Holy Mother of Mexico!

August 30, 2013

   The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe was just a short cab ride from Reforma, a few miles east of downtown Mexico City. A long street with a concrete island in the middle takes you down to the holy location. As we were driving, there were hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of priests marching, singing, and practically skipping to the basilica. At the front a couple of men were carrying a huge statue of the Virgin, and behind them, other men were carrying a coffin. The men acted like cheerleads for their religion and were more than happy to pose for a picture, yelling "Foto! Foto!" as I snapped away.
According to my father, groups like that will travel for miles on foot to get the Basilica since it’s an important Catholic symbol. The priest mentioned during mass that there were about 700 to 800 students of the faith there that day.

      The story behind the construction of the Basilica is as magical as the place itself.

     Juan Diego was an Indian peasant and widower living during the time when Mexicans were devoted to the Aztec gods. Juan Diego would walk to church on the weekends wearing a tilma. During one of his walks he heard a voice calling out for him and he decided to chase it, only to find himself standing in front of a young Virgin Mary. According to ledged, she appeared to Juan Diego with Indian features: dark skinned and short in stature. The Virgin asked Juan Diego to build a shrine in the spot that she stood. Juan Diego went to the bishop, but the bishop did not believe him due to his apparent lack of wealth. Instead, the bishop asked for a sign. The Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego again (for the forth time), and asked him to carry the beautiful December roses wrapped in his tilma to the bishop. When Juan Diego dropped the fabric letting the roses fall, an image of the Virgin Mary appeared on the peasant’s tilma.

     It was that particular event in time that changed history. The apparition led many Mexicans to turn to the Catholic faith. The rest of Latin America followed.

Juan Diego's tilma with the Virgin's image can be seen today at the Basilica.

     The holy grounds are home to several churches and shrines, including a guided walk up to the shrine where Mary appeared to Juan Diego. The stairs up the hill are lined with white and blue Mexican tiles and the vine-covered arches fall down into the rose bushes. At the top of the hill, you can see the whole city, including the Tower of the Americas.

     Amongst the many odd customs I saw there, I particularly fell in love with this one. This is a boyfriend and girlfriend that took turns rubbing a candle on each other before lighting it. I saw parents doing it to children and adults doing it to grandparents.

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