Virgin of Guadalupe
The image of the Virgen of Guadalupe (the Virgin of Guadalupe), is one that many gringos are familiar with, but perhaps may not understand or be knowledgeable about. This symbol, usually of a dark haired woman, clothed in rich reds and greens, and standing on a serpent, a pair of cattle horns, or on the back of an indigenous man (or, often, all three), is a religious and/or cultural symbol of Mexico. The woman may remind American Catholics of the Virgin Mary, with the exception of the symbolism and dressings.
The legend/story/revelation reads as so: An indigenous man by the name of Juan Diego was on his way to mass in 1531 when he was surprised by the image of this woman on a hill outside of Mexico City. Speaking in the man's native language, Nahuatl, the woman asked Diego to build an edifice on the site.
The story was met by disbelief, and a confused Diego avoided the site for a couple of days. However, the next time he was on the hill, December 12, the virgen again appeared to him and instructed him to gather roses from the hilltop into his cloak.
Upon his return to the Spanish bishop in Mexico City, Diego dropped the roses at his feet, and an imprint of the image of the virgen icon was found on his cloak where the roses had been.
Bishop Juan de Zumarraga dubbed the occurrence to be a miracle and ordered a small basilica to be built upon the spot.
Some theorists believe that the Catholic Church used the symbolism and iconography of the virgen to sway indigenous polytheists toward monotheistic Catholicism. The iconography bears a strong resemblance to the indigenous goddess Tonatzin, and the apparition and subsequent church occurred at the location of an Aztec temple that the Bishop had previously destroyed.
The church of the virgen was expanded in 1709, but had to be completely rebuilt beginning in 1976. Diego's cloak is still preserved to this day within the basilica.
The icon is sacred to Mexicans today, even to non-Catholics. The symbolism was repeatedly used in wars and altercations in Mexico's illustrious history, often by famous leaders such as Morelos, Zapata and Hidalgo. Paintings and household decorative artifacts representing Our Lady about throughout Mexico and the United States. She is often referred to as Mexico's first mestiza, and the fact that she appeared to a peasant is not taken for granted.
On December 12, Mexicanos worldwide (and Mexicanos at heart) celebrate the appearance of Our Lady and the "momma of Mexico."