By MoKa Hammeken (Republished from 2011)
On December 12th, the day of the Virgen de Guadalupe, also known as our Señora of Guadalupe, is celebrated across Mexico. She is the Mexican representation of the Virgin Mary and whose sanctuary may be found in the Basilica of Guadalupe in the northern part of Mexico City.
According to legend, la Virgen de Guadalupe appeared four times on the hill of Tepeyac to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, an indigenous man from the area. On the fourth appearance, la Virgen ordered Juan Diego to go before the first Bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumárraga, and to take him some flowers. Wrapped in his ayate (traditional indigenous natural cloth woven from fibers of the maguey plant), Juan Diego took roses, as indicated to him by the apparition, that are not native to Mexico (Castillian roses) and that could not survive in the arid lands of the area.
When he reached his destination, Juan Diego opened up his cloak before the Bishop and as the roses fell they revealed the image of the Virgin Mary, yet with dark skin and indigenous traits.
These appearances are dated as having taken place in 1531, the last of them on December 12 according to canonical record of the appearances of Tepeyac (though other writers contend the origin was from the 17th century).
Yet before continuing to speak of Her, we should learn about why the name “Guadalupe.” The origin of the name Guadalupe has always been an area of controversy, and many possible explanations have been given. Nevertheless, in this case, we present the clearest theory which is that the name is a result of the translation from Nahuatl to Spanish of the words used by the Virgen during an appearance to Juan Bernardino, the sick uncle of Juan Diego. It is believed that Nuestra Señora used the Nahuatl term coatlaxopeuh, which is pronounced quatlasupe and sounds very similar to the Spanish word Guadalupe. “Coa” means snake, “tla” is the article the, while “xopeuh” means to squash or to crush. Therefore, Nuestra Señora referred to herself as “the one who crushes the snake.”
Taking into account a bit of the history, we can speak to the importance this image has for the Mexican people.
“The day in which the Virgen de Guadalupe is no longer adored on this land, will surely mark the disappearance of not only Mexican nationality, but also the memory of the country’s residents,” wrote the free-thinker Ignacio Manuel Altamirano in the 19th century.
One’s origin, social status, way of dress, education, profession, economic level, or place of birth does not matter, Mexicans are Guadalupanos through the culture in which they were educated and for many this is seen as a national symbol. “Nothing reminds one more of the faraway homeland while abroad,” say Mexican travelers, “than the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe.”
Mexico is a people chosen by the Virgen Maria. Just being within the sanctuary at the Basilica, in the atrium, or in its surroundings it is easy to see the thousands of people who seek God’s protection through the love of Santa Maria de Guadalupe.
It should also be understood the feelings spurred within Mexicans by Her image, which has been used strategically in war and political movements such as the war for Independence.
December 12th is one of the most celebrated days by all Mexicans, almost like September 16 (and September 15, Mexico’s Independence Day), being a significant date for the country. Historian Nemesio Rodriguez Lois affirms that “this is a phenomenon worth being analyzed by sociologists as within the Catholic religion no other Marian devotion has achieved the point of being held as a representative symbol for the identity of an entire people.”
The love and adoration that Mexicans feel for this religious image is so strong that there are people from across the country who make Guadalupana pilgrimages to the Basilica, striving to expunge their sins, or make this sacrifice in exchange for a miracle. Surrounded by song, prayer, smiles, sobbing, and tears, the image of the “dark Virgin” permeates all corners of the country in order to be venerated.
/ D Law