La Virgen de Guadalupe: Why is a symbol of colonization a national symbol of pride?

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The truth will set you free… – John 8:32

First of all, before we begin an exploration on the truth and fiction behind the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe, it is important to note that the history, whether true or false, is irrelevant at this point.

La Virgen de Guadalupe

La Virgen de Guadalupe

Guadalupe is part of our culture now, a meme that is much bigger than the historical events. Guadalupe is a source of pride and of strength for the downtrodden, used everywhere from Miguel Hidalgo to Cesar Chavez to the current day.

Just as with most things religious, the facts and evidence are hidden away in a distant time. No cellphone cameras to capture new apparitions or the original Book of Mormon on golden tablets, the Ten Commandments on stone tablets, no burning bushes with God speaking from it, nor satellite images to view Jesus’ ascension into the heavens and breaking through our upper atmosphere or passing through the Van Allen radiation belt.

More than a religious relic, La Virgen de Guadalupe is now a firmly engrained cultural symbol for millions. Catholics adore her as the Mother of Jesus while Native Americans may view the image as that of Tonantzin. Some may simply find beauty in the art, as an important symbol that transcends any coherent understanding of how the image came to be.

Symbol or reality?

In 1990, Pope John Paul II beatified Juan Diego, the first step before his eventual canonization as Saint Juan Diego a decade later. The actions also coincided with the pope’s visits to Mexico and it was hugely popular. The basilica housing the image of Guadalupe is the second most visited Catholic site in the world, second only to St. Peter’s basilica in Vatican City.

The abbot of the famous basilica in Mexico City for many years was Rev. Guillermo Schulenburg. He, and many scholars and priests wrote a letter to the pope urging him not to canonize Juan Diego as a saint because he more than likely did not exist but existed mostly as a symbol.

A vocal minority of priests and church historians, including the former head priest of the Basilica of Guadalupe, has opened an emotional national debate here by publicly stating what some scholars have long believed: that there is no convincing historical record that Juan Diego ever existed.
They say he was probably fabricated by Spanish conquerors as a means of converting the country’s native tribes to Catholicism.

“It’s a story, like Cinderella was a story,” said the Rev. Manuel Olimon Nolasco, one of seven men who signed four letters sent to the Vatican recently, asking John Paul to reconsider the decision to grant sainthood.

Olimon and the others argue that adding Juan Diego’s name to the church’s hallowed roster of saints might make millions of Catholics feel good, but that his candidacy does not meet the church’s rigorous standard of documentation for those it canonizes.

Olimon, a church history specialist who teaches at the Pontifical University of Mexico, which trains priests, said he went to Rome in October to make his case to top church officials. But he believes the Vatican has already made up its mind to canonize Juan Diego.

In the letters, the critics write that they could have enlisted the support of many other church and lay scholars who agree with them. However, they write, “we don’t want to provoke a useless scandal; we only want to avoid the diminishment of the credibility of our church.”

via Washington Post.

The very priest who was in charge of the basilica believed that it was just a story, an important story perhaps, but not based in reality.

Needless to say, this caused a huge scandal, Rev. Schulenburg resigned, and Juan Diego was made into a saint.

On a historical side-note, the Catholic church has other saints that never existed.

How does the Church choose saints?

Canonization, the process the Church uses to name a saint, has only been used since the tenth century. For hundreds of years, starting with the first martyrs of the early Church, saints were chosen by public acclaim. Though this was a more democratic way to recognize saints, some saints’ stories were distorted by legend and some never existed. Gradually, the bishops and finally the Vatican took over authority for approving saints.

via http://www.catholic.org/saints/faq.php

It is generally accepted that some popular saints never even existed, such as the saint which my own church of baptism, first communion and confirmation is named after, St. Christopher, who supposedly carried little baby Jesus across a river and ended up carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders without crushing his spine.

More fictional is the story of St. George the dragon-slayer. Or maybe dragons did exist and St. George killed them all?

Either way, St. Christopher medallions will continue to be sold honoring the Patron Saint of Travelers and my home church in Marana will continue with the name it has always known.

Did Juan Diego exist?

St. Juan Diego

There was no person born Juan Diego that existed, and if this person did exist, they were born before European contact and would have had an Aztec name, and indeed Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin was who John Paul II canonized on July 31, 2002.

But before exploring the question of whether Juan Diego existed, let us first recall the story of La Virgen de Guadalupe. Wikipedia has a concise version of the story which sums it up nice and short:

According to Catholic tradition, on December 9, 1531, Juan Diego, a recently converted Aztec indigenous peasant, had a vision of a young woman while he was on a hill in the Tepeyac desert, near Mexico City. The lady asked him to build a church exactly on the spot where they were standing. He told the local Bishop Juan de Zumarraga, who asked for proof in exchange.

Juan Diego went back later and saw the lady again. He told her that the bishop wanted proof, and she instructed Juan Diego to go to the mountain top, where he found Castillian roses, which were native to Bishop Juan de Zumarraga’s hometown and could not possibly bloom during wintertime. Juan Diego cut the roses, placed them in his apron-like tilma and returned to the bishop; an imprint of the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared on the tilma from the residue of the soil and roses.

Today, the icon is displayed in the nearby Basilica of Guadalupe, now one of the most visited Catholic shrines in the world.

via Wikipedia.

Now enters the critical thinking on this historical event.

Guadalupe is an important symbol for many reasons. This apparition took place in 1531 at the hill of Tepeyac in northern Mexico City, just one decade after Hernan Cortes came to Tenochtitlan and took it over. Suffice it to say there was a lot of conflict taking place, and this being the more religious times of the Spanish Inquisition, the primary goal was to convert souls to the Christian God.

Gold… err, I mean God, was the priority.

Amid all this conflict arises a pregnant Mexican (mestiza) teenager. Rather than put two and two together, logic is suspended and the Church’s impossible imposition on women crosses the ocean.

The perfect woman, the woman that all women should be like must be both a virgin and a mother at the same time.

The Virgin of Guadalupe was the ever-virgin Mother of God. Nevermind that these virgin mother apparitions never occur anymore since a simple DNA test on the Y-chromosome would put to rest many unrealistic claims (who wants to bet St. Joseph and Jesus had the same Y-chromosome?).

This woman at the top of the Hill of Tepeyac for some reason waited until 1531, never appearing before Christianity crossed the ocean in 3 boats, never sharing with the Aztecs the Truth until the Europeans came. She should have appeared earlier, centuries or millennia earlier so that these pagan “Indians” wouldn’t have been down the wrong path for so long, but this is how God wanted it to be, perhaps.

Rather than make a proclamation of being Tonantzin, the woman is the ever-virgin Mother of God, and she has only one request.

Guadalupe’s only request, ignored

The holy mother of God that was appearing to Juan Diego only had one request.

Not over there… I just had one request!

To build her a temple where they stood on the Hill of Tepeyac.

To convince the European Catholic hierarchy of this plan, the bishop also has just one request which he does not make known to Juan Diego. He wants freshly cut Castilian roses, which are impossible to get in Mexico in the winter.

So rather than the Virgin Mary make herself known to the world, or at least the surrounding village, she decides to be obedient to the patriarch of the local church. Juan Diego goes and to his surprise finds roses growing on the hill and then he takes them back to the Virgin. She then rearranges them in his tilma and he carries them back to the bishop.

Now keep in mind these are flowers that the Mother of God held in her hand, and probably the only thing she ever really touched in this whole episode. No records of giving Juan Diego even a hug are recorded, she just wanted a temple built to her, true goddess-style.

When Juan Diego gets to the bishop he finally gives him what he wants, but the bishop ignores this hand-picked gift that was held in the Virgin Mother’s hands and they are left to fall on the floor. Instead he gets distracted by an image on the tilma, or so the story goes.

So the miraculous answer to his prayers, the roses in winter got ignored.

But why was this image so important?

This is where even more mythology enters in which we will return to later.

This image was used to convert about 8-9 million Aztecs in the next few years, and was used as a sign from God that the Native Americans should abandon their way of life and convert to the European way and accept their Judeo-Christian beliefs instead.

Oh yeah, and give them all their gold and silver in the name of God.

But here’s the strangest thing. Think about how important someone like Juan Diego would have been. Think of similar figures today, such as Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, even Martin Luther King. We want to know about them, and people brag about how they knew them, how they marched with them, talked with them, etc.

What the heck happened to Juan Diego? He kinda just fades away into the background, so much so that the bishop never once writes about him. Not once, in all his writings is Juan Diego ever mentioned.

Nothing is written about Juan Diego during his life.

The temple at Tepeyac

Remember that La Virgen de Guadalupe asked for only one thing, and to this day her request has been ignored.

At the base of the hill, which is not where the apparitions took place, a shrine was built to the Virgin. The Franciscans at the time (mid-1500s) got into an argument with the Dominicans over the use of a painting by Marcos Cipac de Aquino.

 “The devotion that has been growing in a chapel dedicated to Our Lady, called of Guadalupe, in this city is greatly harmful for the natives, because it makes them believe that the image painted by Marcos the Indian is in any way miraculous.”

The Franciscans thought that this was idolatry, to be venerating an image of known origin, painted by a human being, but the chapel was becoming very popular, and these were tough times in missionary work. To remedy this problem, the Archbishop took the chapel away from Franciscan control, and the tilma was available for perpetual adoration.

Just recently, a new more modern basilica has been built for La Virgen de Guadalupe since the original one was sinking since it was built upon a lake. This too, is not where the Virgen wanted the temple built for her at the top of the hill.

The natives were converting and that’s all that mattered. No need for the bishop to ever write about the great Saint of the time, Juan Diego.

Look into my eyes

Any exploration into the “scientific” research that has been done quickly reveals the power of suggestion.

None of us knows what Jesus looks like as there were no drawings or portraits of him ever taken, but somehow we have come to accept the non-black person, usually a frail man with pale skin, as Jesus.

But even more bizarre is that anytime a person sees a “face” in the clouds or a piece of toast, it must always be an image of Jesus for some reason.

Our brains will fill in the gaps. We want to believe, and we will.

It’s actually not too hard to see Jesus in a dog’s butt, if you really want to see “Him” (image to the right).

What is interesting about the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe are all the “scientific” claims surrounding it, such as the ophtamologist that uses “mathematical algorithms” to zoom in 2500x on the eyes and is able to see reflections, as if the image is really a smooth glossy image or photograph.

The conclusion to make from this is that the image was drawn by the Virgin, but even more so it almost is the Virgin in the sense that the image is seeing what she saw at that moment, like a real snapshot that captures reflections in eyes.

Once again the power of suggestion is strongly at work here.

I have my own debunking of this phenomenon that I have not read anywhere else, and it comes from having a background in computers.

Unaltered image of the eye.

Unaltered image of the eye.

If you look at the image to the left you will see a square grid that is made by the agave fibers in the tilma.

One can think of the image as a monitor with a certain amount of pixels known as a resolution.

In the movies a computer “hacker” can take a grainy image, taken from perhaps a satellite or surveillance camera, and after typing really fast on the keyboard a nice clear image appears.

In real-life, if you keep zooming in on an image, there comes a point where you start seeing the square pixels, and if you keep zooming in you will end up with one monotone color, a zoomed-in pixel in front of you.

This is similar to what is going on in the image on the tilma. You can see the grains produced by the fabric, and they make white and dark spots which are not reflections of any kind.

You can also see a rectangle in the eye on the image. This is supposed to be a reflection of a person that was present in 1531.

Look around some more. Do you see anything else?

No, because there is nothing else, and even the “person” in the eye is an artifact of the fabric. But look what happens when a really devout person zooms in 2500x using “mathematics” to reveal what else lies (no pun intended) in the eye.

There’s a whole room in the eye!

There's a party and you're not invited.

There’s a party and you’re not invited.

 

Draw some outlines, add some color, and your brain will fill in the rest.

Actually, outside of the circle to the left are more people, even closer up, but you cannot see them until they are outlined and colored, right?

There was some real scientific work conducted by a person at the prestigious Jet Propulsion Lab, but he found nothing interesting and never wrote about it.

But somehow these stories live on.

What I find interesting is how a religion that is used to justify oppression can be used by the oppressed. Consider the slaves, many of them Christian who used the Bible as a source of inspiration and hope, hoping that God would free them as He did the Israelis from Egypt, yet the same Holy Book was used to justify slavery.

In Mexico, the Catholic Church was able to use a mythical Aztec, Juan Diego, and a human-drawn image, create a mythology to go with it, and centuries later, voila! It is beyond the reach of investigation, safely in the past where you have to rely on faith to believe in it.

Joseph Smith’s golden tablets, Moses’ 10 Commandments and parting of the Red Sea, fiery chariots into the heavens, all safely beyond our examination and conveniently, such “miracles” do not occur anymore lest they be subject to immediate scrutiny, even with a basic tool of a cellphone camera and YouTube.

La Virgen de Guadalupe means more than the original story though. It is now a part of our culture, part of mythology, and thus who really cares about the origins of the image? Recreations of the image exist in murals and tattoos, on necklaces, in churches, on candles, even on lowriders.

There is nothing wrong with symbols, and the image is now our own. It means whatever you want it to mean.

Even if the story really was true, all Mary wanted was a chapel on top of the hill, and instead she got a huge basilica with millions of visitors each year but somehow claims to make only $3 million a year in donations.

There’s Gold in them thar hills of Tepeyac… I mean God to be found… whatever, it’s just another story that gets repeated throughout history, and somehow a symbol of our inferior culture and way of life has been turned around into a symbol of pride in indigenous ways.

In the end, it is a story that captures a bit of humanity, and the story is not 500 years old but rather continues to evolve to this very day.

17 Responses to “La Virgen de Guadalupe: Why is a symbol of colonization a national symbol of pride?”

  1. crazyhorse

    The Mystery of Faith Ese! Your topic is way out of line. This is where critical thinking is taken to far! Respecto Bro. Learn to Respect the people you so call fight for. So many times you play Devil’s advocate. I support you most of the time but other times I have to strongly disagree with you. La Virgen helps people, the same people you fight for. Remember that…………………..

    Reply
    • DA Morales

      I respect the truth about history being told. God may help people, both oppressors and the oppressed, but that has nothing to do with a mythological story… not even the Bishop wrote one word about the great saint Juan Diego… why is that?

      Reply
      • Paul

        Why should he write about him?  And if he did it was 500 hundred years ago.  Between then and now how many millions of texts or records of events have
        been written that have survived, and if they have survived have been misfiled
        away to be forgotten.   But the tilma survives and we should asks ourselves
        why.   After all it should have worn away with time but it has not.   And on this tilma is an image that we should consider a gift.

        Reply
  2. Baja Arizonan

    It takes a lot of courage to use your intellect and logic in public where everyone can see you.
    Well done sir.

    Reply
    • Paul

      “…a symbol of our inferior culture and way of life…”

      The writer has taken liberties with what little he knows and it is not an
      excercise in courage, or the use of intellect and logic.  We have a proud
      history that is family oriented and Mexico is more ‘old world’ than third
      world.   The writer is a sad figuire who has been convinced by  western 
      culture that he is inferior.   He should take a closer look at the people he
      is writing about and he will realize we have a rich culture and in now way
      is it inferior. 

      Reply
  3. Cuactetlatoatzindelaaunciacion

    scholarly work proves that perhaps Juan Diego didnt exist, howver, the  recoridngs of the event Nican Mophua, Asi se Cuenta, I t is told how this occured, if translated in Nahuatl, the virgen is called by Juan Diego Cuactetlatotzin, tonatzin, she state noxoocyehue, JUantzin,  “Maxicmatti, ma huel yuh ye in moyollo, noxocoyouh, canehuatl in nicenquizcacemicac Ichpochtli Santa María, in inantzin in huel nelli Teotl Dios, in ipalnemohuani, in teyocoyani, in tloque nahuaque, in ilhuicahua, in tlalticpaque. Huel nicnequi, cenca niquelehuiz inic nican nechquechilizque noteocaltzin,  She says ipalnemohuani, the Mexica word for “God” the positive transforming creator,  she is stating that she is the mother of God, in her womb is the child ipalmenohuani in tamuachan, the creator made flesh, here viel, is covered with the stars of constellations visible in anahuac in december, and actuality buy Scholarly research as well, her apparation occured the 21 of december,1531, so the sequence of apparitions occured as a Christmas gift of the Americas, and a friend a chicano, said that he read that tonatzin was read beginning to be part of the mexica indigenismo our ways stragnely a few  hundered
     years before the conquest began. In addition, Fray Zummaraga never wrote about Juan Diego further because he was an ambitous man, thus in 1534 he cotineud his book burnings, of the( codixes/ amoxtlis), some versions have the bishop groveling in tears as he kneels before the image. In addition, the tilma has miraculously survived bombings, by anarchists, earthquakes, and has not worn,at all. the image is significant of revelation,” a woman clotherd w the sun the moon benath her feet, adorned w stars, laboring to give birth,” this part now is from Fr Raul Trevizo’s and FrROBERT gONZALES, Homilia, holmily, dec12,2011 la fiesta de La Virgen de Guadalupe, ” As sources tell us,bishop Zumarraga wrote to the archbishops in Espana, that Mexico was in Crisis,” You see trevizo states that for the people of this regio namley Mexico, The world of the indgienous peoples knew, our people knew had come to an end, with the conquest, the misioneros, the missionaries tried to convert them but the way they did it was teaching them that all thier ways were wrong. Which the virgen, apparition, to Juan Diego, proves that was not so. She appeared in the colors of the Aztec (mexica)( turqueza, revealing the colors of the pantoguilli), she also if we look at her face is not just indio but meztsaje as well as asian and african, she is encompassing all humanity she is the mother of all peoples nations ( es la madre de todas las raza de la humanidad)”  This is why Pope John Paul II in 1987, named her  the Mother of the Americas, before then shs has been known as the Madrecita de los Mexicanos, and she is venerated her in the Southwest and Latin America as well but her apparation states that is the mother of Mexico, and the United States, mother of all peoples.
    Also hermano, Ive seen her and felt her prescence at the Basilica, I ve seen grown me cry in the replica tilma, at the local parrishes, in thanksgiving for her intercession, in addition to scholarly work the image was tested w lazers in which the lazers did not penetrate the image of  Guadalupe, scientists concluded the image is a living image, in other words a real deal, not painted but real, its her Sancta Maria Tonatzin, Our Mother, the mother of ipalmenohuani, in Tamuachan.
    In addition  hermano, I ve been to Spain Extremadura,  seen the guadalupe of there, in which she is clothed with stars either in white or blue or ed a viel, morra, holding the child Jesus. In addition, on Juan Diego facts were pulled from the archives as proven here, 
      ”
    In 1995, with progress towards sanctification at a stand-still, Father Xavier Escalada, a Jesuit writing an encyclopedia of the Guadalupan legend, produced a deer skin codex, (Codex Escalada), illustrating the apparition and the life and death of Juan Diego. Although the very existence of this important document had been previously unknown, it bore the date 1548, placing it within the lifetime of those who had known Juan Diego, and bore the signatures of two trustworthy 16th century scholar-priests, Antonio Valeriano and Bernardino de Sahagún, thus verifying its contents.[24] Some scholars remained unconvinced, describing the discovery of the Codex as “rather like finding a picture of St. Paul’s vision of Christ on the road to Damascus, drawn by St. Luke and signed by St. Peter“,[25] but Diego was declared a saint, with the name of Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, in 2002.”
     wikipedia and check sources .
     this image was carried by Cesar Chavez, the nfwoc, the students, and the celebration for Guadalupe in the parroquias has been part of it. the struggle adn willingness to tell the story as it is told and was recorded.  
    Also ponder this Bishop Fray Juan de Zumarraga is not a saint, nor is there a push to make him one, in addition, at the time who would believe the Virgen would appear toa lowly Indio/mexica, who helps at the school of Tlatilolco, when you could claim the responsibility for yourself, think his excellency fray  Zumarraga, sees the virgen appear to him ,when it may not be how it happened, takes the responsibility for himself, now takes the advatange to use his force of oppression and ways to justify the book burnings and to advance himslef within the order, and position in Nueva Espana, so he alters his documents to state what occured but not fully.
     great article  hermano  skepticism proves well to test your faith as well as to question it which is good for us all, because it really causes us to go deeper.

    Reply
  4. terese dudas

    Well, Davie, this is a first – I AGREE with you.  Guadalupe was used as a tool of submission, and has surpassed, by far, her original use; or has she?  The Mexican people are still under the thumb of their oligarchs and still imbued with this sort of magical thinking.  But, then there IS Santa Claus!  Whatever works can’t be all bad.

    Reply
  5. Jaime Aguila

    Wikiepedia? Yes, that information must be true because it’s online and as a professional journalist you showed tremendous effort in scanning the web for convenient information. Hey tonto there is a perfectly good university with a library and professional historians who read books. 

    Reply
  6. Jaime Aguila

    Wikiepedia? Yes, that information must be true because it’s online and as a professional journalist you showed tremendous effort in scanning the web for convenient information. Hey tonto there is a perfectly good university with a library and professional historians who read books. 

    Reply
    • myriad

      Which part of that Wikipedia entry do you dispute? This whole knowledge thing is getting way too democratized for some folks.

      Reply
  7. terese dudas

    Cuactetlatotzin’s post has a point worth noting – chiefly, that Guadalupe’s homage comes directly from the District of Extramadura, in Spain, and that the Conquistadores, Columbus among others, vowed to this patroness extraordinary favors if they would be  victorious over the indigenous peoples of the New World.  Taking Tonatzin as their model, (she was the only Aztec Goddess and more important, associated with mercy, which others in the Aztec coda were not), the Conquistadores probably invented this fairy story which dovetailed so well into their own ambitions.  The rest of the saga is well known. 

    Reply
  8. Ray

    DA you should ask yourself, “Why do I care so much whether Juan Diego or the Virgencita were factual?” I thought you studied Anthropology. You of all people should know then that Culture is socially constructed. It just so happens that the Virgin of Guadalupe was socially constructed into the Mexican culture. Just like the Aztecs and the Mayans made up their gods. Just like Aztlán is the mythical homeland of indigenous Mesoamericans. This article serves no purpose other than to be counter-productive. The very people that stand side by side you at the protest believe in La Virgen the Guadalupe and Catholicism. Mexico is unique in that the religion and culture are almost unison. For some people the sun god is there religion or La Virgen de Guadalupe is their religion or Social Justice can be a religion. If you feel you should shit on someone else’s belief than those who that those who shit on your cause for social justice are justified in doing the same.

    Reply
    • Three Sonorans

      There is a huge difference between beliefs that Natives need yo be converted to White man’s religion to be saved, and the truth of history and literature being taught. I have no problem with learning about religion and fiction being taught as long as we don’t confuse the Bible and myths for the truth. I respect the people more with speaking the truth that shall set you free than repeating colonization lies to convert people to supernatural Western beliefs systems over our own.

      And the Pope isn’t infallible either… so let lightning strike me for saying the truth.

      Reply
  9. Tupac Enrique Acosta

    NICAN MOPOHUA ICA IZKALOTEKA: In Cihuapilli Coatlaxopeuh – Excerpt from The Path of Quetzalcoatl, Tamatini Andres Segura, Mexica Tencocha presents teachings relevant to the ancestral indigenous traditions of La Guadalupana Tepeyaca 1526 , and the ongoing Movimiento Macehualli TONATIERRA 2012.

    Reply
  10. Omar

    This is a very interesting article for me as a non-Catholic Christian who was raised in Mexican home but was not, unlike many Mexican and Mexican- Americans, taught to believe in or even consider La Virgen de Guadalupe as the Mother of God. She has no emotional or religious appeal to me and I have no affiliation with her in my past other than the knowledge I have of her as being based on the person of Mary who was the mother of Jesus. I respect the belief Catholics have of the Virgin Mary and the many different versions each have that originate from the certain region they are from. But I would like challenge Cathoilcs in that they should really look into why they hold her so dear even to the point where she is even equal to or sometimes greater than that of the person of Jesus. Do you believe in her like that because your family taught you so or did you investigate yourself the Bible what she actually did and said? If you only do so because of cultural reasons then your faith is naturally going to be shaken by these articles because your faith is only rooted so far that any little thing or article is gonna shake your world up. Investigate for yourself in depth what it really means to have faith in God. The Bible says that comes by listening and now a days by reading the Word of God. Don’t just depend on the Pope or any man because they are human and humans fail.

    Reply

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