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Our Lady of Guadalupe - Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

"The image is one of the Virgin surrounded by the light of heaven and the stars of the winter solstice sky."

K.L. Moore

December 12th is traditionally known in Mexico as the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe) celebrating the manifestation of the Virgin Mary appearing to the Aztec Native Juan Diego on Dec 9, 1531.

As Juan Diego was on his way to morning services at a nearby church, he was stopped by the sound of heavenly music from the top of Tepeyac Hill (former site of worship for the Aztec Goddess Tonántzin). He climbed the hill and saw a dark skinned woman surrounded by light and music. She told Juan Diego she wanted a temple built on the very spot they were standing. She asked the Indian in his native tongue, Náhuatl, to go the Bishop Zumárraga and request that a church be erected in her honor.

Juan Diego went to the Bishop and made the request for the Virgin. As expected, the Bishop did not believe the Juan Diego. The Bishop wanted proof. The Bishop didn't trust the Juan Diego and had some men follow him, but as he went over a hill he disappeared. Several days later, when Juan Diego was rushing to find a priest for his dying uncle, she appeared again to him. She instructed him to take his tilma (cape made from cactus fibers) and gather up all the roses that had miraculously grown at her feet, despite the winter frost. Juan Diego took these flowers to the Bishop, and as they poured out from his tilma, an image of the Virgin appeared on it. The image is one of the Virgin surrounded by the light of heaven and the stars of the winter solstice sky. It is this tilma, the relic of the Basílica de Guadalupe, for which millions of people make a pilgrimage to the Tepeyac Shrine in Mexico City every year on the 12th of December.

The relic itself has been extensively studied over the years and its image is one of the most recognizable religious images in the world. The stars represented on the Virgin's mantle are said to be the exact constellations that were present at the time the tilma was presented to the Bishop. The painting technique is said to resemble that of the Early Renaissance in the way the figure is presented and its gilded elements. The image contains both American and Mediterranean occidental symbols as well as Pre-Hispanic iconography. The image represents a combination of both cultures and became the impetus for the conversion of over 6 million Native Mexicans to Catholicism immediately following the sighting. The relic itself, the tilma is made of coarse agave fibers and has been inexplicably preserved after 400 years of being touched and handled. And has withstood attempts at degradation by humidity, saltpeter and acid, it remains complete and on display to this day.

El Dia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, is one of the most important religious holidays in Mexico, perhaps even more significant than Christmas. It draws millions of visitors to Mexico City every year. And all over Mexico, on the eve of the anniversary of the final appearance of the Virgin, cities have their own processions through their towns. Young girls and boys are chosen to represent the Virgin and Juan Diego from their respective churches. The girls dress as the Virgin appeared in native dress with ribbons in their hair and the boys dress as Juan Diego with tilmas and straw hats. People decorate their cars and trucks with red roses and parade to their churches, where a special mass is held. As all holidays, the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe unites people and families, but this special holiday unites all of Mexico.

December 2000

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