The Patron Saint of Mexico is the Virgin of Guadalupe. It is an incredibly important part of the country’s culture, and there are churches and shrines in her name all over the country. Every year, for the week or so leading up to December 12, they are in every corner of Mexico.
The text “Nican Mopohua” tells us about the appearances of the Virgin of Guadalupe to San Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin in December 1531, on the hill of Tepeyac (a hill located north of Mexico City, belonging to the mountain range of the Sierra de Guadalupe, which defines the northern edge of the Valley of Mexico). The appearances of Our Lady The Virgin of Guadalupe to Juan Diego, the miraculous imprint of her Holy Image on his humble cloak, and her message of love, has the singular purpose of announcing her beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to the people who inhabit the “new world”.
Throughout Mexico and crisscrossing the entire Yucatan Peninsula, during the first 2 weeks of Decemeber, kids (and some not so young) are running or bicycling as a promesa (promise) that they have made to la Virgen sometime during the year. These promises are personal and private, but the worship and sacrifice in the form of pilgrimage are performed in groups. As we drove around, we saw groups running from Tekit to Sisal in Yucatan, and from home in Puerto Morelos across the state line to Progreso and Sisal to Izamal. Some of them were wearing team-like uniforms, and all of them wore at least a t-shirt that indicated where they were running to and from, and bore an image of la Virgen. Many of them carry lit torches like Olympic runners and are called antorchistas.
What’s the story?
When the Spanish conquistador Cortés arrived, many of the Aztecs and Native Americans from other tribes saw him as Quetzalcoátl, the god of the ancient Nahual traditions, who had returned as predicted. Through a series of misunderstandings and strange luck, Cortés was able to subjugate the tribes who lived in the central valley of Mexico. After a few years of rampant slaughter of their people and of seeing their beliefs and rituals destroyed or proven false, the indians who survived were discouraged and despairing. As Carla puts it, they felt that their gods had abandoned them. After all, they were no longer able to offer sacrifices, yet the sun continued to rise each morning.
They had lost their faith and they needed a miracle to rekindle it. In 1531 there was a solar eclipse. Then Haley’s comet appeared in the sky. And last but not least, a woman appeared who stands “in front of the Sun, steps on the Moon and dresses with the Stars”. She presented herself as an agent of the true God, with a face that had mixed European and Indian features. And not only did she appear in that fateful year, but she asked that her church be built in the same place that Tonantzin, the Native American Goddess Mother – the Earth Goddess – had been worshipped and venerated for years.
There are those who believe that Guadalupe and Tonantzin are one deity… the mother goddess of all the Americas. There are others who think the Catholic Church appropriated Tonantzin in order to bring the indigenous population into the fold.