This December 12, thousands of Catholic parishioners venerated the Virgin of Guadalupe, a popular tradition that has its roots in indigenous peoples and that, essentially, belongs to the people, explains researcher Gerardo Bohórquez in an interview.
Text: Alejandro Ruiz / Footer
Photos: Isabel Briseño and Alejandro Ruiz
Perhaps one of the most iconic symbols in Mexican culture is the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and it is no coincidence, Well, share our features, our skin colorand is, in turn, a symbol of deep, pure and unconditional love.
For this reason, every December 12, the people of Mexico come to venerate her at her sanctuary: the Villa de Guadalupe, despite the decrease in the percentage of Catholics in the last decade. (from 82.7 to 77.7 percent).
The story goes that, in that place, the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego, a Mazehual Indian who collected flowers in Tepeyac, and entrusted him to announce her arrival among the people. As proof of this, she stamped her image on a cloak.
Although this story is deeply rooted in our popular culture, its origin may not be as we have been told, but rather is the product of indigenous syncretism and Spanish Catholicism that he sought to unite two worlds, with very different visions and cosmogonies.
But Is the veneration of the Virgin of Guadalupe a mere product of the Spanish conquest? The answer is not so simple, because, although the name of Guadalupe is given to her in Spanish, and after the conquest, her cult actually has deep roots in the traditions and spirituality of indigenous peoples.
To delve into this, we spoke with an “ordinary Guadalupano”, as Gerardo Bohórquez likes to define himself, a researcher who has dedicated his entire life to finding explanations for his Guadalupana faith.
syncretism and faith
Author of the book Coatlicue Sanjuanita (University of Guadalajara, 2020), Bohórquez met the Guadalupana from a very young age, in an elementary school in the Tepito neighborhood, where he is from. There, a teacher began to teach him the stories that people like Vasco de Quiroga and Fray Bartolomé de las Casas made of the Virgin. But also, he emphasizes, the symbols used by the heroes of independence such as Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos.
“They were visionary characters, who always placed themselves on the side of the poor, the dispossessed, the indigenous peoples,” he says.
For him, the veneration of the Guadalupana is something that is essentially in the people, “not on the side of the powerful, Tonantzin belongs to the people.”
His reflection comes from the studies to which he has dedicated his life, and before which he has concluded that the Virgin of Guadalupe is the same representation of the Coatlicue and Tonantzin, Mexica deities.
For example, he says, before the arrival of the Spaniards, on the Tepeyac hill, the Mexica Indians worshiped Tonatntzin-Cihuacóatl, a serpent-woman goddess associated with Mother Earth. That is, to fertility and life.
And it is that, prior to the conquest, the land was (and continues to be) a crucial element for the divinity of the indigenous people. From it emanates life, and in it, too, rests death.
The friars who arrived with the conquest found the same original people, a possible articulation that weaved certain ties between their beliefs and the new proposal of Catholicism. Even the place, Tepeyac, is consistent with what the conquerors and evangelizers did, since it was very common for them to build their temples on the ruins of pre-Hispanic temples.”
The same symbol for and of the people
Although the image of Tonantzin merged with that of the Virgin of Guadalupe after the conquest, the meanings given to it by the Mexican people remain the same: that of a mother who gives life and love, says the researcher. He also points out that these meanings were shared by broad Mesoamerican cultures.
“Before the Spanish arrived, Sahagún says, pilgrimages were already coming from Guatemala to see Tonantzin,” he insists.
The similarities, or assimilations, do not just stop there. For example, in the Mexica culture, Tonantzin was also the mother of Huitzilopotzli, the god of new fire, who is also venerated in December, during the winter solstice. On her part, the Virgin of Guadalupe is the mother of Jesus Christ.
The date of December 12 was later awarded. But before, in those days, the flower and song offering was already in Tepeyac, which curiously means the rebirth of women. In other words, the woman reappears as a savior, as a protector of the people”.
Another similar case, he says, is that of the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos, whom some researchers identify as a reappropriation of Coatlicue, another female deity associated with life and death.
“San Juan de los Lagos was a hill and also water, that is, a place of fertility and food, where children or births are also venerated, that is: fertility.”
Even some chroniclers of the colonial era were bothered by the duality in the spirituality of the indigenous people, such as Sahagún himself, who, after the evangelizers decreed December 12 as the date to worship the Virgin of Guadalupe, said he was annoyed “because people said they were going to see Tonantzin and not Guadalupe.”
“The great force that Catholicism and the Spanish took to spread the belief in the Virgin of Guadalupe was that, the similarities in the worship of Tonantzin,” says Bohórquez.
In the end, he adds, “Coatlicue, Tonantzin, San Juanita… end up being, if not the same, the same symbol.”
However, the popular origin of the symbol has always been in constant dispute. For this reason, he emphasizes, “we must remember that it is a symbol of the poor, of the indigenous, of the dispossessed, so that their children can go and seek comfort, as they do on earth.”
Double use of the Virgin of Guadalupe
The portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe has championed revolutions, movements and deep convictions in favor of justice for the poor. But also, as happens with groups on the right, it has been a banner to propagate conservative thought.
Today we see that capital, the powerful, want to exterminate the indigenous peoples, and also the powerful want to take the Virgin of Guadalupe from the people.”
This double use of the image of the Guadalupana is not new, for example, recalls Bohórquez, Agustín de Iturbide, Antonio López de Santa Anna and Maximilian himself maintained an imperial order of Guadalupe.
“There is an outburst on the part of the dominators, and there is an experience, a submission, based on the symbol that Guadalupana represents for the people. But something is certain, a true Guadalupano must be on the side of his people, on the side of the indigenous peoples, of the oppressed, ”he insists.
For him, dates like December 12 express this dispute and contradictions. Well, while on the one hand television stations and tourist companies do business with the faith of the Guadalupans, the reasons why the people attend the veneration of the Virgin are deeper than that.
Those millions who go are, for the most part, townspeople. Indigenous, and mestizos. There are also people of European origin, but they are the ones who go the least”.
And he reflects that, although many times we do not know our history, deep down the indigenous worldview continues to be expressed in the pilgrimages and festivals of the Guadalupana.
And he explains that, in reality, December 12 “is a great meeting of the people, of the original peoples, with their own roots, of course, transformed, but they did not see a great contradiction with the image of Catholicism, but instead appropriated them.” ”.
“The original peoples are not wrong, they are not ignorant, they are not people who go without sense. On the contrary, they know where they are going and why they are going. Even if it is in a very simple way, not necessarily doing pre-Hispanic theology”.
This text was originally published in Footer, it is reproduced by virtue of the #AlianzaDeMedios of which ZonaDocs is a part: