Monthly Archives: October 2019
The church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Puebla, a city about 60 miles (100 km.) southeast of Mexico City, is considered one of the most beautiful churches in the country; some say it is the second most beautiful, after San Francisco Atepec in nearby Cholula. This, of course, is not THE basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The original one is in Mexico City. There are many churches dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe throughout the country.
Puebla is one of the oldest colonial cities in the American continent; it was founded in 1531. One of its founders was a Franciscan friar, Fray Toribio de Benavente. He was one of the original “Twelve Apostles” (known by this name to signify their apostolic mission) to arrive in Mexico in 1524 to evangelize the newly conquered peoples after the Spanish conquest in 1521. The Franciscans were the first to arrive, later to be followed by the Dominicans and the Augustinians. In their wake, missions and churches sprang up everywhere. Construction on this church began in 1694.
Puebla is known world-wide for its signature “Talavera-tiled” architecture, a style which typifies many of the buildings in the historical centre of the city. The church of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an example of this: Talavera tiles decorate the façade of the church depicting the events in the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico city to Juan Diego in 1531. Between 1550 and 1570 potters came from Talavera de la Reina in Spain to teach the indigenous craftsmen of Mexico their techniques. These Mexican potters were already experts in the art, greatly aided by the rich volcanic clay surrounding the area. Puebla is a city surrounded by three volcanoes! A photograph of one of these active volcanoes is shown at the bottom of this webpage.
They adapted the Talavera techniques to produce their own unique and striking form of ceramics known as Poblano Talavera. It is these artistic masterpieces which adorn not only the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe but many churches and buildings in the historic centre of Puebla, making the city home to some of the most stunning churches on the continent.
It is no wonder that Puebla was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987.
Meet the oldest statue of Our Lady on the American continent!
“In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”—a chant familiar to every school-aged child in America. That famous date, marked, of course, the year that the Italian-born navigator, Christopher Columbus, departed from Spain and discovered the continent of America.
Over the next two and a half decades more Spaniards would follow in his wake. One of these would be the conquistador, Hernan Cortes, whose miniscule army would defeat the massive military might of the Aztec empire.
He left Spain prepared for battle, both military and spiritual. As well as soldiers, cannon and horses, he brought with him priests, crucifixes, and several wooden statues of the Virgin Mary. One would become the most revered of them all: the statue of Our Lady of the Remedies.
Sculpted in the city of Tolosa, Spain, in the 14th century, she has the distinction of being the oldest statue of Mary on the American continent.
Our Lady of the Remedies was to play a role in the Spanish conquest of Mexico. She accompanied Cortes and his soldiers in 1519 on their grueling march from Veracruz on the Mexican coast to the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, (site of present-day Mexico City), a journey of 400 miles over two mountain ranges. She also witnessed the triumphant entry of the Spaniards into the capital and the dramatic encounter between Cortes and the Aztec leader Moctezuma. For a period of time she even replaced the “hideous” blood-thirsty idol of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, that graced Moctezuma’s private apartment.
During the Noche Triste (the Night of Sorrows) on July 8, 1520, she was “implored with tears” as the Spaniards fled from the Aztecs in terror, suffering terrible losses. The diminutive 11”(28cm) statue was hastily hidden under the leaves of a cactus plant and she remained lost for twenty years!
She was found in 1540 by a newly converted Indian chief, Juan Cuautli, and was venerated for several years in his private chapel. In 1575 a shrine was built in her honour in Naucalpan, eight miles northwest of Mexico City.
Even in the 1500’s this shrine was well-known. Bernal Diaz refers to this shrine in his famous 16th century first-hand account of the struggle for Mexico, The True History of the Conquest of New Spain: “After the great city of Mexico was finally captured we built a church which is called Our Lady of the Remedies and it is now much visited.” Diaz was a young 26-year-old soldier when he fought alongside Cortes in the battle for Mexico. He wrote this book while he was in his 70s.
Like most churches of the earliest Colonial period, it was built at the site of a destroyed Aztec sacrificial temple, thus sanctifying a place which had been a scene of previous abominations. It reflects the influence of the Spanish architect, Juan Herrera, who had been commissioned by King Philip ll of Spain in 1563 to build the monumental monastery and royal tomb, El Escorial, near Madrid. The Herrerian style is characterized by a stark and somber austerity-“a sad somemnity”- and is evident in the facade of the single-tower church of Our Lady of the Remedies.
But the altarpiece and cupola which showcases the statue of Our Lady of the Remedies—Herrerian it is not! It was built at a later period and is a riot of sumptuous splendor, reflecting the Churrigueresque style of Baroque architecture, unique to Spain and Latin America, particularly Mexico. It is named after Spanish architect Jose Churriguera who dominated Spanish architecture for the first half of the 17th century.
She became known for her powers of intercession in great public calamities: From 1567 to the early years of the 20th century, she was carried in procession on 75 separate occasions, in times of urgent needs: epidemics, droughts, wars, and political crises of all kinds—none of these proved obstacles for Our Lady of the Remedies.
Cortes’ “utterly unbelievable victory” in 1521 inititated the demise of paganism in Mexico. Christianity would become the religion of the land. It has been said that the secret weapon of the Spanish missionaries in Mexico was their devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Ten years before the arrival of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Tepeyac Hill, Our Lady of the Remedies arrived on Mexican soil. She was the first. It was she who paved the way.
Reprinted with permission from the NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER.
October 12 is the feastday of Our Lady of Zapopan in Guadalajara, Mexico. According to one travel guidebook “she is one of the most revered religious relics in Mexico.”
What is unusual about this celebration is the homage that the secular media pays to it! One travel guide stated: “the legendary image of Our Lady of Zapopan has enjoyed generations of popularity so enormous that it must be seen to be believed.” Another comments on her “continuous stream of penitents.”
The media are stunned by the multitudes who participate in Our Lady of Zapopan’s pilgrimage every October 12th: she processes from the Cathedral of Guadalajara to her home sanctuary at the Franciscan Basilica of Zapopan; a journey of six miles, in “numbers that are beyond belief.” The Oct. 13, 2005, issue of the Miami Herald reported that one million people participated in the event in 2005. Security personnel estimated the numbers to be two million in 2008, the year I attended the event. EWTN reported that four million people walked in the procession to Zapopan from the Eucharistic Congress in Guadalajara in 2004.
Amid great pomp and pageantry she is escorted back to Zapopan, after traveling through the diocese of Guadalajara for the previous four months. She is accompanied by throngs of rejoicing pilgrims, honour guards, priests and nuns, charros (cowboys or horsemen dressed in traditional clothes), marching bands, Mariachi musicians, jugglers, children’s choirs, and Indian dancers in traditional costumes. Airplanes may strew flowers along the route. Fireworks punctuate the night sky. And Rosaries and stirring hymns are heard all along the route. All to celebrate the diminutive 13” figure of La Zapopanita, who is not only the oldest statue of Mary but the first one to be venerated in the state.
Most striking are the numbers of indigenous dancers. The Mural, Guadalajara’s Spanish language newspaper, reported that “16,000 Indian dancers” participated in the annual procession in 2008. Dicken’s words from Hard Times came to mind as I was watching the procession: “a blaze of splendor.” He could have been describing the befeathered Indian dancers at Zapopan! Splashes of colour going marching by—firecracker reds, brilliant blues, emerald greens, all in exquisitely embroidered and beaded and bejeweled costumes. A dazzling sight! And dazzling too was the sound of their “ankle “rattlers.” A sound I will never forget. These are made from shells of nuts which have been partially filled with small stones and sewn on to leather ankle bands. It is a spellbinding, melodious sound, k-poosh, k-poosh, k-poosh, multiplied a few million times over, like an army on its way to heaven. The dancers spend a year in intense training for the event, training weekly, sometimes daily, until all is just right, each step perfect, to offer to Our Lady of Zapopan.
It all began with the Franciscans: In 1524 the first group of twelve Franciscan missionaries arrived on Mexican soil. In 1525 the second group arrived, among them Fray Antonio de Segovia and his traveling companion, Fray Miguel de Bolonia, who became the first evangelizers in Jalisco. The ascetic and kindly Fray Antonio had a deep devotion to Our Lady and always carried her image with him on his missionary travels. He would wear it around his neck, claiming that it was she who was the evangelizer, not himself! The statue was one he brought from Spain and is the same statue that resides in the Basilica of Zapopan today.
She became known as “La Pacificadora,” the one who makes peace: One day while Fray Antonio was preaching “luminous rays issued from the statue.” So impressed (and startled!) were the Indians with this divine manifestation that they laid down their arms (the Spaniards and the Indians had been at war with each other) and begged to be baptized. Since the earliest days the indigenous peoples of Guadalajara have been devoted to Our Lord and His Mother.
Many are the honours accorded to Our Lady of Zapopan. After reports of numerous miracles an ecclesiastsical investigation in 1641 declared the image to be taumaturga which means “wonder-working.” Among the verified miracles were the curing of a blind man and the restoration of a dead child to life. In 1919 the Vatican authorized the Pontifical coronation of the image and she was crowned in 1921. In 1940 Pope Pius Xll elevated the shrine to the status of a basilica. Another great honour accorded to Our Lady of Zapopan was the visit by Pope St. John Paul ll on January 30, 1979. While there, he said to vast crowds: “This sanctuary of Zapopan is proof, most consoling, of the intense devotion, that the Mexican people profess to the Virgin Immaculate.”
Our Lady of Zapopan wears different costumes: for the October 12th procession she is dressed in “a medieval pilgrim’s cloak and a broad-brimmed hat” complete with a large satchel. Because what lady can travel without her travel bag? At other times she is seen wearing a gold-tasseled blue sash, indicating military rank and carrying a “gold baston of command.”Military rank? A baston of command? For Our Lady? Well, in 1821, the “Year of Independence” for Mexico, the government of Jalisco commissioned Our Lady as “General of the Army and of the State.” At which time she was vested with the sash and the baton! Our Lady of Zapopan is also known as the Patroness of Guadalajara because of her protection of its citizens in storms and plagues.
A visit to Zapopan on October 12th will provide memories for a lifetime of the deep veneration of the people of Mexico toward Our Lady.