As always, when it's a special day in Mexico, it's a special day on my blog! Today we are going to learn about the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, one of the most significant historical/religious events in Mexico.
The first time I witnessed this feast day was when I first arrived in Mexico and was living in Cozumel. I had decided to head out to the beach one day but could not get down the streets, everything was closed off and there were floods of people everywhere. The beach plan was abandoned and I decided to go with the flow and see what was happening. I discovered lines of cars decorated with altars to the Virgin of Guadalupe and a huge procession traveling slowly through the streets. Brightly coloured flowers bedecked every surface and people carried candles, statues of the virgin, rosaries, crosses and signs honouring Guadalupe. It was quite a serious affair and I wish I had known at the time exactly what was going on, perhaps I would have looked less like the gawking tourist I was.
Now that I have some years in Mexico under my belt, I have discovered just how very important this day is. For many, the Virgin of Guadalupe is the "mother of Mexico", the brown skinned version of the Virgin Mary. In the early 1500's, the Spanish conquered Mexico and brought with them their Catholic religion to start converting the indigenous people to Christianity. One of the first converts, Juan Diego was on his way to mass one morning when he was reportedly visited by an apparition on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City. He saw a blinding light and heard music and saw a vision of a woman. The woman spoke to him in Nahuatl (the Aztec language) and told him she was the mother of Jesus. She told him of her desire to have a church built on the hill and instructed him to notify the Bishop. Convincing the Bishop was no easy task, he demanded proof of this visitation. On December 12, 1531 Juan Diego was crossing Tepeyac Hill and was once again visited by the apparition. She told him that he needed to gather flowers from the hill and deliver them to the Bishop as his proof. He gathered the roses into his cloak and returned to the Bishop. As he presented the flowers, a miraculous image of the Virgin appeared on his cloak. The Bishop was convinced and the church was built.
There is considerable controversy about the whole event and scientists are still trying to determine if indeed the cloak is legitimate (it still exists and has been dated to the 16th century, but they cannot determine if the image was created at that time or if it is a fake). There is a lot of discussion about whether this was a ploy by the Spanish to convert more indigenous people to Christianity. The hill where she was seen was the location of an Aztec temple that the church had destroyed, and it is often said that the vision called herself by the name of an Aztec goddess in addition to claiming to be the mother of Jesus. It has been surmised that it may also have been a response from the indigenous people to the Catholic church, a way for them to continue honouring their own gods in the guise of a Christian saint.
Regardless of the controversy, Guadelupe is still the adored saint of Mexico and is a symbol of Mexico's identity. She is considered by some to be the first "mestizo" (person born of Spanish and indigenous blood) and therefore representative of the first "real" Mexican. Today millions of people will be walking or crawling to the altars and churches to offer thanks to the Virgin for their blessings or to ask for blessings for the future.
Not surprisingly, Cancun will not see a huge celebration of the event as they will in Mexico City. I walked around this morning looking for something, anything dedicated to the Virgin and saw nothing, even the church I went by was almost empty. This city is sadly a place of lost traditions and faith. People come to Cancun from their small pueblos, leaving their families and often their rituals get left behind as well. This is a city of McDonald's and Walmart and the American way. While I am not religious in the least, I find it very sad to hear my students speak about losing their heritage, they realize it's happening but they just don't care. MTV has replaced the pope. My students know more about Britney Spears than they do about the Virgin.