Merry, Mary, Merry,... Guadalupe... her special day is actually so close to the Winter's Solstice that it is time to be Merry that those longer days of light begin around December 21st.
Because red-suited fat guys are not all that this season represents. In the land of deserts and conquerors, another honored person still exists, called Nuestra Senora or Virgen [ meaing pure, not a sexual state ], but always Guadalupe [ and with the familiarity and maternal warmth in her projected image].
December 12th is another way to celebrate our winter holidays. December 12th is the celebrated day of "Our Lady" or "Virgin", actually Tonantzin... and only later called "Guadalupe" by the Spaniards.
For a change, away from credit-eating stores trying to sell us more stuff, discounted or just so-advertised, we need to try another version of celebration. Go downtown to the church at La Plazaita, across from the commercialized Olvera street and enter where the hearts of Mexicans press together - families who bring their prayers, their flowers and candles, and show their beloved children to honor Nuestra Senora ["de las Americas", added later] Guadalupe.
Don’t wait for the commercialized, consumerist, propagandized, later day in December to celebrate. Next year you too can bring your own family down, by bus if you prefer, to La Plazita Church across from Olvera St. in downtown LA in the late afternoon and immerse yourself in an allied culture from near our own borders. Bring your children, your cameras, your appetite, and your curiosity. And a candle or flowers, too. Parking is in nearby lots. The experience is exquisite. And fun!
But who is this special woman, the Guadalupe, the iconic image seen everywhere else also in LA ?
The story is essentially told like this =
that a special devotion to Guadalupe started almost 475 years ago when the image of a beautiful brown-skinned woman appeared to an Indian, Juan Diego, on Tepeyac hill near Mexico City.
Although it was December, the apparition, [later named ] "Guadalupe", told Juan Diego to take the Castilian roses she produced right there for him -- those roses which were out of season and not found in those arid lands in the cold winter. She told him to gather the beautifully blooming flowers in his cloak and to present them to the high Catholic bishop, to show them as a sign of her presence. She also requested that a temple be built in her name by the Catholics who were dominating the religious countryside.
Juan Diego had to return to the Spanish Bishop 3 times before he was given any credence. Then, finally, when the poor humble Indian unfolded his cactus-fiber cloak, the actual beautiful roses fell out and at the same time, miraculously, Guadalupe's image was emblazoned on his tilma - shirt -- and showed the dark-skinned Aztec princess, standing in front of the sun and on top of a crescent moon.
Juan Diego has been depicted as just one plain and humble man from the native population, those who were preferably seen by their Spanish lighter-skinned rulers as ignornant peasants - being just a devout, and submissive people who repeatedly were only there to carry out orders.
He was just allowed to deliver a message man-to-man to the ruling conquerors and their religious counter-parties. The princess apparently did not deign to appear or make herself known directly to those who now ruled these Mexican lands.
The Catholic version likes to claim that seven years after Guadalupe's apparition, some 8 million Indians were converted to their religion. Conversion may be the most important aspect of a religious group appropriating another group's apparitions, or a relevation, a visitation, and an actualization of a venerated figure, now a female ... and of more color.
Many people now still pray to her as a miracle worker no matter what they think about the formal Church where she has been appropriated. They will pray to Guadalupe even when they ostensibly must also pray to a grey-bearded God. Many mix their own traditional beliefs with the overlaid dominant Christian versions of who [all] rules the earth and heavens.
In 1754, 200 years after her noted sighting, Pope Benedict XIV declared that Our Lady of Guadalupe then patron of what was then called New Spain. Much later,
in 1946, Our Lady of Guadalupe was also decreed as the Patroness of the Americas by the Catholic all-male hierarchy. In 2002, Juan Diego was canonized in the Basilica in Mexico City.
It is not clear if Guadalupe was ever herself actually canonized, or made a 'saint' instead of her messenger. However, she has obviously been fully appropriated as if she is a saint or part of the religious iconography. How else could you explain the churches that continue to incorporate her images and utilize the veneration given to her in their own religious masses and prayers?
Some assume she must be the Virgin Mary of European depiction which seems to give more credence to the taking - of what was not actually Christian at all - as theirs. Who now is to say who Guadalupe actually is or was?
The main shrines of Guadalupe in Mexico D.F. had been preceded by the more indigenous temple on Tepeyac hill, honoring the earth and fertility goddess Tonantzin of that land - She represents our lady, our mother as earth is our mother, who, like Our Lady of Guadalupe, was also associated with the moon. In pre-Hispanic times. That temple in Mexico D.F. has been the site of large scale pilgrimages for a long period of time.
The original temple, which was dedicated to the Queen of Tepeyacac, was built near where Juan Diego had said he had seen her apparition,it is said. Tenochtitlan also was the Aztec capital city prior to the arrival of the Spanish. The area was known then as Atzacualpa or Atzacualco.
It is written that most Mexican Catholics believe that Guadalupe was a manifestation of the semitic Virgin Mary in their land, now the Americas, yet this was not found to be written down then by those same Mexicans.
So we now have to ask :
"how did the natives record this event or even make known her appearance or presence?
What media was used then? Where has it been preserved and recorded ?
Who depicted Guadalupe before the Catholics conquered and overlaid their story with their patriarchal dominant religious views and beliefs and with their parchment and ink ?
What was written over any original native recordings ?"
Though Guadalupe is NOT recorded as a saint nor raised to special religious status, she is still defined, re-framed and utilized as a duplication and apparition of the same Holy Mary that Catholics already own for their own religious stories and carefully crafted histories of special December winter events. All female deities are frequently defined by the Christian stories of a mother with child, named Mary...all later ones related to their original venerated woman.
Guadalupe is also seen and described as the sorrowful mother, a figure who embodies the suffering of Mexican & Latina populations. Many woman identify with this image as understanding their sad and difficult lives ...in a patriarchial male-dominated world. Even still today.
Interestingly, stories & controversy abound about the credibility of proof of Guadalupe’s visit. Some consider it miraculous that the tilma maintains its structural integrity after nearly 500 years, since replicas made with the same type of materials lasted only about 15 years before disintegrating. In addition, the tilma resisted an ammonia spill that made a considerable hole, which was reportedly repaired in two weeks with no external help. (It is not surprising to note that the Catholic bishop kept the original tilma containing the sacred image in his private chapel. Upon completion of the main church, he then transferred the sacred image so that all others too may see it...taking the now sacred object for only Catholic use, and also keeping the valuable icon safe from and for the native people of whom she belongs.)
In 1921, an anarchist placed an offering of flowers next to the image. A bomb hidden within the flowers exploded and destroyed the shrine. However, the image suffered no damage. So, there seems that perhaps there are also supernatural physical “proofs” and forces that are still in existence, reminding us all about of her presence and relevance in Mexico City.
For further information to be learned on Guadalupe, you can visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Guadalupe
(c) MariaJ 2008