December 12: the Virgin of Guadalupe

By Carol Wheeler

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December 12 is a big day in Mexico and is celebrated all over the country. It's also important in Ajijic. You may see small altars or shrines In Lake Chapala neighborhoods such as San Antonio Tlayacapan, San Juan Cosala and Ajijic’s Seis Esquinas, created to honor her on her day.

The reason?

It goes back to 1531, ten years after Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. Franciscan priests had begun evangelizing the New World, with its diverse indigenous peoples.

Don Antonio Valeriano, an Indian nobleman and a very educated man who had been baptized into the faith, wrote down the story in Nahuatl, the Aztec language. His document is the Nican Mopohua, thought to have been published in 1649.

One frosty December morning in 1531, an Aztec gentleman named Juan Diego was crossing Tepeyac hill when a beautiful and radiant woman miraculously appeared to him. She spoke to him softly, gently, with the loving tone of a mother, and declared herself to be the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ.

Her skin was the coppery brown of Mexico's native peoples, and her language was their own tongue. She asked him to go to the Bishop's Palace to tell him that she wanted a temple for her built on the site.

He did so, but Bishop Fray Juan de Zumárraga didn't believe him. After talking again with the Virgin, Juan Diego went to the Bishop once more, who asked for a tangible sign.

Because church leaders did not believe he had seen her, the Virgin instructed Juan Diego to gather a bouquet in his cactus fiber cloak, or tilma, and take the flowers back with him. When the bishops opened the cloak, the roses spilled out and tGuadalupe’s portrait appeared. The original tilma is on display today in her Basilica in Mexico City.

However, another side to the story is interesting and emphasizes the eventual fusion of pre-Hispanic belief with the symbols of Christianity. Before the conquest, Tepeyac hill had also been the site of an ancient temple to the Aztec goddess Tonantzin (Our Revered Mother), later leveled by the Spaniards. According to the great Franciscan ethnographer Sahagun "Our Mother" Tonan was also known as Ilamatecuhtli (a noble old woman) and Cozcamiauh (a necklace of maize flowers). Perhaps this synthesis helped in the acceptance of Christianity.

Today, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a champion of the oppressed everywhere. She is queen of the heavens — she stands on the moon and her cloak holds the stars. In 1992, she was named Patron Saint of the Americas by Pope John Paul II, and her image can be seen almost everywhere in Mexico in fine art and folk art.

The feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe is December 12, finishing a nine-day novena or period of prayer.

She is also the patron saint of the Seis Esquinas neighborhood in Ajijic. Expect celebrations there, as well as in Chapala, on the nine days leading up to her feast day.

In the evening on the 11th, Mexican television stations such as Televisa (channel 2 on open TV) and TV Azteca (channel 13) broadcast the festivities from the Basilica de Guadalupe on Tepeyac hill in Mexico City. Stars and personalities sing, and dancers dressed as Aztecs perform in the atrium of the church. Just before midnight, they sing “Las Mañanitas,” the traditional Mexican “happy birthday” song, to the Virgin.

On December 12, a procession starts at 4 p.m. at the Sanctuary for Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Seís Esquinas neighborhood, goes east on Ocampo/Constitución, north on Galeana, west on Zaragoza, south on Francisco Villa and returns to the church for mass. The celebrations continue outside in the small plaza until late at night.

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