The Villitas of Guadalupe
By Oswaldo Mejía
The celebrations to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe at the Basilica in Mexico City are acts of faith and devotion that believers offer every year to thank the Morenita for favors granted. Health, good crops, or successful employment are some of the reasons people come to worship the Virgin of Tepeyac.
The Basilica is the meeting point for millions of people faithful to Guadalupe, but not only the church where the image of the Virgin lies is the site of such acts of faith and gratitude; fervor runs through every corner of the Villita, as Mexicans call the group of chapels and gardens where the Mother of all Mexicans dwells. Believers walk through the halls and stop at the fountains, their spirituality seeming to fill the space.
A few meters from the main sanctuary, there is a famous church where those in need of fortitude used to worship; this is the Chapel of Oaths, a site designed to get men and women, in need of miraculous spiritual strength, to withdraw temporarily from the excesses of alcohol .
“We want to take this time, when the Virgin is closer to us, to come to her house and swear that my husband will stop drinking alcohol for a year. Recently, he promised not to drink, and he did not keep his promise. His drunkenness made our marriage difficult and affected our children. That is why we come to see the Virgin of Guadalupe: to ask for her help and to release him from that damnable habit,” said Alejandra at the entrance to the chapel where the women wait outside for their brothers, husbands, or boyfriends, who receive guidance talks about the risks of alcohol and take an oath to the Virgin of Guadalupe that they are committed to abstinence.
An acolyte receives the faithful at the doors of the chapel and organizes their access to the site. Once the place is full, the ones who could not enter wait in line to receive priestly guidance and carry out their promises. “December is the most popular month because of the abundance of parties and alcohol. To avoid temptation, they come and deliver their promises to our Morenita. Here, they lay out their supplications and prayers, expecting to be granted the willpower they need to stop drinking,” said the acolyte.
The prayers of those who take an oath can be heard on the way to the next chapel, the Chapel of the Indians, built right on the site where Juan Diego lived during the last years of his life. Those who come here can see the bedroom of the Indian who witnessed the Virgin’s apparitions, and who is now a saint, so his home hosts many believers seeking spiritual bliss.
The tour continues in the Chapel of El Pocito, a baroque church dating from 1791. Legend says that there was another apparition of the Virgin at this chapel. In this same place there is a spring-fed pool that was considered miraculous; the ill used to bathe there, and others drank the holy water, hoping for divine benefits.
The Temple of the Capuchin, the Chapel of the Cerrito and the Basilica are the most common sites where guadalupanos venerate the Virgin, many of them having made long journeys from their homes in different parts of Mexico either on foot or by bicycle.
There are those who crawl more than 100 meters on their knees under a burning sun because such were their promises, some carrying healthy babies in their arms, and leaving a thin trail of blood in their wake. Such a sacrifice is an offering to the Virgin. No matter how tired they might be, they are happy to do it. Alongside or behind them, their companions from time to time offer them water, tissues or a pat on the shoulder.
To enable those with disabilities to see the Virgin and contemplate her printed image on Juan Diego’s tilma (robe), a special passageway has been constructed through which mothers lead their children in wheelchairs before the Guadalupana. With bandaged hands and amputations exposed, a long line of men and women pass under her robe, some praying, others singing or just saying a few words, sobbing, to the Morenita.
Perhaps what all the offerings have in common, besides the huge candles and wreaths that decorate the interior of the Basilica at this time, is prayer, a ritual performed together at Masses offered throughout the day, but that each individual feels in a special and particular way.
Veiled women with rosaries in their hands, elderly men gazing upward with open palms raised, children reciting prayers, couples prostrate before an image or hopeful young faces saying their prayers, petitions, praises, confessions or any giving of thanks, looking for a special communion, a spiritual union with the Virgin of Guadalupe who, these days, they say, is closer than ever.