The Virgin of Guadalupe: Under the Sign of Tonatzin

By Jade Arroyo

In México, the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe is one of the largest celebrations, and regardless of personal belief (or absence of it), the truth is that none can deny her. She symbolizes our own mestizo identity — that mix of races, of cultures and beliefs which is Mexico.  The Virgin of Guadalupe’s name in nahuatl (the Aztec’s tongue) is Tonatzin, which means “our venerable dear mother.” Dressed with exuberant roses and worshipped with prayers and chants, her precious image carries the weight of our history and identity. Her festivity is celebrated on December 12, and it marks the beginning of the Guadalupe-Reyes three-week party, which will end on January 6, Three Kings Day.


Symbolism of the Virgin

According to scholars, the stars on the Guadalupana’s cloak represent the December night sky. She’s standing in the center of the moon. The very word “Mexico” means in nahuatl “navel of the moon.”

The Virgin’s skin is dark, like that of the indigenous people. Her hands are together in prayer, representing the bonding of cultures: the right hand is white and large, and the left one is smaller and has dark skin. The flower with four petals (nahui hollin in nahuatl) in her dress symbolizes the presence of God and marks the place in her womb where Jesus is being carried. The word “Guadalupe” comes from the nahuatl “coatlaxopeh,” which means “Lady of the Heavens.”

The myth of Guadalupe and Juan Diego

According to tradition, the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared four times to Juan Diego at the Tepeyac hill. The last apparition was on December 12, 1513. The Virgin told Juan Diego to climb up the Tepeyac, cut some roses and bring them to her. It was winter and the soil around there is very arid, however he found the most beautiful roses. He wrapped the roses on his tilma (a sort of poncho), and took them to the Virgin. She sent him to the Bishop with the roses as a proof of her apparition. When Juan Diego unwrapped his tilma and let the roses fall, the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared, printed on the cloth. Since then, she became the crux of Mexican spirituality.


Celebrations in San Miguel

In San Miguel, one of the places devoted to this festivity is El Santuario Hogar Guadalupano (better known as Mexiquito), a non-profit institution that cares for orphan children. It was founded by the singer/actor José Guadalupe Mójica in 1967, and ever since, this party is a yearly custom. Pilgrims visit the Virgin from December 3, but the special day is, of course, the 12th, starting with mariachi music and the traditional “mañanitas” at 4am; followed by mass at different times. During the day there is a joyful atmosphere, with little stands of Mexican food for sale. The profits go to the institution.

At Los Rodriguez community you can find a church dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. As is easy to imagine, the party at this place is very special. A great number of pilgrims arrive with prayerful requests and their respect. The party starts the night of December 11, with evening mass at 11pm, followed by the mañanitas at midnight. All day long and the following day there are celebrations with fireworks and live music.

At the Ignacio Ramírez market, the union of merchants also celebrates the Virgin of Guadalupe; however, they celebrate on December 17 of each year. They start on the 16th in the afternoon when they go to the house of doña Consuelo, at  Zacateros 35, to pick up the image of the Virgen Peregrina (Pilgrim Virgin), and then they carry her through the main street of town and up to the market, while singing songs of worship. This Virgen Peregrina image will remain at the market the rest of the day and all of the 17th. The mañanitas with mariachis are sung at 7am; at 9am a mass is held by the priest Francisco Campos. The party lasts the whole day, with banda music, mariachis, dances by the Aztec Warrior group and flowers everywhere.


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