorious day, at the end of the day I returned to Teotitlan del Valle. In the church courtyard, Los Danzantes de la Pluma were paying homage to the Virgin with their traditional Dance of the Feather. As evening descended into darkness and warmth turned to chill, the village gathered here in celebration of ancient traditions. Pre-Hispanic traditions.

Guadalupe, Queen of Mexico, honored in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca
Taking big leaps for the Virgin of Guadalupe, Teotitlan del Valle
Doña Marina and La Malinche twirl in honor of the Virgin
This is her first year of a three-year commitment

Virgin of Guadalupe Textiles Show in Mexico City

Created and curated by Oaxaca folk art collector Linda Hanna, this is a not-to-be-missed exhibition of hand-woven and embroidered textiles — an Homage to the Virgin of Guadalupe and who she is. The textiles — huipiles, rebozos, and other unique pieces — feature the image of our revered Mexican Mother, La Virgen de Guadalupe.

This is a testimony to the artistry and skill of Mexican artisans.

This is the first time the textiles will be exhibited in Mexico City. If you are visiting or live nearby, please see the exhibition at the Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares in Coyoacan (near Casa Azul). The exhibition opens December 4, 2019, and is spectacular and memorable.

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.  

The Virgin of Guadalupe Photo Essay: From Primitive to Painterly

The Franz Mayer Museum in Mexico City is featuring a special exhibition about the Virgin of Guadalupe.  The images include primitive figures in carved wood, elaborate paintings and wood carvings from church altars, woven and embroidered textiles, and contemporary 2016 photographs by Federico Gama taken at the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City.

Why am I so taken with this exhibition? Certainly not from a religious point-of-view, but from one interested in the cultural expression of this great nation. The Virgin of Guadalupe is Mexico’s own, personal patron saint.

To me, she is a woman of strength and valor, able to transform and uplift a nation. She is Mother Earth, fertility and blessing. Her figure transcends and tricks the Spanish overlord. She is disguised as and more than the Virgin Mary. Her roots are indigenous. She belongs to the people.

I am also taken with the various artistic expressions of her figure, how she is depicted: from facial expressions, use of color and shadows on the folds of her gown, the portrayal of the angel at her feet, from simple to elaborate. It seems that everyone had their own version of the Virgin of Guadalupe vision.

As my friend, artist Lena Bartula says, In Guad We Trust. 

Virgin of Guadalupe Exvoto

I hope you enjoy this visual expression of Mexican life.

Stone church carving

Ceramic plate from Patzcuaro

A Federico Gama portrait

Even the Virgin wants us to drink Pepsi

Close up of the angel, 18th century

A book engraving

One artist’s version with apparitions and flowers

Another version with a different cloak and coloring

Note the more elaborate Mexican flag on the angel’s wings

A polychrome figure, perhaps from Oaxaca

A Federico Gama portrait at the Basilica de Guadalupe

Inlaid oyster shell portrait

Exvoto, giving thanks to the Virgin for a car purchase

Embroidered textile, huipil

Ceramic and alpaca metal from Guadalajara

A primitive painting, every bit as meaningful

Formalized altar construction