Mexico: Our Lady of Guadalupe

Greatly astonished, the Franciscan bishop of Mexico, Fray Juan de Zumarraga, contemplates the fresh roses of Castille that sprinkle with colors the floor of his episcopal palace. Tears run down his cheeks as he recognizes the beautiful image that has just appeared on the rough cloth that Juan Diego has unfolded in his presence. It is Tuesday, December 12, 1531, scarcely ten years after the conquest of Mexico, and the Mother of God has come to the defeated Indians to "show and give" all her "love and compassion, help and defense, because I am your merciful mother."

[Our
Lady of Guadalupe]

[Our Lady of Guadalupe]


For four days the Virgin has told her wishes to Juan Diego, talking to him in nahualtl, his own tongue. When she identified herself, Mary used the word coatlallope, a compound noun made up of coatl, that is: serpent, the preposition a, and llope, to crush; in other words, she identified herself as "the one who crushes the serpent." Others reconstruct the name as Tlecuauhtlapcupeuh, which means: "The one who comes from the region of light as the Eagle of Fire." In any event, the nahualtl word sounded to the Spanish friars like Guadalupe, relating the Tepeyac apparition with the beloved title which the conquistadores venerated in the Basilica raised by King Alfonso XI in 1340.


The Spanish image of "Guadalupe" is an ancient wood carving dressed in rich brocade cloaks that give it the triangular shape much favored at the time. She is very different from the Tepeyac painting, not only because of her Iberian-Byzantine features, but also because she carries the Child Jesus in her left arm and holds a royal scepter in her right hand, displaying a gold crown on her head. The Guadalupe of Cáceres, whose origin, according to legend, is placed about the sixth century, was found on the shore of the Guadalupe River (hidden river in Arabic) in the Villuercas mountain range, around 1326, after the Moors were driven out of that area.

Four hundred years elapsed before western culture recognized with admiration that the image imprinted on the native cloth was truly a Mexica codex, a message from heaven loaded with symbols. Helen Behrens, a North American anthropologist, discovered in 1945 what the eyes of the Indians had "read" in the painting of the "Mother of the true God by whom one lives" in December of 1531.

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe remained stamped on a coarse cloth made from maguey fibers. It was on the ayate used by the Indians to carry things and not on the tilma which is usually of a finer cotton texture. The weft of the ayate is so simple and coarse that one can see through it easily, and the fiber of the maguey is such an unsuitable material that no painter would have chosen it to paint on.

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a marvelous cutural synthesis, a masterpiece that presented the new faith in such a way that it was immediately understood and accepted by the Mexican Indians. It is impossible to describe the rich and complex symbolism contained on this painting-codex because every detail of color and of form carries a theological message.

The face imprinted in the ayate is that of a young mestizo girl; an ethnic anticipation, since at that time there were no mestizos of that age in Mexico. Mary thus assumes the sorrows of thousands of children, the first of a new race, which at that time was rejected both by the Indians and by the conquerors. The painting which is preserved in the modern Basilica of Tepeyac measures approximately sixty-six by forty-one inches and the image of the Virgin takes up fifty-six inches. The Virgin is standing and her face leans delicately, somewhat reminiscent of the traditional "Immaculates."

The blue star sprinkled cloak is the Tilma de Turquesa (turquoise tilma) used by the nobles that denoted the rank and importance of the bearer. Sun rays completely surround the Virgin of Guadalupe as if to indicate that she is their dawn. This young girl is a few months pregnant, as implied by the black bow at her waist, the slight protuberance below it, and the increased intensity of the sun rays at the waist. Her foot rests on a black moon (symbol of evil to the Mexica) and the angel, who supports her with a severe gesture, has his eagle wings unfolded.

The Virgin of Guadalupe presented herself to her children as the "Mother of the Creator and Preserver of All the Universe," who comes to her people because she wishes to protect all of them, Indians and Spaniards, with the same motherly love. With the wonderful imprint on the ayate a new world was beginning, the dawn of the sixth sun that the Mexicans were awaiting.

For 116 years the picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe was exposed to the rigors of the weather, with no protection against dust, humidity, heat, the candles' smoke and the continuous rubbing of thousands and thousands of objects that had been touched to the venerated image, in addition to the constant contact of the hands and kisses of an infinite number of pilgrims. It has been proven that the maguey fabric breaks down easily; cloth woven with this vegetable fiber does not last more than twenty years, and - nevertheless - Juan Diego's ayate has lasted over four centuries in perfect condition.

Pius X proclaimed Our Lady of Guadalupe "Patroness of all Latin America"; Pius XI of "all the Americas"; Pius XII called her "Empress of the Americas"; and John XXIII "The celestial missionary of the New World" and "the Mother of the Americas."

Every year twenty million faithful approach the venerated picture to express their affection and veneration to their heavenly Mother. It is estimated that on her feast day, December 12, nearly three million people go to the Sanctuary of Tepeyac, whose round shape symbolizes the tent that sheltered the Ark of the Covenant in its march through the desert; the inside lamps which hang from the ceiling are reminiscent of the cloud that led the people of God day by day, and the shining gold wall that supports the picture represents the column of fire and light that indicated the way during the night. In this great basilica John Paul II beatified the Indian Juan Diego on May 6, 1990.

There have been serious attempts against the picture and it has withstood corrosive acids and even a large bomb without suffering damage. Now a thick strong glass protects it inside the air-conditioned room which is closed like a strong box. The faithful can look at the picture from a moving mat which slides in two directions so the devotees will not remain in ecstasy contemplating their beloved Virgin. The marvels in connection with the Virgin of Guadalupe have interested today's scientists, who have been unable to determine both the origin of the pigments that give color to the picture and how it was painted. The images reflected in the eyes of the Virgin of Guadalupe have been studied since 1929. At present, thanks to modern techniques, it has been possible to discover in both eyes groups of people and objects placed in accordance with the most precise optical laws; just as in the eyes of a live person. It is as if the "painter" of the picture had wanted to reproduce inside the eyes of the image the scene that these were seeing at the time.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is deep in the hearts of her people; she gave Juan Diego a delicate treatment of nobility elevating prophetically the condition of all her people. Because of this she was the banner raised by Father Miguel Hidalgo to begin the revolution for Mexican Independence.

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Nicaragua: Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of El Viejo

The small village of "El Viejo" clustered around a Franciscan mission of the early colonial period, is very near the Pacific coast. The Sanctuary of Our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception of El Viejo, is located in this village of far western Nicaragua. Although there is no historic evidence of it, it is said that the image, which has been venerated there since the sixteenth century, was brought to America by a relative of St. Therese of Avila, whose last name was Cepeda. Some have even maintained that it was the saint's brother, Rodrigo de Cepeda Ahumada, but there is no proof of this.

Tradition holds that St. Therese of Jesus gave this image to her relative, who took it with him everywhere. He arrived with it in Central America, landing at "Realejo," which was then the most important port of Nicaragua. Soon he moved to the Franciscan mission in search of a healthier climate. A room in his house became an oratory, where the neighbors went attracted by the beautiful expression of the Immaculate Virgin's face. When Cepeda received orders to transfer to Peru, he tried to take the image of the Immaculata with him, but the move kept getting postponed time and time again because of bad weather; until he realized it was God's will that he give up his beloved image and leave it among the people who had learned to love her so quickly. The Virgin remained forever in Nicaragua.

The image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of El Viejo is a handsome woodcarving measuring approximately thirty-three inches. She is, dressed in beautiful robes which are changed often. Her sweet face is dark colored, and she is looking down modestly. Her hands are folded on her breast as if interceding for her children. The carving is kept in a silver reliquary which safeguards her and is usually veiled by a curtain that is opened when the faithful gather to venerate her.

There is a unique feature of the devotion to Our Lady of El Viejo: the sanctuary has a valuable collection of silver objects of different kinds, given to the image in gratitude for favors received. Each year, on December 6, these objects are taken out to the public plaza where the people congregate to clean and polish all the silver pieces; this is an annual event and not a single valuable article of the Virgin's treasure has ever been lost. This popular ceremony is known as "The Washing of the Silver."


For Nicaraguans, devotion to the Immaculate Conception is something cherished and deeply rooted. The traditional image of the Immaculate is always present in Catholic homes and churches, and the December 8 feast is a national event. On the eve of December 8, the famous Griterla (shouting) takes place. The families put up splendid altars in the homes that can be seen from outside. The people look inside shouting: "Who is the cause of our joy?" and the residents of the house respond, "Mary's Conception," then the visitors are treated to sweets and typical foods. It is the occasion for great festivities nationwide, with music, singing and dancing while waiting for the coming of the feast day of the patroness of the people of Nicaragua. [Our
Lady of The Immaculate Conception of El Vielo] [Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception of El Vielo]


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[Our
Lady of The Immaculate Concention]

Panama: The Immaculate Conception

Although the Church has not proclaimed the Immaculate Conception officially as the Patroness of the Republic of Panama, her feast day has been declared a national holiday.

Every December 8 is a feast day in Panama to celebrate the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which coincides with the traditional "Mothers' Day."


The Panamanian people have chosen several Marian titles to express their love of the Mother of God. Nuestra Señora de la Antigua is a canvas of the Virgin's Assumption whose veneration dates from before 1691. This painting is venerated by the faithful in the temple of Chirivi in Tunja, a very popular shrine located near the Turine River. The portrait, nearly two meters high and eighty centimeters wide, represents the Virgin with the child in her arms. Both figures have gold-plated silver imperial crowns superimposed. The feast of Our Lady of la Antigua is celebrated on the third Sunday of January. In a much visited small chapel in Panama City, the painting of "Our Lady of Mercy" is venerated. It is a painting of the Virgin, half-length, brought to Panama in the seventeenth century. It is said that when the pirate Henry Morgan attacked and set fire to the city in 1671, the painting remained intact although most of the city was destroyed.

There are other important devotions: La Virgen Hallada (The Virgin Found), a stone sculpture of Our Lady of Mount Carmel which is venerated in Montijo; "Our Lady of Tarivá," a 1571 painting that convokes her faithful in the village of that name; "Our Lady of Sopetrán," another famous painting enjoying great devotion, whose worship in the village of Hita dates from 1615; the image of "Our Lady of Hool" and the "Virgin of Penonomé" are also honored in other regions of the Panamanian isthmus.


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