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MEXICO: The Virgin of Guadalupe

The last posting takes us naturally to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Linda Nyquist has kindly sent me a small handsome book Felicidad de México (1995), by Fausto Zerón-Medina. Ironically, among the people he thanks is Guillermo Schulemburg, who was later dismissed from his post as Abbot of the Shrine of Guadalupe because he said that the story of Juan Diego was a pious legend. The book was published to mark the centennial of the 1895 coronation of the Virgin during the regime of Porfirio Díaz. The title page has a picture of the crown which now adorns her.

The book, full of pretty pictures, tells the story in a quite uncritical way, and so represents the Catholic viewpoint in our history textbook project. The shrine and the legend came to the forefront of Mexican history with independence from Spain and the intifada (upsurge) of the Indians. There are now complaints that the pictures of Juan Diego make him look too European. To show that the Virgin of Guadalupe has a long history, the author refers to a 1660 book with the same title by Luis Becerra Tanco, a professor of mathematics and astrology. A little reproduction of its title page proves that the book really exists. Pope John Paul II, depicted on a medal, said in 1994 that the devotion to the Virgin was truly Christ-centered, presumably in response to those who accuse the Catholic Church of Mariolatry. The history of the cult of Mary includes a reference to the councils of Ephesus, which, as a previous posting explained, was the source of a split among the Nestorians. Most of the book consists of an illustrated account in which Spanish, Mexican and church history are intertwined. There are similar cults of Mary in Lourdes, Fatima and elsewhere, but nowhere in the world is the cult as strong as in the Shrine of Guadalupe. This may be explained as syncretism of the Aztec cult of maternity with the story of the Virgin Mary.

Reading this book makes one think that these faithful are living in a dream world. But that expression brings up a personal problem for me. I sometimes dream that I am looking at beautiful landscapes I never saw in real life, or listening to moving music, hitherto unknown to me, sung by a choir. Last night I dreamt I was listening to a black woman singing a beautiful solo in a church. I could see and hear her clearly. It was very moving. An incredulous friend to whom I told this story suggested jokingly that I had been taking drugs. The answer is a vehement no. I simply cannot explain it, but, struggling with my computer and the incredible things the internet can perform, I realize that we are just beginning to understand these mysteries. There are more things in Heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in thy philosophy.

Ronald Hilton - 3/10/02