Back to Index

The sacred shrines of Mexico

Linda Nyquist has sent me a folder, "The Sacred Shrines of Mexico" about an 11-day tour of the shrines of colonial Mexico, from Mexico City to Guadalajara via San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato. There are two kinds of pilgrims, and they are as different as Franciscans and Jesuits. The Mexican peasants go on foot, or even on their knees, presumably using peyote to ease the strain. The American tourists were escorted by Father William Hausmann, S.J., they stayed in first-class hotels and toured the sites by air-conditioned bus. The first morning included a visit to the Palace of the Inquisition and Santo Domingo church, both built by the Dominicans, who were in charge of the Inquisition. No discussion of the Inquisition, but we are told that the Church contains two shrines. Also visited in the first morning were two shrines frequented by Spaniards, Our Lady of Covadonga and Our Lady of Piety. In the afternoon there "was time to visit" the Anthropology Museum devoted to pre-Spanish cultures. Next day came mass at the Basilica de Guadalupe, celebrated in the "new" Basilica, dedicated in 1976. This summary seems confused. Surely the "new basilica" is the unattractive new building next to the old baroque one?

On the fourth day, there was a visit to the Virgen de los Remedios, translated as "Our Lady of Perpetual Succor". The image was brought to the New World by Cortés, but, when in 1520 the Spaniards were forced to flee the capital, the statue was hidden under maguey plants. Discovered in 1540 by an Indian cacique, it restores health to the sick. Surely this is a reference to the medicinal qualities of tequila, made from the maguey? The Spaniards, as they often did, built the shrine on a holy Indian site.

Then on to the convent of Atonotilco convent, where Father Hidalgo secured his banner of the Virgin to lead the forces of independence in 1821. He issued his "cry for independence" [this is not correct] in nearby Dolores Hidalgo. There is a whole legend about Hidalgo, who was in trouble with the Church and the authorities. Where is the banner now?

In Guanajuato there were visits to the Basilica of our Lady of Guanajuato, venerated since 1557 and granted a Pontifical Coronation in 1908, and to the university founded by the Jesuits in 1732. In Leon, the Cathedral, built by the Jesuits in 1746, houses an image which`protects from storms, lighting and plagues. In San Juan de los Lagos there is an image with which an old Indian woman told the Inquisition that she had marvelous conversations. (There is here a story for a novel!). The church is especially popular with Mexican Americans (why?); they have built a shrine in her honor in Texas (where?).

In Guadalajara there is the shrine of our Lady of Zapopan who is "the patroness against thunder, storms and epidemics, , the Patroness of Guadalajara, the General of the Armies, and Queen of Jalisco". She appeared in 1531 during a battle between the Spaniards and the Chimalhuacano Indians, who were so impressed by her that they surrendered and accepted conversion to Christianity. Now she is deeply revered by the Indians.

These were the highlights of the tour. I made a similar trip some years ago, and it is an excellent way to get to appreciate the Spanish heritage of Mexico and the role of the Jesuits in the evangelization of Mexico. Now I have some questions for Linda Nyquist, who accompanied the tour. Linda once mentioned her visit to the Palace of the Inquisition. Are the Catholics embarrassed about it? Jesuits are usually pretty smart. Did Father Hausmann (who must be of German background) tell these pious legends with a straight face? Did the Catholic tourists swallow them? Did you run into any simple Mexican pilgrims? What is now the attitude of the local popůlation? Is it simply that they are glad to have tourist attractions? In Guadalajara, at the so-called "ˇSocialist" university, it is unlikely that they take these stories seriously. Guadalajara is known as the home of many major drug dealers. The Italian mafia is very devout. Do the drug dealers likewise support the Church and have expensive church funerals? Did Father Hausmann discuss the suppression of the Jesuits in 1767 and their misfortunes after the Mexican Revolution? Are there any more comments Linda would like to make? Other WAISers may have something to add.

Ronald Hilton - 1/15/02