10 Jan 2019
Located on the hill of Tepeyac, north of the Aztec capital, this Marian shrine is visited by locals and foreigners every December 12th to celebrate a century-old tradition.
Endless caravans of pilgrims, coming from all corners of the Mexican Republic, meet in the center of the country, to celebrate the “Mother of all Mexicans”.
The celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe is a cultural syncretism between the Mexican indigenism and the Spanish Crown when they found an image with which the ‘Mexicas’ would feel identified.
The largest religious concentration, just after the St. Peter Basilica in the Vatican, registered an influx of more than 10 million of faithful who came this past December to the Marian center, which establishes an all times record attendance.
Legend tells that in the year 1531, the Virgin Mary, appeared on that same hill, four times to a Mexican indigenous named Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin.
The Virgin asked Juan Diego, to cut some roses and put them in his ayate (ayatl-nahuatl: an agricultural instrument to collect crops) to take them to the first bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumárraga, as proof of her existence and to build a temple in her name.
When the native deployed his ayate, the image of a brown skin Virgin with mestizo traits was showed.
487 years later, the legend is already a tradition adopted not only by the Mexicans, but it has transcended to different countries of the world, from where the pilgrims come to visit her.
The reasons are multiple and polyvalent. There are those who thanks for the birth of a new member of the family, others, come to ask for the health of a sick relative; There are those who ask for work and even some who implore a miracle.
At the outskirts of the church, enduring the inclement cold winter, thousands of people spend the night before to the day of celebration in tents or even outdoors, covered only with blankets and pieces of cardboard.
Early in the morning, the procession of believers carrying the images of the virgin are countless, whether in t-shirts, pictures, backpacks, or figures; some do it walking, some others on their knees.
Such as Alberto Herrera, accompanied by his son, crawl on their knees towards the entrance to the atrium of the Basilica, where they will fulfill their mandate.
The exhaustion is evident, but their faith raises them again.
“For me it means a lot, for me it is my mother, I respect her too much and every step I take is to fight for her, to arrive at her chapel and to fulfill her, to thank her for having allowed me another year to come” comments the parishioner who has a ten year mandate, of which eight has complied.
Mexico is one of the countries with the largest number of faithful Catholics in the world, but also, since the middle of the last century, it is common to hear a very particular religious definition, “they do not consider themselves Catholics, but Guadalupanos”.
Something more than a phrase, because it represents the deep-rootedness of the Virgin of Guadalupe among Mexicans and is related to the origin of the country and its society.
The cult to the Virgin of Guadalupe is considered as an “element of social cohesion of the Mexican population”, that is much more “guadalupana” than before, according to the study of the Institute of Historical Investigations of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), released on the occasion of the annual festivities.
In that same place, the hill of Tepeyac was a center of worship of the Tonantzin goddess, one of the most important deities of Mesoamerica, considered the mother of the earth and of all the Gods, since then the Guadalupana, was also called “Tonantzin Guadalupe”.
In 1521, the Aztec empire was defeated by the Spaniards, led by Hernán Cortés, leaving the Nahuatl people in a deep depression, with massive suicides.
But with the apparition´s legend only 10 years later, would give them a new motivation to live.
That is why the devotion to the ‘Virgin Morena’, intensifies in times of tragedy, such as epidemics, floods and civil wars.