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Mexico Travel - Shrine Of The Virgin Of Guadalupe
( Originally Published 1939 - Presented For Historical Purpose )
IT IS, OF COURSE, INCONCEIVABLE THAT YOU SHOULD GO TO Mexico without visiting the SHRINE OF THE VIRGIN OF GUADALUPE. It is three miles from town in the suburb now named Villa Madero and can be reached either by automobile or by tram car from the Zocalo.
The present church was completed in 1709. It is in the neoclassic style, far more beautiful inside than it is out, with its color scheme of dark green and gold. It is impossible not to be impressed by a view of this church, particularly on a pilgrimage day, when the faithful, bearing lighted candles, proceed up the center aisle of the church on their knees.
The paintings in the church show the history of the miraculous image which now hangs in the main altar. The origin of the painting is unknown, but probably it was brought over from Spain. Few Mexicans, however, believe that it was painted by human hands. In fact, two hundred years ago a great Mexican artist wrote a pamphlet to prove that the picture was painted in no manner known to humanity.
According to the ancient legend, on December 9, 1531, an Indian, Quauhtlatohua, who had been baptized a few years before and renamed Juan Diego, was crossing the sterile hill of Tepeyacac when he heard music, and looking to see where it came from, he saw an arc of blinding light which seemed to turn the rocks around him into jewels and gold. Fascinated, he drew nearer, and in the radiance beheld a great lady. She looked like an Indian princess and bore a strong resemblance to the great goddess Tonantzin, who was the protectress of the earth and of the corn, and who had her temple on this very hill before the Conquest.
In a gentle voice she called Juan Diego "Hijo mio," and informed him that she was the Virgin Mary, that it was her command that a church should be built on the spot on which she was standing, and that he should hasten to the bishop and bear him this message.
The bishop, Zumarraga, laughed at the story, and Juan, brokenhearted, returned to the spot where he had seen the vision. The Virgin commanded him to repeat her message again on the next day. This time the bishop was slightly more receptive, but he demanded some proof or some sign by which he might recognize the divine command.
The bishop must have been more interested than he wished to indicate, for he commanded two men to follow Juan unobserved and bring back a report. But, lo and behold, when Juan approached the bridge, he suddenly vanished into thin air, before their very eyes, and they were forced to turn back. They returned to the bishop with the news, and expressed their belief that the Indian was evidently up to some sort of witchcraft.
When Juan reported to the Virgin the result of his mission, she commanded him to return the next day, at which time she would give him a certain sign. This he could not do, for he had to care for a sick uncle, but on the day after, 'which was December 12, he left his home to get a priest for his dying relative.
He was worried at not having obeyed the commands of the vision, and tried to avoid seeing it again by taking another path, but when he reached the little well of Guadalupe, the Virgin appeared to him again. He fell to his knees in terror, but she told him to have no fear, that his uncle was already cured, and that he was to go up the hill, gather the roses he would find there, and bring them to her in his mantle. He did so, finding that on the barren hill was now a miraculous garden of roses. He carried the roses back to the Virgin, who took them in her hands, gave them back to him, and told him to carry them to the bishop.
When he arrived, he unfolded his mantle to display the roses as the required sign, and a picture of the Virgin was found painted upon the mantle. The bishop no longer had any doubt, and he accompanied Juan Diego back to the slopes of the hill of Tepeyacac and also to his house, where the uncle was found to be fully recovered. The Virgin had also appeared to him at the exact hour she had met Juan Diego by the well, and had told him her wishes regarding the erection of a church.
The image was placed on the altar of the Cathedral in Mexico City until, in 1532, it was transferred to a shrine erected on the indicated site. Juan Diego and his uncle became the servants of the Virgin, and in 1754, 223 years after the first appearance, a papal bull declared that the Virgin of Guadalupe was declared the patroness of New Spain.
The mosaics in the church are splendidly conceived, and the use of gold in the decoration is particularly pleasing. The bases of the pillars, the altar, and the whole pulpit are in malachite, and the confessionals are of bronze.
Outside the church the atmosphere is completely different. There are stalls nearby crowded with the most appalling gimcrack images, medals, foods, and toys.
While you are there, you should visit the little CHAPEL OF THE WELL, with its beautiful domes, covered with blue-and-white puebla tiles that are about 150 years old. Under one of the domes stands the well beside which the apparition of the Virgin is said to have appeared before Juan Diego for the third time. According to the legend, if any stranger drinks the water from the well, he is sure to return to Mexico. Around the well itself, tables have been set for the sale of the holy well relics and little mud balls from the hill, and next to the well is a rather indifferent neoclassic chapel containing votive offerings.
Just outside the chapel, across the street, is a stone stairway leading up to the hill. The whole side of the street and the path up the hill is lined solid with tintype stands. It would be worth a trip to Guadalupe alone just to see the backgrounds against which the Indian apparently enjoys being photographed.
A short walk up the hill brings you to a simple chapel marking the spot where Juan Diego found the roses. The wood carving in the chapel is exceptional. From the hill there is an excellent view of Mexico City.
If you can, you should visit Guadalupe between the ninth and the twelfth of December, which is the time of the great festival.