The Virgin of Guadalupe

1 January 2017

It was clear to me that the Virgin of Guadalupe is a powerful cultural symbol of Mexican identity and nationhood. In colonial times the Virgin of Guadalupe was interpreted as a native, loving and forgiving mother, the intercessor to God the Father and his son, Jesus Christ.

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Today Guadalupe has been reinterpreted as an empowering symbol of liberation and action rather than as female passivity. In contemporary society the populist appeal of the image cuts across all sectors of Mexican life, and her image is displayed not only in churches, but can also be seen in taxis, buses, on tee-shirts, amulets and as tattoos. Chicano and other Latino societies helped establish the Virgin of Guadalupe as an archetypal emblem of mestizaje. Criollos interpreted Mary’s appearance that Mexico was a favored city.

From reading I learned that the origin of the importance of the Virgin of Guadalupe can be traced back to the religious beliefs and ceremonies that animated the daily lives of pre-Hispanic people from birth to death. Even though the Spanish conquest imposed Christianity and colonialism on the original populations, the Catholic Church allowed–some say even encouraged–the association between specific locations and Aztec deities as a means to effect an easier transition from native religions to Christianity, resulting in the introduction of localized patron saints.

Worship of the Virgin Mary was encouraged through a variety of manifestations, such as the Virgin of Remedios and the Immaculate Conception. After the conquest, the church destroyed shrines to indigenous gods and goddesses, and tried to stamp out the cult of Tonantzin, an Aztec virgin deity. Since manifestations of the Virgin had encouraged the conquistadors, many images of the Virgin Mary had made their way to the New World. Indians, mestizos, and criollos lent new meanings to the cult of the Virgin Mary. The devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe is a syncretic manifestation of Catholic and Aztec beliefs.

The Virgin of Guadalupe continued to play an increasingly important role in the development of Mexican national identity. The criollos interpreted her appearance as a legitimization of their national aspirations and propagated the cult as part of a plan to build New Spain in Mexico. The campaign to legitimize the Virgin of Guadalupe began in 1648 with Miguel Sanchez’s book which argued that Guadalupe was authentically American, emphasizing her appearance to a poor, humble native and stressing the Virgin’s use of Nahuatl to address Juan Diego.

Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz wrote one known sonnet to the Virgin of Guadalupe in 1680, published in 1729, which retells the story of the apparition and reinforces Mary’s function as protectress of the Americas in her role as “la Rosa Mejicana. ” A symbol of popular religiosity and a feminine metaphor in the comprehension of the divine, The Virgin of Guadalupe continues to convey a paradoxical message that can be manipulated for political purposes.

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