I have witnessed pilgrimages. The heart felt devotion and willingness to suffer never ceases to amaze me. At the Basilica in Mexico City I have witnessed pilgrims 'walk' on their knees with hands clasped to pray in front of Our Lady's Shroud. I cannot imagine the pain which is no doubt involved.
I wanted to share a little of the history with you.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
December 12th is the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. It is a religious festival and It is National Holy Holiday, held every year to honor The Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico. She is also identified with the Aztec earth goddess and mother of human kind, Tonantzin. The feast, in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, goes back 500 years to the sixteenth century.
Legend states that Juan Diego, a native Nahuatl, saw a beautiful, brown-skinned woman with a shining halo of rays. She was dressed in shades of rose, gold and blue.
She spoke to Juan Diego as the Virgin Mary. She told him to go the city and visit the Bishop and request a shrine be built in her honor. The shrine was to be built on the sacred temple site of Tonantzin (a pre-hispanic goddess) on Tepeyac Hill.
Guadalupe appeared three times to Juan Diego and asked for her temple. Juan Diego was turned down three times by the Bishop. He wanted proof that the beautiful lady was truly the Mother of God. Guadalupe told Juan Diego to climb the Tepeyac hill and gather roses, which did not grow in the winter. He gathered the flowers and brought them to her. She placed them in his apron and told him to deliver them to the Bishop. As he dropped to his knees in front of the bishop and opened his apron, imprinted on it was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, exactly as Juan Diego had described her. In 13 days, a chapel was built for Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Mary's (Guadalupe) appearance to Juan Diego was a powerful reminder that Mary and the God who sent her accept all peoples. Given the history of the cruel treatment of the Indians by the Spaniards, the vision was a admonishment to the Spaniards. It was an occasion of great importance to the indigenous people of Mexico. Today millions show their respect to her by making pilgrimages, on December 12th to the Basilica of Guadalupe, in La Villa de Guadalupe, in Northern Mexico City. The old Cathedral is built next to the new one.
There are smaller celebrations in churches throughout Mexico. In the City of Mexico, La Villa de Guadalupe is a festival that draws enormous crowds. Dances from a wide variety of indigenous cultures are performed. Ephemera and religious art are plentiful.
An interesting aside:
Why is she standing on what looks like a crescent moon?
There are actually several objects in the picture related to the crescent moon. You will notice that Mary is seen as an Aztec princess, and that she is with child (the vestments indicate her rank; the tassels on her wrists are the traditional Aztec indicator of her pregnancy). The casual modern observer would think that the bright golden rays that surround her are a kind of halo, indicating her holiness. In this case, they have an entirely different significance. They are actually the glow of the sun-god behind her (like the real sun’s corona in a full eclipse). Mary is eclipsing this Aztec deity; its day is over. The burnt-out moon-god is beneath her feet, showing that Mary has vanquished it, too. At the bottom is what seems to be an angel — but it is not. The wings belong to another Aztec god, Quetzelcoatl (ket-zel-KO-at-l), the winged serpent from whose plumage the colors of the modern Mexican flag are taken. Eclipsing it is a Spaniard in European clothes, who is supporting Mary. It was through a prophecy involving the Quetzelcoatl that Moctezuma, the emperor of the Aztecs, came to believe that his empire would be overthrown by another God coming from across the sea.
There are dozens of other details in the picture, each with its significance for the Indians of the time. The collar, the stars on her turquoise-colored cloak (which are astronomically correct and indicate a critical moment in time), the flowers on her profusely embroidered golden dress (including an especially ornate one directly over her womb) all carry a deep meaning. And in the 1950s it was discovered through scientific study that there are actually reflections in her eyes (optically correct), apparently showing the scene in the bishop’s mansion at the moment when St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin (kwow-tla-TOE-at-zin, “Speaking Eagle”) opened his tilma (cloak) to reveal the roses he had brought from the hill of Tepeyac. These are tentatively identified as a number of known personages, plus several who are unknown.
Finally, there is the inescapable resemblance of this picture to the description of the Woman clothed with the sun in Revelation 12. Something to ponder.