Our Lady of the Maguey: the Virgin of Guadalupe
The feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe is Dec. 12th. A protectress extraordinaire, the image of Guadalupe, nicknamed “La Morena” among many contemporary Mexicans, is ubiquitous here in California. Officially, she is the patroness of Mexico, and in 1945 this patronage was extended to all of the Americas. The Philippines claims her as well.
Her origin story is almost certainly false. How a 16th century Spanish-art version of the Virgin Mary ended up on the cloak of Juan Diego--a poor indigenous man who saw her in a vision--is, well, a legend. The fact that the Catholic church accepts it is their business, not mine. I find it a case of Colonialism and Imperialism—especially since, when the Virgin allegedly appeared to Juan Diego, she asked him to bring her Castilian roses—a particular type of rose that is not native to Mexico, but is named for the traditional ruling class of Spain.
What I will do is tell you why I observe her feast day and what she means according to what contemporary Mexican feminists have told me. First of all, in the legend it is said that Guadalupe asked that her church be built on what was formerly the Temple of Tonantzin (the Spanish conquistadors had torn it down.) This is a sign to many Mexican feminists that she is Tonantzin by another name. The fact that, although she is clearly based on Our Lady of Guadalupe, Extremadura, in Spain, she has a brown complexion and exhibits other native traits is also evidence. Another example involves the rays emanating from her gown, which are thought by many Mexicans to be the spines of the maguey plant, the agave cactus. Therefore, one of her other nicknames is “Our Lady of the Maguey.” Something to think about the next time you try a flight of mezcal with a pack of salted crickets in that tony bar in Tijuana. The color of her mantle is associated with the creator/creatrix deities of the Aztecs which is another sign that she is more than just a version of the standard Virgin Mary.
Ah, well, the Spanish Inquisition is dead and gone, but La Morena remains. The red roses that are now ubiquitous in the Americas are her symbols, and I buy the lovely scented pink image candles. When preparing her candle for Rev. Dee’s Apothecary, I embellish her gown and trim the candle with gold glitter glue, and use glitter and real attar of roses on the candle itself. Her main “job” is to protect, and she has all the wonderful qualities of Mother Mary and the Mother goddesses of the Mexica and other indigenous peoples of Mexico.
The Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and International Shrine of St. Jude in New Orleans is a special place that I have visited many times. It is considered one of the “voodoo churches” of New Orleans, since many people who practice vodou worship there. It is also associated with vodou due to its statue of St. Expedite—one of only two known statues of this saint in the United States. It has a Marian grotto, and I’ve seen practitioners of vodou filling up half-gallon jugs with holy water from the font. Pere Antoine, its original priest, was the confessor of Marie Laveau, and reportedly they were good friends. The church is actually the oldest church building in New Orleans, and is located close to St. Louis #1 cemetery and is known as the “mortuary chapel” due to its use for funerals during yellow fever epidemics. It is also the official church of the New Orleans Police and Fire Departments. Let all that sink in for awhile…
Guadalupe is popular in Vodou and Santeria as a symbol of hope and determination; she inspires those who are struggling to continue to soldier on and achieve their goals. Author Sandra Cisneros sees her as a sex goddess. Add this aspect to her reputation, and you have one powerful woman! She even has a statue in Notre Dame de Paris; I was surprised and pleased to see her there. I will be offering a candle and roses to Guadalupe on Dec. 12th. May she bring us all courage and strength for the days to come.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is located at 411 N Rampart St, New Orleans, LA 70112: http://www.judeshrine.com/history.htm
See feminist portrayals of Guadalupe as a strong, confident woman and even as a superhero: https://feminismandreligion.com/2016/02/04/la-virgen-de-guadalupe-new-feminist-portrayals-by-jose-duran/.