by Bea Lozano
Yesterday, I wrote a brief post about the celebrations of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Playa del Carmen (see Virgin of Guadalupe Festivities in Playa del Carmen.) Today, I want to give a brief history of the story behind this celebration.
As the story goes, about 480 years ago, just after the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, the Virgin Mary appeared to a native Mexican who had taken the Spanish name of Juan Diego, on a hill just north of Mexico City. Speaking to him in his native language of Nahuatl (still the most spoken native language of Mexico), she told him to have a shrine built to her on that site. When the bishop in Mexico City refused to believe the story, the Virgin Mary appeared yet again to Juan Diego, giving him roses as a sign of the authenticity; flowers were out of season and roses did not grow in that region of Mexico.
When Juan Diego presented the roses to the bishop, the place where the roses had been gathered in his cloak was printed with an image of the Virgin Mary as he saw her.
The day he presented the roses to the bishop was Dec. 12, which is why the celebrations take place on that day.
It is commonly believed that this same original image, on the same fabric of that cloak is on display at the shrine built at that site. The site was just north of Mexico City, but is now completely surrounded by the city’s massive growth that has taken place over the last century.
There are two shines, or Basilicas, on the site of the appearance. One is the original colonial building (seen leaning somewhat in the picture) and the other is a the new one built during the 70′s; the new one is the official Basilica and houses the original image of the Virgin of Guadalupe on display for the public.
Many people will make pilgrimages to the Basilica at any time of year, especially when they have a special request to ask of the Virgin Mary.
Along with the religious significance, the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe has a huge cultural significance. The Virgin Mary appeared to a native man and spoke in his native language. Juan Diego became the first native saint from the Americas. Some of the coloring in the dress in the image are patterns from the native people.
For these reasons, along with the very strong popular devotion, many Mexicans use the image as a symbol of Mexican “mestizo” identity (mixed Spanish-native decent.) Throughout Mexico at any time of year, you will find items such as bracelets, stickers, car or bus decorations, and even tattoos on a fairly regular basis.
In Mexico, there is even a name for those who participate in these festivities; “guadalupanos.” Some of the devotees to the Virgin of Guadalupe who fully participate in these celebrations many not even be actively religious otherwise.
As we saw in yesterday’s post, people will make processions to either the Basilica in Mexico City (i.e. the site of the apparition) or to a church with her name near their home town. Many people will travel in pilgrimages for days and celebrate with processions, flowers, candles, music, rosaries and other prayers as well as masses.
Tomorrow or in the very near future, we will also have a video of the celebrations in Playa del Carmen.
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