On this auspicious and “once a century” day of the year I am moved to share 12 versions of an image that I was raised to love: La Virgen de Guadalupe.
December 12th is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe and obviously this year this is a very special celebration being that it is 12/12/12!
As my Tia Frances shared with me ” This is the year of the woman, the year of feminine energy and healing”
Tonight I went to the Celebracion Guadalupana at the Los Angeles Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels. The evening started out with Danzantes filling the plaza with the smell of Copal, the rhythmically strong movements of bodies young and old, the mesmerizing swirls of feathered headdresses and the earthly beat of the drums. I lit a candle for my ancestors and kneeled in front of the Guadalupe mosaic outside the cathedral. The dancer with the peacock headdress shed a peacock feather right in front of me… We moved into the church and listened to a youth orchestra, the church choir and mariachis. The sound in that cathedral is stunning. The MC, speaking in Spanish, told the history of the Guadalupe and to my surprise also talked about the Indigenous symbolism of this image of Mexico…finally we sang Las Mañanitas to La Virgencita and the midnight mass began.
I associate her image with my grandparents, with my Mexican roots, with my family on sunday mornings going to church, with the endless burning candles on my parent’s altar, with the medal I got at the Basilica in D.F, with feeling safe as long as I say a little prayer to her, with tattoos on brown skin, with the soothing aroma of roses that actually smell like roses…
I also associate her image with womanhood, power, patience, strength, change, pride, tears, confusion, love, community, wonder, and intrigue.
For a little background on the history of this image here is an excerpt from:
” According to both oral tradition and official versions, a beautiful Mexica woman appeared to Juan Diego and speaking to him in Nahuatl, asked him to tell the bishop that her name was La Virgen de Guadalupe and that she wanted a church built on Tepeyac. When Juan Diego was not believed, as proof of his story, she instructed him to fill his tilma (cape) with roses and take them to the Catholic bishop yet again with instructions to build a church on that same site. When Juan Diego opened his cloak to show the bishop the flowers , instead of roses, the image that we know of today as Our Lady of Guadalupe was miraculously imprinted upon the cotton fabric. That tilma is now enshrined at the Catholic Basilica in Mexico City.
The devout Catholic will tell you that Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to a peasant by the name of Juan Diego in a demonstration of faith for the conquering Spaniards.
Ask a mestizo or Indigenous person and they will tell you that Our Lady of Guadalupe is really Coatlaxopeuh, another name for Earth Mother Tonantzin, to whom offerings were made on that same hill of Tepeyac hundreds of years before the arrival of the Spaniards.
They will tell you that Tonantzin/Coatlaxopeuh appeared to Cuauhtlatoatzi to inspire hope in a people who were being oppressed by the Spanish and, later when the Church acknowledged Our Lady of Guadalupe as the Patroness of Mexico, to allow the people to continue to honor her in safety.
To many people, she is not either/or, but rather one: TonantzinGuadalupe. Her blend of Indigenous and European features represents the beauty and sacredness of both cultures—not just those of the dominant society. Her face is the face of today’s Mexican, Chicano, Mestizo… The two cultures, reconciled in this moment, acknowledge the uncommon bond of love for the Woman Who is Cloaked with the Sun; the bridge of Light between peoples.“
Her duality echoes inside me… I worship Mother Nature and am blessed by flowers, copal, the moon and the stars. My heart still skips a beat when I smell frankincense and myrrh, when I hear the prayers I know by heart during a Catholic mass, when I say “peace be with you,” first to my mother and father and then to those around me. I pray to the energy of the universe and to those who have gone before me.
On this day I pray for the healing of Mexico, the end of violence against women and the chance for all little girls to take pride in their roots, their dreams and their future.
¡Que Viva La Virgen de Guadalupe y Tonantzin!