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MEXICO: The cult of the Virgen Mary



Professor Louise Burkhart is the Director of the Institute for Mesoamerican Studies at SUNY Albany. The University of Texas Press has added to its important list of publications on Latin America her significant, well-documented and charmingly illustrated Before Guadalupe. The Virgin Mary in Early Colonial Nahuatl Literature (2001, pp. 165). The Virgin of Guadalupe legend was not published in Spanish until 1648 and in Nahuatl in 1649. The original statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe is in Spain and was linked to the Moorish invasion. Stafford Poole, C.M., whose Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Origins and Sources of the Mexican National Symbol provided a basis for the book reviewed here, concluded that the story was a pious legend. This is generally conceded, but any Mexican priest who says this about the Mexican national symbol gets into trouble. Under intense pressure from Mexico, Pope John Paul II has beatified Juan Diego nut has not made him a saint.

The strategy of the Catholic Church seems to be to show that there was a cult of the Virgin Mary in Mexico long before that of the Virgin of Guadalupe and that it was the official Vatican virgin, not the syncretic version fusing together the Virgin Mary story with the Aztec legend of Coatlicue. At the WAIS globalizations conference, in the session on religions, I raised the possibility of syncretism among them, and I was surprised to note the cold silence with which the S-word was greeted. Apparently it suggests a bastard faith, whereas no religion wants any question to be raised about its legitimacy. I humbly suggest that there was syncretism in the case of the Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe.

One hesitates to question the accuracy of any statement in this book. but what about this: "That the shrine (of the Virgin of Guadalupe) was not a major focus of indigenous people's devotion is clear from the research of William B. Taylor, author of Magistrates of the Sacred: Priests and Parishioners in Eighteenth-Century Mexico (Stanford University Press, 1996). The shrine's principal clientele was the Spanish population of the Mexico City area, who by the early 1600s were attributing miraculous cures and rescues to the devotion"- The conventional wisdom, which I accept, is that the Spaniards in Mexico City had as their shrine Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, an image brought from Spain by Cortés, which lost its popularity with independence, since it was a symbol of Spain. I searched for it years ago, but no one knew where it was and I gave up. The Virgin of Guadalupe exalts the Indians, not the Spaniards. When, with defeat, the Spaniards became the hated gachupines, and politicians were beginning to boast of their Aztec ancestry, the Virgin of Guadalupe was exalted to the rank she holds today. Despite this status, Mexicans refrain from saying on independence day what Father Hidalgo really said: "Long live King Ferdinand [of Spain] and the Virgin of Guadalupe! Down with bad government!" Sometimes it is impolitic to say the truth. But this might bolster the argument of Professor Burkhart.

Ronald Hilton - 10/27/01


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