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
Who is the Virgin of Guadalupe, Patron Saint of Mexico
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.
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!
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Oaxaca Mexico art and culture
Tagged Mexico, Oaxaca, Virgin of Guadalupe, Who is she