Monday, December 12, 2022 is the Feast Day to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico, canonized in 1887 by Pope Leo XIII, revered. Most of us who live in Mexico know the story and many of us have been to the Basilica named in her honor in Mexico City, the most visited Catholic shrine in the world. She is the amalgamation of the Virgin Mary and Mother Earth, Goddess of Corn, Fertility and Abundance known in pre-Hispanic Aztec Mexico as Tonantzin, the Divine Mother, and protector of women.
Syncretism is what made the adoption of Spanish Catholicism possible in the Americas, and especially in Mexico. Combining the figure of the Divine Mother with the Virgin Mary was a way to ensure acceptance of the new religion without completely discarding the feminine-centric belief system, although the conquerors had hope to do just that! Today, the Virgin of Guadalupe is more revered than the central Christian figure of Jesus.
Because the Virgin of Guadalupe represents empowerment, compassion, motherhood, goodness, social justice and independence, it is easy for non-believers to join the millions of Mexican and Mexican-American faithful to adopt and honor her for these attributes on December 12. She is symbolic of Mexican identity and culture.
Here in New Mexico, once a part of New Spain and then a Mexican territory, the Virgin of Guadalupe is also ubiquitious. As I drive from Taos to Santa Fe, I pass road signs pointing to small villages where a Virgin of Guadalupe church or chapel administers to the local people. Taos artist Lynn Garlick creates retablos that feature the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the Virgin figures predominantly in the Colonial arts section of the Millicent Rogers Museum, along with primitive Santos and Bultos, paintings and carvings of saints created by locals who had no access to sophisticated Spanish religious art.
She is reproduced on everything: refrigerator magnets, t-shirts, jewelry, handbags and tote bags. She adorns the backs of jean jackets sold in Oaxaca clothing and folk art galleries. Even Walmart sells t-shirts with her image emblazoned on the front. As an iconic figure, the Virgin of Guadalupe is definitely part of the popular culture.
We see her on aprons, dish towels, and tablecloths. And, as things go in this direction, it’s important to reflect on the history of her development in the Americas and what she represents today for women who live in rural, male-dominated societies that are repressive, oppressive, and often manifest in femicide.
I see the Virgin of Guadalupe as a universal image to embrace as the embodiment of unconditional love, acceptance, perseverance and fortitude. For me, she is more than and goes beyond her religious roots to encompass all that is beautiful and hopeful. It is easy to embrace and honor her! They say that to be a true Mexican, one must believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe. Count me in!
In recent years, I have written much about the Virgin of Guadalupe. You may want to read these posts, too.
- Virgin of Guadalupe: Digging Deeper
- Virgin of Guadalupe: La Reina de Mexico
- Virgin of Guadalupe: Revisted–Who is she?
- Virgin of Guadalupe: Photo Essay, From Painterly to Primitive
- Virgin of Guadalupe: Goddess of the People
My bet is if you go to a Mexican grocery store (or even a Walmart that caters to Latinos), you will find a tall votive candle with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Lighting it would be a great way to honor her and all women everywhere, especially those who struggle in repressive systems that abuse their personhood.
And, we are not immune in Oaxaca!