(Okay, so…this month has been CRAZY! I’m running around, trying to find a job, getting myself gradumatated and suddenly I realize that I have not posted the post I was supposed to post! Yay redundancy! So here goes.)
First, let me preface this with a word of caution. Please don’t listen to Wikipedia about anything Catholic, or anything else for that matter. I just did a search to see if I could glean any extra information, and decided that I could hazard a try with ye olde Wiki.
I should be slapped. I hate you, idiots that fill wikipedia with mostly crap sprinkled with some half-truths.
Anyways, today is Mother’s Day in Mexico, and my Catholic Culture of the Month is…!MÉXICO! I have had a devotion to the Virgin of Guadelupe since I was maybe 8 years old. Basically, I loved her as soon as I knew of her. I think she’s immediately responsible for drawing me towards the pro-life movement, as well as drawing me close to Mexican culture. Perhaps she was hoping that Mr. Serrano and I would meet! Who knows? Anything could happen.
You can’t examine Mexican Catholic culture without mentioning the Virgin of Guadelupe. It is because of her that there even is a Catholic culture in Mexico. Its understandable- when the conquistadores, admittedly some of the lowest common denominators among men come raping and murdering through your country, and they bring along monks that range from well meaning to just as flawed as the rest of us- you’re probably not going to be all that in love with whatever religion they’re bringing along with the smallpox they carry.
In any case, it seems that that is exactly why the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Juan Diego.
Since I can’t just plagiarize the heck out of a cool book I found in the adoration chapel, here it all is from memory. So if my memory fails, please find a good book and read!
Saint Juan Diego, an Aztec who was once part of the more important lines of power in Mexico went to Mass often. He knew a lot about suffering, as not only was he an Indian (screw political correctness) and had therefore zero respect in the eyes of the conquistadores (who were NOT interested in anything the Church had to say, or they’d have toned down the raping, murdering, and enslaving just a touch) he also had been married but he and his wife are reported to never have had children. On top of that, he had fallen on hard times economically. In spite of all this, he completely accepted the Catholic faith and showed it by going to Mass, and was incredibly humble.
On one day, he could hear singing and music nearby, and the Virgin Mary appeared to him. She told him that she wanted a church to be built right where she was. Yes, this was also the site of an old temple that had been dedicated to Tonantzin (although some sources name another Aztec deity). This is the part of the story where people start hopping up and down like first graders and start interjecting that this must mean that Juan Diego must really have secretly been going to worship his
violent baby-eating peaceful Aztec goddess. More on that later.
The Virgin Mary, who spoke to Juan Diego in his native language, called herself by an Aztec name. It meant “She who crushes the Serpent” which if you’ve spent any time reading Revelations in the Bible will sound familiar. I can’t write the Aztec spelling because I can’t spell it off the top of my head. All those consonants… She addressed him in terms that were very familiar, like a mother to her son. She also told him to go and let Bishop Zumarraga (coolest name for a bishop ever) know her concerns and wants.
Juan Diego set off and went to the Bishop’s residence. The gatekeeper thought Juan Diego was just a poor stupid peasant, and this being Mexico, decided to make him wait, and wait, and wait. Want to know where you stand on the social ladder in Mexico? Check out the waiting times you get. Juan Diego waited patiently (since being impatient gets you nowhere even slower in Mexico) and was finally admitted in to see the Bishop.
The Bishop thought Juan Diego was a nice man, and very devoted, but probably a little crazy. Why the heck would the Virgin Mary appear to such a poor peasant? Its not as if it hadn’t happened before, or as if the Virgin Mary didn’t come from a not-so-rich family herself. Nahhh, totally can’t happen, right?
So the Bishop was kind, and told Juan Diego to come back some other time, figuring that on the flying chance it was all true God would just have to be blatant about it. I am “Mary Sue”ing here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he really hoped that something would come of this, he just thought it was unlikely.
What Juan Diego didn’t know is that the Bishop was actually praying very hard about the treatment of the locals by the
murderers conquistadores. What most people in modern times don’t know is that besides the murdering and pillaging going on that made it understandably difficult to accept a new religion, many conquistadores conveniently thought that Aztecs didn’t have souls.
Whether this was an honest belief, or whether it was merely a highly convenient one that allowed for unlimited looting can be left to the individual person to decide.
Of course, there’s always a fly-by pissed off atheist who screams out “Well, then! Why didn’t he actually DO something?”
Mi amigo, just to let you know something, a whole lot of us monks came out against the conquistadores. What with all the raping and thieving and murder and of course mayhem going on, we thought it would be a good idea to come out and reason with the Spanish soldiers. That went so well that the Spanish soldiers not only killed us but did their best to erase our names from history. The few of us still recognized are usually ignored, because, well, its just apparently not politically correct to mention that we weren’t all raging d00shbagz.
The many monks who were killed for telling Cortez to freaking cut it out already.
Unless you had yourself some very good connections, if you came out publicly against the sins of the Spanish you could expect to die, or at the very least be shipped back to Spain in chains on the most trumped up, stupid charges the Spaniards could pin on you. To make things worse, they’d single out even more people to suffer because of your “indiscretion” or whatever, so not only would you NOT help anyone, you were also screwed.
So, the Bishop continued to pray, and Juan Diego returned to the hill where he had seen Our Lady. He explained everything to her, and she reassured him that everything would turn out well. The next day he went back to the Bishop, got some verbal abuse, including threats from the servants, waited even longer, and finally saw the Bishop. Once again the Bishop was impressed by the holiness of Juan Diego, and probably by his persistence, and started to wake up to the idea that perhaps Juan Diego wasn’t off his rocker. However, he wanted to be sure, so he asked Juan Diego to ask our Lady for a sign, and to come back the next day.
Saint Juan Diego returned home. His uncle was incredibly ill. Some stories say it was small pox, others say he had been shot by an arrow, but all the stories agree that Juan Diego’s uncle was so ill that he was going to die. Juan Diego rushed to go find a priest that could give Extreme Unction (Last Rites) and tried to take a back route so that he could avoid the Virgin Mary.
HA. Ya, that always works with God.
The Virgin Mary met Juan Diego and asked about why he was trying to avoid her. She assured him that she always takes care of her children, and had gone personally to heal his uncle. At this time, she told Juan Diego to go gather some flowers. Keep in mind, this is December in Mexico.
Everything is dirt colored in Mexico in December. Well, not everything, but a lot of it.
Juan Diego gathered the flowers that he saw, and Our Lady arranged them on his tilma and wrapped them up, with the instructions that they not be opened until he was in front of the Bishop.
The flowers were Castilian roses, which the Bishop loved and had asked privately as a sign that the Virgin Mary had heard of his prayers. The Bishop had attempted to grow those flowers before, but they didn’t take well to the extreme heat of Mexico.
Juan Diego returned to Bishop Zumarraga. He waited again, while being verbally attacked by the servants, who also kept trying to peak in his cloak. Finally, he was allowed in, stood in front of the Bishop, and let his Tilma fall open.
Everyone in the room dropped to their knees, because on his tilma was the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Bishop finally realized that yes, this was a miracle, and repented of being so skeptical.
Now, back to the “Aztec Goddess” issue. Yes, there are Aztec symbols littered throughout the image. For some reason, people seem to think that proves the Church was just covering up Aztec beliefs. That makes as much sense as saying Saint Thomas Aquinas was just trying to cover up traditional Greek thought.
Here’s the symbolism of the image (as much as I remember)
Rays of light are coming out of the image of Mary, symbolizing deity.
However, Mary’s gaze is cast down, showing that while a Deity is involved, she is subject to that deity.
She wears the traditional veil, a clear Christian (and Jewish) symbol of being subject to God, as well as of being humble. Aztec gods/goddesses were NEVER humble.
She shows the belt traditionally used by Aztec women to denote that they were pregnant. Among some of the other titles she uses, I think one of the Aztec titles she used translates to Mother of God. Theotokos in Greek.Her skin is dark, also testifying that she is the mother not only of the Spanish and Europeans but also of the Americas.
Stars are gathered all around her, showing that she is Queen of Heaven.
Her feet rest on the moon, a reference not only to revelation but also to the fact that she will trample out the false pagan gods. (Personally, I think they were demons if they existed at all.)
There’s other symbolism, which I BEG you to look up in a book and not the internet (you can try, but the information out there is often not sourced, mistaken, or is outright dishonest) and a lot of it is like a big, divine, middle finger to the pagan gods and goddesses.
The sheer number of miracles surrounding this image is insane. Its survived stuff being dropped on it, people trying to decorate it, time (it should have disintegrated in 20 years), being blown up when Mexico was on an anti- Catholic kick, and oodles and oodles of other stuff.
On top of that, the image isn’t actually “on” the cloak so much as it hovers over it like a projection. The closer you are to it, the less clear it is. The farther away, the more clear it is.
There aren’t any paint strokes, or under-drawings. There isn’t anything we would even call paint on it.
Although the images on the internets are blurry, an eye specialist has looked at the eyes of the Virgin Mary and you can see people reflected in them.
There’s other things that I know I’m forgetting, but this is the most amazing cloak ever.