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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Mascaras Mexicanas: Mexican Masks — Dances, Dieties, Identity
A new temporary special exhibition at the Palacio Nacional (National Palace) on the Zocalo in Mexico City features hundreds of hand-made masks from towns and villages throughout Mexico.
This is the same building that houses Diego Rivera murals, so if you go there soon, don’t miss this. Enter on side street through security, go to second floor.
I returned on my last day in the Federal District and spent about an hour-and-a-half learning more about Mexican art and culture. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In ancient civilizations one of the main functions of ritual masks was to represent gods to worship them in religious celebrations. This was designed to support natural and social equilibrium.
In pre-Hispanic Mexico, masks served as elements of transformation that allowed rulers and priests to assume the identity of their gods during ritual ceremonies. This helped bridge communication between the spiritual and natural world.
The gold mask, above right, was found in a Monte Alban, Oaxaca tomb.
Sculptures, reliefs, murals and figurines from throughout Mesoamerica show ancient members of the elite personifying deities with the masks and attire that empowered them.
If you come with us on Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Art History Study Tour in February or March, you can drop in to see this show.
According to the exhibition curators, since the time of the Spanish conquest in 1521, the invaders prevented pre-Hispanic civilizations from freely practicing their religious customs. The conquistadores imposed their will by force. The Catholic religious friars sought to supplant native ancestral traditions by incorporating Christian ideas into native rituals.
Despite these efforts, pre-Hispanic symbols survived and indigenous people continue to observe their ancient religion under the veil of Catholicism. New masks arose from this cultural mixing (mestizaje) with an original combination of symbols that continue to the present in many regions throughout Mexico.
This provides continuity for ceremonial and celebratory traditions. Many communities throughout Mexico, such as Teotitlan del Valle, where I live, practice rites and dances like Dance of the Feather (Danza de la Pluma) from viceregal times in which costumes and masks play a central role in the celebrations.
La Malinche mask, left, called Maringuilla bonita, is from the Purepecha Danza de los Viejitos, Michoacan. Here she appears as a sweet, modest young woman. To the right is Moor Mask from the Sierra Norte, Oaxaca, with eyelashes and red cheeks depicting cultural exoticism.
The masks are handmade from gold, precious stones such as jade, turquoise, malachite and coral, wood, paper, straw, textiles and other materials. All the indigenous people of Mexico, including Aztecs, Mayans, Zapotecs, Purepechas and others used them.
Sacred dances in pre-Hispanic Mexico were ceremonies of invocation that found resonance in Catholicism as indigenous people were folded into the Spanish concept of small towns or barrios under the sponsorship of patron saints.
Right, Huichol mask from the Sierra Madre of Jalisco. The Huichol people do intricate beadwork.
Indigenous people adopted and venerated these saint along with their own ancestors and pre-Hispanic deities. Friars promoted village feast days during the liturgical calendar and introduced morality plays. These were dramas based on sacred history and events that focused on the struggle between good and evil.
Often featured in these dances are masks representing Judas, Jews, Moors and the devil. The purpose of this was to instill fear and respect in the local population along with the message that they were defeated and obliged to strictly obey the new religion. I have no personal evidence today of any anti-Semitism in Mexico, that continues to welcome dissidents and disenfranchised.
We see in the Hall of Festivals at the Secretary of Public Education Building in Mexico City, many of these celebrations painted by Diego Rivera in his murals. Masks in this exhibit depict the Deer Dance from Sinaloa, also featured by Rivera.
La mascara posee un extraño poder de sugestiøn sobre la imaginaciøn … es la sintesis, la esencia de la deidad, del demonio, muerto o héroe qu se trata de representar. — Miguel Covarrubias
The mask has a strange power of suggestion on the imagination … it is the synthesis, and represents the essence of deity, demon, death or hero. — Miguel Covarrubias
The exhibition takes a step beyond the traditional to include the work of Mexican contemporary artists who work in various media. This painting (below) by Frida Kahlo, My Nanny and Me, is on loan for this exhibition from its home at the Dolores Olmedo Museum.
Evoking Frida Kahlo: Making Altars and Shrines Art Workshop
The painting is part of this exhibition because of the masked wet-nurse representing indigenous culture that provides sustenance.
Also included are the work of artists Francisco Toledo (paper mask) and Germån Cueto (wood mask), and painters and printmakers whose names I didn’t record (sorry).
Today, we often hide behind the mask we present to the world as a way of self-protection, self-preservation. In the days before the popularity of mask-wearing for Halloween, the mask was a symbol for deception, hypocrisy, and lies.
Instead, we can hide behind a straight face, make-up, choice of clothing to present who we are — to project “our face” outward. It is interesting to think that an exhibition of this type can cause each of us to ask the question, Who am I?How do I present myself and how am I “seen” in the world?
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Travel & Tourism, Workshops and Retreats
Tagged art, culture, exhibit, Frida Kahlo, gallery, indigenous, masks, mestizo, Mexican, Mexico, Mexico City, mixed media, pre-Hispanic, Spanish, syncretism