Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Our Lady of Guadalupe


Our Lady of Guadalupe (Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe or Virgen de Guadalupe) is a 16th century Roman Catholic icon depicting an apparition of the Virgin Mary. It is Mexico's most beloved religious and cultural image.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is known in Mexico as "La Virgen Morena", which means "The brown-skinned Virgin". Our Lady of Guadalupe's feast day is celebrated on December 12, commemorating the account of her appearances to Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City from December 9 through December 12, 1531.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is a cultural symbol of significant importance to the Mexican identity.
Some historians speculate that the icon was meant to syncretically represent both the Virgin Mary and the indigenous Mexican goddess Tonantzin, providing a way for 16th century Spaniards to gain converts among the indigenous population of early Mexico.

According to the story generally accepted by Catholics, Juan Diego was walking between his village and Tolpetlac, near Mexico City), where the Catholic mission was headquartered, on Saturday December 9, 1531. Along the way, on Tepeyac Hill, the Virgin Mary appeared, speaking to him in his native Nahuatl language. She called him Juanito, the dimunitive form of his name.

"Juanito, my son, where are you going?" "Noble lady", he murmured, I am on my way to the church in Tlatelolco to hear Mass." The lady smiled and said:"Know for certain, dearest of my sons, that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God, through whom everything lives, the Lord of all things, who is Master of Heaven and Earth. I ardently desire a teocalli (temple) to be built for me where I will show and offer all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful Mother, the Mother of all who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who have confidence in me."

She continued by saying: "Here I will hear their weeping and their sorrows, and will remedy and alleviated their sufferings, necessities and misfortunes. Therefore, in order to realise my intentions, go to the house of the Bishop of Mexico City and tell him that I sent you and that it is my desire to have a teocalli built here. Tell him all that you have seen and heard. Be assured that I shall be very grateful and will reward you for doing diligently what I have asked of you. Now that you have heard my words, my son, go and do everything as best you can."

When Juan Diego spoke to the Spanish bishop, Juan de Zumárraga, the bishop did not believe him, asking for a miraculous sign. The Virgin told Juan Diego to gather flowers from a hill, even though it was winter, when no plants bloom. He found Castilian roses and presented these to the bishop. When the roses fell from his tilma (a kind of apron) an icon of the Virgin remained imprinted on the cloth.

Thereafter, Spanish missionaries used the story of her appearance to help convert millions of indigenous people in what had been the Aztec Empire. Our Lady of Guadalupe is deeply important to the faith of Catholics in Mexico and the rest of Latin America, and she has been recognised as patron saint of Mexico City since 1737.

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Michele Bilyeu blogs "With Heart and Hands" as she journeys between Douglas, Alaska and Salem, Oregon.