Zacatecas. It’s one of those places you just can’t forget. A mountainous city in north central Mexico, it’s a place of superlatives. UNESCO bestowed the title, Patrimony of Humanity, on the city in 1993.
It’s considered one of the finest of Mexico’s colonial cities. It was once the biggest silver-producing city in the world and for three centuries was one of the country’s most prosperous areas.
And that’s not all. It is renowned for having the only cable-car system in the world to traverse an entire city. And that cable-car leads directly to the shrine of EL PATROCINIO, which is majestically situated atop the Cerro de la Bufa, (Hill of the Bufa). The Bufa is a dramatic outcropping of rock which overlooks the city.
The statue of El Patrocinio was brought from Spain by the Spanish Conquistadores and was present at the founding of the city in 1546.
In 1588 Spanish King Felipe ll ordered a coat of arms for the city of Zacatecas: Prominent on the shield was an image of the Virgin Mary standing on the clouds atop the hill of the Bufa. The four founding Conquistadores are depicted at the foot of the hill. Symbolism on the shield can be traced back to a 500-year-old tradition: Initially the Chichema Indians were terrified of the Spaniards. They took refuge in the Cerro de la Bufa, hiding in the woods, fortifying themselves with supplies and weapons. Then came the events of Sept.8, 1530:
All were astounded by a vision in the sky: “A Lady of great beauty appeared on the Bufa with a child in her arms.” She advised the Indians to make peace with the Spaniards. All were startled and shouted “Milagro! Milagro!” (miracle) From that time on peace ensued between the two groups and the conversion of the indigenous population to the Christian faith proceeded tranquilly.
The Franciscans were the first evangelizers to the area: Francisco Jeronimo de Mendoza built the first church on the site in 1603. Until this time the church had been a small hermitage.
In 1707 the Franciscan Apostolic College for the Propogation of the faith was founded in nearby Guadalupe, Zacatecas, for the express purpose of evangelization. For the next century and a half the College provided priests for the shrine of EL PATROCINIO.
The charming wood statue (with such a youthful face!) measures 125 cm in height. It is enshrined above the main altar in the small, light-filled church. Neoclassical architecture dominates the interior.
The statue was crowned canonically by the authority of Pope Paul Vl in 1967. Cardinal Jose Rivera did the honours in the presence of 15,000 of the faithful.
“Zacatecas has always been the city of Mary,” he said, “right from the beginning.”
And it is probably the only city in the world where you can go directly to Mass—by cable-car!
“Reverse the ravages of time!” Cosmeticians have made fortunes on just such claims.
“Impossible!” say the realists. “Only in your dreams!” say the skeptics. But once, a very long time ago, just such a miracle did indeed occur…
The date was Sept. 19, 1644: The miracle occurred in Talpa, Jalisco, a small town in the Sierra Madre mountains of western Mexico.
Many years earlier, Franciscan missionaries had brought a 19”(48 cm) statue of Our Lady of the Rosary to the town. The fragile cornpaste statue had been crafted by Tarascan Indians in Patzcuaro, Michoacan, a state in central Mexico. The resourceful Tarascans combined dried cornstalk with the bulb of an orchid to devise a uniquely durable but lightweight substance, ideal for the moulding of statues. Patzcuaro had become renowned as the Christian sculptural centre of the country. Thus it was that the Franciscan missionaries would travel to Patzcuaro to purchase their statue.
It was placed in the local chapel and was the object of fervent veneration for many years. Over time, however, insects of all kinds began devouring the statue’s face. Eventually the statue became so disfigured—it was full of cracks and insect bites—- that the pastor, Father Pedro Rubio Felix became worried that the unsightly-looking image would be a deterrent to his parishioners’ faith. He announced: “The statue should be discarded! With all due reverence, of course.” He asked the cantor’s daughter, Maria Tenachi, to perform the task. She agreed to do so but only with the utmost reluctance. She loved the statue—and furthermore—she had received many favours from her patron!
She embarked upon her sad task. She began—ever so slowly—to carefully wrap the statue in altar cloths. Then—without warning, she was knocked to the floor by a dazzling light which beamed from the statue’s forehead. Maria fell “as if dead.” The people in the church rushed over, fearing the worst. “What has happened to Maria?” they screamed, racing to her side.” “She’s dead!” shrieked those closest to her; to everyone’s relief, however, Maria soon regained consciousness and rapidly recovered. Her eyes reverted at once to the statue: “Look, look at the statue!” Maria cried. Before their eyes the statue had transformed itself. “It looks perfect!” said one. “It looks brand-new!” said another. The news spread. People came running from all quarters to see the “renovated’ Virgin”. All were singing, praying, marvelling. “Milagro! Milagro!” (miracle) they shouted. The pastor, himself, witnessed the astounding events and testified to them in writing as did the onlookers in the church. And the Bishop of Guadalajara, Don Juan Ruiz Comenero said, “It is a great miracle!”
But that is not all. There had been, in reality, a double miracle: When Maria lifted the statue she was astonished by its weight: the featherweight, fragile statue had now become robust and heavy. It had changed into a new unknown substance.
Official church investigation in 1670 resulted in the document, La Autentica, which established the authenticity of the 1644 miracle. The fame of the image grew day by day and many were the miracles associated with her intercession. The small rustic chapel had to be expanded to accommodate the overflow crowds. In 1782 construction was completed on the “towering” church which stands today. It was declared a basilica by Pope Benedict XV in 1915 and the statue was crowned with papal approval in 1923.
As popular as she was three centuries ago, she is attracting even more crowds today: The travel guide Pacific Mexico refers to Our Lady of Talpa as one of the “three Sister Virgins of Jalisco who draw millions of pilgrims each year.” The other two are Our Lady of Zapopan in Guadalajara and Our Lady of San Juan de Los Lagos, in the town of the same name.
And Our Lady of Talpa is indeed proof—with God anything is possible. The ravages of time can be reversed—particularly in the spiritual realm!
The painting of Our Lady in the Church of Our Lady of the Angels in Mexico City is considered so celebrated and miraculous that it has been honoured by four popes, from Pope Pius Vl in 1793 to Pope Pius Xl in 1923.
One pope, Pope Pius Xl, was so enamoured of the painting that he kept a framed copy of the image by his bedside for years. It was one of the few items he grabbed as he fled Italy in great haste in 1848 during the political tumult in Italy.
In 1923 Pope Pius Xl authorized the pontifical coronation of the painting with Archbishop Don Mora y del Rio performoing the ceremony. The magnificent crown is visible today!
The painting has the most fascinating history:
in 1580 torrential rains flooded the Mexican capital.”Streets became rivers and homes were swept away.” Debris was rampant. But out of the flotsam, an Aztec Indian chief named Isayoque spotted a painting of exquisite beauty floating in the flood waters. It depicted Our Lady surrounded by a multitude of baby angels. He was so moved by the loveliness of the image that he built a small adobe chapel to honour this depiction of Our Lady. In 1595, worried that the painting was showing signs of deterioration, he commissioned an artist to paint a replica on the chapel’s adobe wall. In that same year the church hierarchy approved the chapel for public worship.
Over time, however, the old chapel fell to ruins—all that is, except for the adobe wall containing the image! The painting, miraculously, was still intact despite decades of exposure to the elements. In 1746, church authorities decided to “seal” the painting by covering it with wet mats and nailed boards. A year later when the coverings were removed the painting was in pristine condition! Sadly, though, three decades later, the small chapel was a “complete ruin.”
In 1776 a pious tailor was passing by the chapel. He was so struck by the painting’s beauty that he was resolved to build a new chapel. With the permission of the Archbishop of Mexico he began the renovations.
In 1793 Pope Pius Vl affiliated the Church of Our Lady of the Angels with the Church of St. John Lateran in Rome and granted it all the indulgences to be gained in the Lateran church. “To recount the marvels worked through the intercession of Our Lady of the Angels would require a volume in itself,” reports a historian.
But probably, the greatest miracle of all is the preservation of the image itself. Since 1580, the image’s hands and face have not been “retouched in the slightest.” And still today, it remains “radiant with beauty” according to the author of the book MEXICO, LAND OF MARY’S WONDERS.
Best of all, you can see the painting yourself! It can be found above the main altar in the magnificent Church of Our Lady of the Angels in central Mexico City.
The painting above the main altar of the church of La Piedad has the most intriguing history—
The story of the
Dominican convent of La Piedad dates back to 1595. The friars wanted a painting of Our Lady for their new convent so they sent a friar and a laybrother to Rome to commission an image of Our Lady holding her Crucified Son. Once in Rome, the two found a renowned painter who agreed to their terms; however, he couldn’t give them a completion date. “We have to return to Mexico in a month,” they told him. He merely shrugged. In fact, he didn’t seem particularly interested in the project at all!
When they went to collect the painting a month later the artist handed them a black and white sketch. “That’s the best I can do!” he said. “But we’re leaving tomorrow!” cried the friar. “Well, that’s too bad,” said the artist, none too concerned.
The heavy-hearted Mexicans had no choice. They carefully packed the “painting” in a wooden crate for the long journey home. During the voyage a fierce storm engulfed the ship. “Padre! We’ll all be drowned!” they shrieked.in terror. “Have confidence in Our Lady, Star of the Sea,” answered the priest. “She can calm the waters in a glance.” All on board prayed fervently to Our Lady of Piedad to save their lives. Sure enough, the sea became calm and the pair arrrived safely in Veracruz. As they travelled overland to Mexico City they became increasingly uneasy. “How disappointed they all will be!” murmured the friar.
After warmly welcoming the travellers home, the friars were anxious to see the painting. “Open the crate!” they shouted. “Let’s see the painting!” When they removed the wrappings from the container—the sketch was no longer a sketch! Instead, in its place, was a full-colour painting of immense beauty. Full of wonder, the amazed pair knelt before the painting and recounted the extraordinary tale.
The miraculous oil painting has been venerated for four centuries up to the present day where it hangs above the main altar of the church of La Piedad in central Mexico City. Its size is immense: 9 ft.(3m) in height by 8 ft.(2.5m) in width. The colours today are as vivid and bright as if they had been painted yesterday.
Countless miracles have been enacted through her intercession and many of these have been verified by formal ecclesiastical investigation. Numerous indulgences have been authorized to the church of La Piedad and it has been elevated to the status of a Minor Basilica. The English name for La Piedad is Our Lady of Compassion.
The Church of La Redonda (known as Our Lady of the Round) is one of the oldest in the country. It was founded by the renowned and saintly Fray Padre de Gante in 1524 and was dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
But one is forced to ask: ” Why the strange name? How did it originate?” It came from the fact that the church has an unusually shaped appearance because of the circular shape of its apse.
Since the early 17th century the image of Our Lady of the Round has been venerated in Mexico City. The image’s origins are Spanish: Franciscans from Spain sent the head and hands of Our Lady’s statue to the church of La Redonda. This was common practice in New Spain (Mexico) where the statue would be completed and vested by Mexican artisans. When an elderly Indian woman saw the parts of the statue she eagerly volounteered to complete it. When she arrived home she saw two men waiting for her whom she had never met before. “We’re master craftsmen and we’re here to finish the statue,” they said. The woman readily agreed and handed over the face and hands.
When she collected the statue three days later the artists had mysteriously disappeared—without their pay! Everyone was struck by the wondrous beauty of the image. It was considered by all as a “work of art wrought through a miracle.”
Many miracles have been associated with La Redonda; two will be related here: In 1670 there was an “extreme scarcity of rain” in the city. The parishioners, in desperation, requested a license from the civil authorities to hold a procession of La Redonda, with the purpose of praying for rain. This was granted but strict geographical limits were placed on the participants. On July 9, the procession was held with spectacular results: a heavy downpour did, in fact, happen!
Strangely, though, the area immediately outside the area of the procession received no rain at all! Not one drop. The area bounded by the limits of the procession was deluged!
On December 11, 1676, a fierce fire erupted in a nearby church, the old church of St. Augustine. There was great fear that the fire would spread and engulf the entire neighbourhood. The image of La Redonda was brought in haste from the church. “When the statue neared the blazing building, the flames ceased at once, as though on command,” reported a chronicle of the event. A spontaneous procession of thanksgiving was formed and over three thousand people, carrying candles and torches, escorted the image of La Redonda back to her shrine.
The church of La Redonda was declared a national monument in 1932. You can visit it yourself today—it is a well-known historical monument (and active parish) in the centre of the city.
photography by Mary Hansen