Today is the feast day, in the Catholic Church, of Our Lady of Guadalupe. For those that don’t know, here’s the story.
The short form is this: in Mexico, 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared to an indigenous man named Juan Diego (Cuauhtlatoatzin before his baptism), and after a series of events and apparitions to him, the apparition became forever remembered as she imprinted her image onto his tilma, a type of cloak, as he confessed of the Virgin appearing before him to the (until then) skeptic Archbishop. The miracle convinced the Archbishop of Juan Diego’s plea to build a church (now the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe) where the apparitions occurred, and the tilma remains intact, with the image our lady, to this day, and hangs in the Basilica.
Now, why is this important? Well, the symbolism of the Virgin in her apparition was understandable to the indigenous, Nahuatl speaking people, who understood the symbols in their own cultural practices. I’m going to summarize a lot here, but if you want to read more, there are some really good online sources here. The same symbols pointed them to the truth in the Catholic teachings: essentially, the dawn of a new age.
What’s most important, in this aspect, is the color of the Virgin’s skin. She is neither white, like the Spaniards, who ten years before conquered the land, nor dark skinned like the indigenous people. She is mid-dark, medium brown skinned, with dark hair and eyes. She is Mestiza, and the first of a new nation: the Mestizos, which overwhelmingly make up the majority of the population of modern Mexico.
She also served as a point where many of the Aztec (the Mexica) and other Nahuatl speaking people felt called to conversion.
Now, why is she important today? A few reasons…
She served as a way for people to connect with Christianity, which in the 16th century, was via the image reminiscent of Tonanzin, the Aztec goddess of fertility. But she was also female, and for those who felt either uncomfortable or unable to connect with what is usually characterized as a male God (though God has no gender, that usually is the characterization), a female, womanly, motherly figure is usually more approachable. She has countless miracles to her name, the first being her apparition on the tilma, and how the tilma still has yet to fade or deteriorate in the almost 500 years since.
Most importantly, though, she has transcended being simply a religious figure. Her significance is also cultural. Countless times she has been the banner behind which the marginalized people of Mexico have rallied, including under Guadalupe of Hidalgo, the Mexican Priest-Soldier who essentially started the began the War for Independence which ended in Mexico’s independence in 1821.
She is now also a strong symbol for Mexican Americans, and her devotion on both a religious and cultural level continue now in both countries.
She is a major game changer, and is called upon in the lives of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in times of need, but also in times of celebration and rejoice. Those unfamiliar with the Catholic teachings and practice might assume that she is “worshiped” (as all other forms of Mary are also accused of) just as God is, but would be incorrect in this assumption. She, along with the saints, is venerated and is adored, not worshipped, and is prayed to, but for intercession through God and Jesus Christ, her son, not out of her own authority, as all of her authority comes from God. We, the faithful, also ask that she pray for us, and is especially venerated above all of the other saints for her being the mother of Jesus Christ, the risen God.
Now, after all the looking into her history, and her symbolism and importance, and the theology I needed to throw in there, you might ask why I wrote about her. Well, again, it is her feast day, but Our Virgin of Guadalupe holds a special place in my own heart. She is a motherly figure, and considering the special devotion and connection that my own mother feels with her, I feel a special connection with the Virgin through my mother, who was my first teacher in the faith. Now, you might know that the rest of my family isn’t super Catholic or anything, but because of La Virgin, which my father also adores, I feel especially close to the faith and my family through her image.
She is also, in a way, the patroness of this blog, which is why, besides the hawk image, which has been the mascot and logo for the blog since the early days, the Virgin has become a sort or image or secondary logo, and her face is found on the home page.
I also turn to her when I feel most lost or confused, or when I feel I have no where else to turn. Since a young age, and maybe only out of habit, when I don’t know what else I can do, I always to to Our Lady. She has always been there for me in times of need, and to console my heart, when I feel distant from even God’s love and kindness. She is the symbol of my faith when it seem I am so far removed from it.
So there, there’s a whole sectioned off, full (basically an) essay about Our Lady of Guadalupe (with sources!).
If you are interested in this, or other stuff related to this, a good start is Vergilio Elizondo’s book, The Future is Mestizo (2000). The Chapter entitled “My People Resurrect at Tepecác” is all about this particular symbol.
Timothy Matovina’s book, “Latino Catholicism“ is also really fantastic.
Alright, as something completely unrelated, here’s a link to a blog I wrote 3 years ago.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like my style has changed quite a bit, and my writing really as grown up.
I know tonight I’ll be praying to Our Lady, and I hope that you also pray for me, as I will pray for you.