Worship & Celebrations
Celebrating the Virgin of Guadelupe
The Reverend Julie-Ann Silberman-Bunn
Today we are celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe. Why you might well ask yourself, or me? So let me tell you. As a Unitarian Universalist minister, I believe it is my task, my challenge and obligation to be aware and sensitive to the celebrations of others. I make no pretense of celebrating the holiday of another culture, as that would be cultural misappropriation, but I do endeavor to be informed about what is of significant to others. Learning and becoming informed about the ways in which others are celebrating the Virgin of Guadelupe, and why they are celebrating the Virgin of Guadelupe is integral in our being good neighbors and citizens of the world.
I believe it is my task, my challenge and obligation to be aware and sensitive to the celebrations of others.
The quick version of the story about who is the Virgin of Guadelupe and why she is celebrated is told in this recap from wiki-pedia: Our Lady of Guadalupe (Spanish : Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe), also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe (Spanish : Virgen de Guadalupe; Nahuatl : Tonantzin Guadalupe) is a celebrated of the Catholic icon of the Virgin Mary.
According to tradition, Juan Diego a simple indigenous peasant, saw a vision of a young woman on December 9, 1531, while he was on the hill of near Tepeyac, Mexico City, Mexico. He told a local Bishop, who asked for some proof. Three days later, the image of Mary appeared miraculously on his cloak when he was showing it to the bishop. Today the cloak is displayed in the Basilica of Guadelupe nearby, one of the most visited Catholic shrines in the world. The Virgin of Guadalupe is Mexico's most popular religious and cultural image, with the titles "Queen of Mexico", "Empress of the Americas", and "Patroness of the Americas"; both Miguel Hidalgo (in the Mexican War of Independence) and Emilio Zapata (during the Mexican Revolution) carried flags bearing the Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Guadalupe Victoria, the first Mexican president changed his name in honor of the icon.
So while we northerners are fairly clueless about the importance of the Virgin of Guadelupe, she is as important as can be in the history of our neighbors to the south, and she is also what we would think of at this time of year approaching Christmas as the Virgin Mother. The conflagration of Guadalupe and Mary or Maria seems an easy one among adherents to the Catholic faith, especially those of Latin and Hispanic cultures that lift Mary, the Madonna, or Guadalupe to great significance. So let me share with you now a much more detailed story of La Virgent Indigena-Guadalupe by Dale Hoyt Palfrey: In 1523, just two years after the Aztec capital of Tenochitlan fell to Hernán Cortés and his Conquistadors, the first Roman Catholic missionaries arrived to begin the religious conquest of Mexico. Fray Bernadino de Sahagún and his fellow Franciscan brothers immediately immersed themselves in the intensive study of indigenous tongues along with the history, customs and religious practices of the Mexicas, whom they called Aztecs. Soon, fluent in Nahuatl, they proceded to translate religious texts and teach the Christian doctrines.
Among their first converts was a man baptized with the Christian name Juan Diego. On the chilly morning of December 9, 1531, Juan Diego crossed the barren hill called Tepeyac to attend Mass. He was brought to a sudden halt by a blinding light and the sound of unearthly music. Before him appeared an astounding vision--a beautiful dark-skinned woman who, calling the Indian "my son," declared herself to be the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. She told Juan Diego it was her desire to have a church built on Tepeyac hill, and asked him to relay that message to Bishop Juan de Zumarraga.
It was no easy task for the humble Indian to be granted an audience with the top prelate, but the persistent Juan Diego was finally admitted. The incredulous Bishop demanded that he be provided with some proof of the unlikely encounter. Confused and fearful, Juan Diego avoided Tepeyac for several days, but on December 12, while rushing to find a priest to attend a seriously ill uncle, he took a short cut across the hill. The Virgin once again appeared and Juan Diego told her of the Bishop's request. The Virgin instructed him to pick roses from the usually sere and desolate hill and deliver them to Zumarraga as the sign.
Juan Diego gathered up the miraculous blossoms in his mantle and hurried off to complete his mission. Once again before the Bishop, he let the roses spill out before him. To the wonder of all assembled, a perfect image of La Virgen Morena (the Dark Virgin) was revealed emblazoned on Juan Diego's cloak.
By order of the Bishop, a small church was soon constructed on the site designated by the Virgin. Skeptics are quick to point out the unlikely coincidence of the Virgin's appearance on Tepeyac, the very site of an Aztec temple dedicated to Tonatzin (earth godess, mother of the gods and protectress of humanity) which had been devastated by order of Bishop Zumarraga.
The original church was replaced by a larger structure built in 1709. The Miracle of Guadalupe was officially recognized by the Vatican in 1745. The second sanctuary was declared a Basilica in 1904, but by then it had begun to slowly sink into the soft, sandy soil beneath it. A new Basilica, of modern design and enormous capacity, was dedicated in October of 1976. In this and other churches dedicated to La Virgen de Guadalupe throughout the nation, millions of the faithful will gather December 12 for processions, prayers, songs, dances, and fireworks to honor "La Reina de México" (the Queen of Mexico).
Juan Diego's mantle, carefully preserved in the new Basilica, has been subjected to extensive analysis over the years. Experts have authenticated the fabric as dating to the 16th century, but have been unable to determine the type of pigment from which the image was rendered. It seems doubtful that in the Colonial era in Mexico human hands were capable of creating a portrait of its exquisite nature. Most wondrous of all, after 465 years, the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe remains clearly imprinted on the miraculous cloak without visible signs of deterioration.
Published or Updated on: January 1, 2006 by © 2008
I find myself deeply in love with a story that intertwines the holiest of sites of the pre-Christian people of the land we call Mexico, with that of the Christian’s who invaded and proclaimed the land theirs.
Catholicism, like most religions, is an interesting mix of history, legend, cultural practice and necessity. While I am not Catholic, and often a skeptic, I find myself deeply in love with a story that intertwines the holiest of sites of the pre-Christian people of the land we call Mexico, with that of the Christian’s who invaded and proclaimed the land theirs. The appearance of the Dark Virgin, to the Christians on a site holy to the Aztec’s and home of their temple….a temple dedicated toTonatzin seems more than coincidence, but rather that truth that I understand that in all religions what is holy is holy. We may know the holy in different ways and by different names but we do not get to redefine what is holy, only to rename and claim the holy in ways that are comfortable to out own history, traditions and beliefs. By order of the Bishop, a small church was soon constructed on the site designated by the Virgin.
Skeptics, Palfrey points out, are quick to point out the unlikely coincidence of the Virgin's appearance on Tepeyac, the very site of an Aztec temple dedicated to Tonatzin (earth goddess, mother of the gods and protectress of humanity) which had been devastated by order of Bishop Zumarraga. I would counter that view and ask where else would the Goddess appear? The desire of the Catholics might be to deny the holiness of the goddess. Known to their predecessors, but the goddess herself had no need to be exclusively known by one name or the other, nor was she simply limited to the names of the Aztecs or the Christian. She is known by many names and at this time of year as our Wiccan and Pagan brothers and sisters begin their preparations for Yule and Solstice or in the southern hemisphere Litha they are invoking many other names for the goddess.
While we love the story, and the imagery we try to keep the theology at arms length.
The challenge for most Unitarian Universalists is in the believing in the magic, the holiness of a deity, the cultural impact of the tale, and all of it’s mystical implications, while we love the story, and the imagery we try to keep the theology at arms length.
I, as a life long Unitarian Universalist, have no such need. I love to embrace the culture and legacy of all faiths, and particularly the faiths that hold a goddess, of beauty and power central to the practice of faith and understanding. I know of no more beautiful images of the goddess than those of the Virgin of Guadalupe or Tonatzin that I have seen. I am particularly fascinated from an artistic perspective by the more primitive and glorious images indolent with gold and bright colors that represent goddesses whose skin is darker--like so many of the worlds people.
The obsession with the goddess looking like “us” as must Jesus or God is one I have never comprehended. I have much more comfort with people looking like they originate from the lands we claim they inhabited.. However the story of the Virgin of Guadelupe is not limited to this story of Juan Diego. Over the years, the image of the Virgin at this site has continually restored itself, or mysteriously avoided destruction when all around it has been destroyed. As the story tells in 1921, a bomb exploded near by, a Brass crucifix was bent, windows were blown out near by, but the apron, or cloth in which the original image of the virgin appeared to Juan Diego remained undamaged.
If there was ever cause for something to be raised to the level of holy this image, and the shrines that have protected it over the years have stood that test. And while hundreds of thousands flock to honor this image on December 12th year after year, we are hard pressed to even be aware of the story of Juan Diego and the Virgin of Guadalupe.
May you find in your holiday celebrations room to begin recognizing the Holy Woman honored by our Mexican neighbors. Amen, Salaam, Sholom and Blessed Be.