Shoes. Shoes. And more shoes. That’s what youll find in León… in exuberant abundance. León, the fifth largest city in Mexico, is known as the shoe capital of the country. Not only do they have shoes, they have shoe malls. Devoted to selling nothing but shoes!
As popular as they are, however, the shoe malls are not the main source of pride for the citizens of León. The real treasure of the city is a remarkable painting in the city’s historical centre: the miraculous painting of Our Most Holy Mother of Light which is displayed over the main altar of the city’s elegant cathedral, a church that was begun by the Jesuits in 1746.
Our Lady of Light was named the chief Patrona (Patron) of the city of León in
1849. When the city was declared a diocese in 1872 Our Most Holy Mother of Light was named its Patrona as well. Papal approval of its authenticity was reaffirmed when the painting was crowned, in 1902, with the authorization of Pope Leo Xlll.
Our Most Holy Mother of Light is renowned for her miraculous powers of intercession. One of these interventions occurred in a spectacularly public manner on June 18, 1876. The cathedral was packed that Sunday morning. It was standing room only at the 11:00 am Mass. Suddenly, without warning, a loud crack reverberated throughout the entire church. To everyone’s horror “the keystone of the main arch, a tremendous block of masonry, fell into the aisle.” It looked like the entire ceiling would crash down killing everybody beneath. The people froze in terror. At this terrible moment, “Bishop de Sollano, with great presence of mind and sublime faith, walked down and stood under the arch.” The congregation held its collective breath. He prayed urgently to Our Lady to support the arch so that all would be protected. His prayers were heard.
Miraculously, not a single person was injured. They are still talking about it in León to the present day.The painting originated in Europe: It all began with a Jesuit priest, Father Giovanni Antonio Genovesi, who was born in Sicily in 1684.
He entered the Society of Jesus in 1703 and spent the next twenty years as a missionary priest “traversing the length and breadth of Sicily.” He was becoming disheartened, however, because so few people were converting. Father Genovesi, who had a great love for the Blessed Mother, had an inspiration: “I need an image of Our Lady to carry with me,” he said “, one that will convert sinners and move hearts!” But what image? And where would he find such a one?
He had heard that a holy nun in Palermo was receiving visitations from Our Lady. “I will ask her,” he said,“And she can ask the Blessed Virgin what she herself would like!” Father Genovesi travelled to Palermo to meet with the nun. The year was 1722. She thought it was an excellent idea and proceeded to ask Our Lady this very question. Before long, Our Lady appeared to her in a splendour of light surrounded by a “courtege of angels.” She was holding the Infant Jesus in one arm and, with the other arm, she was snatching a “sinner” from the jaws of a demon. An angel knelt before her holding a basket of human hearts. The Infant took them “one by one, sanctifying them with His hands.”
Our Lady then spoke, repeating the command twice: “I wish the painting to be as you have seen me,” she said. “The title of the painting should be known as “Our Most Holy Mother of Light‟.
The nun passed on the message to Father Genovesi who immediately commissioned an artist to carry out Our Lady’s wishes. No matter how many times he tried, however, the artist was not able to match the nun’s description of the sacred scene. “No, it was nothing like that!” said the disappointed religious. Time and time again this happened. Not even the Blessed Mother was happy with the painting!
She appeared again: “What are you doing here, lazybones?” she said to the nun (who lived a fair distance from Palermo), “when I need you in Palermo for a matter which concerns my glory?”
She told the nun to meet her in Palermo at the artist’s studio and that she, herself, would guide the artist’s brush-strokes! Our Lady would be visible only to the nun. “When the work is done,” said the Virgin, “all shall know by its more than human beauty that a greater mind and a higher art have arranged the composition and laid the colors.” Our Lady was delighted with the finished painting; it became known as Our Most Holy Mother of Light. She raised her hand to the completed work and blessed it with the Sign of the Cross.
Father Genovesi carried the painting with him for the rest of his missionary days; wherever he went conversions multiplied. “Our Lady moved the hearts of sinners!” he said. “The Virgin worked marvels through her image,” reported another historian. And devotion to Our Most Holy Mother of Light spread throughout all of Sicily.
But how did the painting end up in Mexico?
It happened like this: Another Jesuit from Sicily, Father Jose Maria Genovese (with almost the same surname as the original Father Genovese), had arrived in Mexico in 1707. News spread overseas about the miraculous painting of Our Most Holy Mother of Light and Father Genovese began erecting altars to her in Mexico. Devotion to her flourished just as it did in Sicily. The Jesuits decided that the painting should be sent to one of their many churches in New Spain (Mexico). But to which church? Where? In which city?
The Jesuits agreed that the selection would be made by casting lots: The choice? The Jesuit church in the city of León. A second, then a third drawing, confirmed the first. León it would be. On July 2, 1732, the miraculous painting of Our Most Holy Mother of Light arrived in the city in “triumph” amid “indescribable enthusiasm.” Every year on the second of July, to the present day, the people of León commemorate the event with a joy-filled, lively fiesta.
Since then Our Most Holy Mother of Light has became known for her outstanding powers of protection for the people of León: She has saved them from epidemics, from storms, from lighting, from plagues. Even revolutions. León is known as the “City of Refuge” because it enjoyed serene peace during the many revolutions and invasions that plagued the rest of Mexico for almost two centuries.
Although she is celebrated throughout the republic of Mexico, she is especially revered in León. The sumptuous cathedral is the centre of the religious life of the city. And at its heart is the miraculous image of Our Most Holy Mother of Light.
Written by Mary Hansen
This article is reprinted with permission from the CANADIAN MESSENGER OF THE SACRED HEART
In 1531 Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego in Mexico City and left her miraculous image on his cloak. It was a spectacular apparition and resulted in the conversion of millions to the Christian faith.
Ten years later—10 th anniversaries are always significant—a second spectacular apparition occurred in Mexico: that of Our Lady of Ocotlán.
In 1541, the city of Tlaxcala (an hour and a half east of Mexico City) was devastated by a smallpox epidemic in which 90% of its citizens died. Tlaxcalan Indian Juan Diego Bernardino worked at the nearby Franciscan convent—the first to be established in the country. On Feb. 27, 1541, he was out fetching water for his sick relatives. He was utterly astonished when a “beautiful lady” appeared directly in his path. She spoke of a miraculous spring that would cure everyone of their illnesses. “I will help all who are suffering,” she promised. Sure enough, all who drank the water were cured. Within days, the epidemic had vanished. But that wasn’t all—
The “beautiful lady” had also given him a message for the Franciscan friars: “Tell the monks that they shall find an image of me—through it I will bring forth my blessings.” The friars were skeptical: Where would they find such an image? And did such a thing even exist?
By a series of mysterious signs, however, their attention was directed to one particular tree. The friars had been shocked by two strange events: Not only was the forest on fire, but one particular tree was not being consumed by the flames. Once the fire dissipated, they proceeded to investigate: When the friars took an axe to this tree—in the presence of a multitude of witnesses—they discovered a wooden statue of the Blessed Virgin inside the tree trunk. All fell to their knees in awe and wonder.
The statue, almost five feet tall, was carried in joyous procession to the church where it resides today above the main altar in the shrine of Our Lady of Ocotlán.
The apparition has received the approval of the Church at the highest levels: Five popes have expressed belief in the authenticity of the 1541 miracle, from Pope Clement Xll in 1735 to Pope Pius Xll in 1941. In 1755 she was declared the Patroness of Tlaxcala. Later, the shrine was elevated to the status of a basilica. In 1906 the Holy See authorized the liturgical crowning of the image of Our Lady of Ocotlán.
It is not surprising that the Tlaxcalans should be so favoured: They played a pivotal role in the Spanish Conquest, allying with the vastly outnumbered Spaniards against the mighty Aztec warriors. Bernal Diaz, in his firsthand account, The Conquest of Mexico,describes the Tlaxcalans as “fervently loyal.” They were not only the first “friends” of the Spaniards in the New World, they were also its first Christians. The first diocese in the country was established here in 1526.
Travel writers call the church “stunning” and describe it as “one of the most beautiful churches in Mexico.” Historians cite it as a “masterpiece” of the late Mexican-Baroque style of architecture known as Churrigueresque, named after the Spanish architect, Benito de Churriguera, who dominated Spanish architecture for the first half of the 18 th century.
In Mexico this architectural style intensified and reached its most striking and elaborate expression. The purpose of such design was not frivolity: rather, it was to give effusive and exuberant praise to God. The single-naved basilica is a profusion of gold! Everything seems to be decorated in an array of gilded, richly carved swirls, scrolls, flowers, grapes, shells, vines and garlands. The twin-towered church façade features hexagonally-shaped red bricks combined with brilliant white stucco ornamentation.
Pilgrims to the shrine can also pay a visit to the Capilla del Pocito which houses the miraculous well. Here, in the charming blue and white octagonal chapel, they can obtain the same healing water that cured the townspeople of the smallpox epidemic so many years ago.
Other miracles abound: During a 1987 celebration Bishop Luis Munive Escobar of Tlaxcala witnessed changes in the colour of the statue’s face, a phenomenon observed by many visitors to the shrine.
“Are there healing miracles going on today?” I asked the sister in charge of the chapel. “Oh, yes!” she said, “but far too many to recount. But why should we be surprised? Our Lady always keeps her promises!”
Written by Mary Hansen
This article is reprinted with permission from the NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER
THE CITY OF MARY
The Shrine of: El Patrocinio, Our Lady of The Patronage,
Zacatecas is one of those places that travel writers rave about. A mountainous city in north central Mexico, it’s a place of superlatives. Considered one of the finest of Mexico’s colonial cities, it was once the largest silver-producing city in the world and for three centuries was one of the country’s most prosperous areas—“disgorging fabulous wealth” from its mines.
And it may be one of the only places in the world whereyou can go to church—by cable-car! 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 , a small Marian shrine majestically situated atop the Cerro de la Bufa (Hill of the Bufa); the Bufa is a “dramatic outcropping of rock” which overlooks Zacatecas and its environs. With its altitude of 2,667 metres, the Cerro de la Bufa is a strategic landmark for miles around.
This shrine is closely tied to the history of Zacatecas: The statue of Our Lady of Patrocinio, the Patrona of the city, was brought from Spain by the Spanish Conquistador, Diego de Ibarra; it was present in 1546 at the founding of the city by Juan de Tolosa and three other Conquistadores(soldiers).
In 1588 Spanish King Felipe ll commissioned a coat of arms for the city; prominent on the shield was an image of the Virgin Mary: She was depicted atop the hill of the Bufa, between the moon and the sun. The four founding Conquistadores are standing sentry at the foot of the hill. A painting of this crest is featured on the main page of the MADONNAS OF MEXICO website.
The symbolism on the shield can be traced back to a tradition that is almost 500 years old: Initially, the Chichema Indians were terrified of the Spaniards. They took refuge in the Cerro de la Bufa , where they hid in the woods, fortifying themselves with supplies and weapons. Then came the events of 1530: All the town was astounded that year by a dazzling vision in the sky—“a Lady of great beauty appeared on the Bufa with a child in her arms.” She urged them in a voice full of kindness, to make peace with each other. Everyone present was startled, indigenous and Spaniards alike, and shouted, Milagro! Milagro! (Miracle! Miracle!). As a result of this apparition peace ensued between the two groups and the conversion of the Zacatecans to Christianity proceeded tranquilly.
Their initial evangelizers were the Franciscans; Friar Jeronimo de Mendoza built the first church on the site in 1603. Before that time the church had been a small hermitage.
In 1707 the Franciscan Apostolic College for the Propogation of the Faith was founded at Guadalupe, Zacatecas (Guadalupe is practically a suburb of Zacatecas), by the saintly Franciscan missionary, Fray Margil de Jesús. The College was founded for the express purpose of evangelizing, not only the indigenous peoples of Mexico, but also the future citizens of California, Texas, and Arizona. Franciscans from this college sent priests to the church of El Patrocinio for the next 150 years, until 1848. That marked the year of the infamous Reform Laws in Mexico, laws which expropriated many Catholic churches and church property in the country, Included in this expropriation was the Apostolic College of Guadalupe; it is now an Art museum.
The Zacatecans have received numerous favours throughout the centuries from their Patrona, Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio : On many occasions, in times of epidemics, drought, calamity, natural disasters, war, and revolution, she was led in procession from her hilltop mount to the Cathedral of Zacatecas.
The statue is made of cedar wood and measures 1m. 25 cm. in height. It is enshrined above the main altar, flanked by elegant columns. Neo-Classical architecture dominates the interior of the sanctuary. The church has undergone several renovations in its lifetime with the present church being completed in 1795. And the views from the shrine of El Patrocinio overlooking the city? They are superb, panoramic, and— as befits Zacatecas, that city of superlatives—heavenly!
The statue has received church approval at the highest levels: It was crowned canonically with the authority of Pope Paul Vl. In 1967 Cardinal Jose Garibi Rivera solemnly crowned the statue of El Patrocinio in the presence of 15,000 of the faithful.
“Zacatecas has always been the city of Mary,” he said. “Right from the beginning.”
Written by Mary Hansen
This article is reprinted with permission from THE CATHOLIC REGISTER