Mary, an Emblem of Faith
SMA: Faith Is Culture
By Joseph Toone
For San Miguel’s role in the War for Independence from Spain, Fr. Hidalgo plucked the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe from Atotonilco to be the insurgents’ emblem and proof that God’s mother was on their side of the revolution.
But did you know the Spanish side had Mary supporting them, too? She was the Virgin of Help (Virgen de los Remedios), a miniature image of Mary brought to Mexico by the conquistadors. According to legend, one of Cortés’ soldiers, Gonzalo Rodríguez de Villafuerte, was carrying a small image of the Virgin Mary and hid her under one of the maguey plants in order to retrieve and pay homage to her later if he survived. (Hence, she is identifiable as the Virgin normally depicted atop a maguey plant.)
During a later battle in this area, the Spanish reported seeing a young girl throwing dirt into the eyes of the Aztecs to help the Spanish. This image of the Virgin is considered to be Spanish and a patroness to them and to the indigenous who adopted Spanish ways.
Though, ultimately, the Virgin of Help was on the losing side, she is still of great importance in Mexico, having a large national park named for her outside of Mexico City. Locally, it is the town of Comonfort, famous for its affordable pots and other garden supplies, that hosts a church alongside the railroad tracks with her image.
If you are intrigued by the notion of joining a pilgrimage but are loathe to spend nights sleeping outside after walking or riding horseback all day, you may enjoy the pilgrimage to the Lady of Help. It is normally a seven-hour walk on the first of September, when the weather is pleasant, and you can be back home in time for comida.
Or you can stay longer in Comonfort and enjoy several days of indigenous dancing, fireworks, and celebrations in honor of the Marian emblem who wasn’t as much help as the Spanish would have liked. But, as anyone who has spent as much as a day in San Miguel knows, it’s a fool’s errand to go against the ever-present Virgin of Guadalupe, the Mother of Mexico.
As the number-one rated local tour guide on culture by TripAdvisor, I provide tours on Thursdays and Fridays at 9am from the Oratorio Church. To learn more about faith and culture in San Miguel, visit CatholicSMA.com, which benefits children’s library and art programs.