The Matriarch of Mexico Myth
December 12th Mexicans commemorated the 481st anniversary of the legend of the Virgin of Guadalupe in which an apparition resembling the Virgin Mary is alleged to have revealed herself to an Aztec peasant named Juan Diego. The story goes that Diego encountered the Virgin on Tepeyac Hill outside of Mexico City as a vision in which she commanded Juan Diego to go to the Bishop of Mexico and told him she wanted a church built on the ground he encountered her. However, no one else, including Roman Catholic clergy, saw the vision or was able to verify what Diego stated took place.
Despite the lack of verifiability of Diego’s story, the Roman Catholic Church erected a shrine on the site of the alleged occurrence in which the Virgin of Guadalupe Basilica is second only to the Vatican in terms of the millions of visitors who come each year. It is obvious that the tale of Mexico’s matriarchal saint is based on another apparition tale with similar themes.
For example, in the Cáceres Province of the Extremadura region of Castile, Spain a shrine to the Lady of Guadalupe still exists. At the beginning of the 14th Century, a Spanish shepherd claimed that the Virgin Mary had appeared to him and ordered him to tell priests to dig at the site of his discovery. Clergy who excavated the site stated they discovered a hidden statue and built a small shrine around it which later evolved into a monastery. The image of the Mexican virgin painted on a shroud and statue of the Spanish virgin both alleged to have not been made with human hands are definitely indications of myth manufacture.
According to Joe Nickell in his book Looking for a Miracle, the story of the Mexican Virgin was dated in 1531. Yet the shroud the Virgin appears on is dated as early as 1556. Nickell states that during an independent review of the shroud containing the Virgin’s image, sketch lines as well as cracking and flaking all along the vertical seam of the image were observed that pass along the original of mantle, neck and robe.
Nickell also points out during a Church investigation of the shroud, a priest named Juan de Maseques admitted that the Guadalupe Virgin image was painted on the original shroud by Aztec painter Marcos Cipac. Nickell cites author Jody Brandt Smith in which she states the original shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe is located on the same site of the temple of Aztec Virgin goddess of Corn and the Earth Tonantzin which Spaniards later leveled to the ground.
The Mexican Virgin tale was obviously borrowed from the Spanish Guadalupe story and fused the Aztec goddess with elements of the Virgin Mary. This was done in order to convince Aztec Indians during the Spanish conquest of Mexico which gave the perception of ecclesiastical legitimacy to the Spaniards and the Catholic Church.
The Virgin of Guadalupe story is one of many examples of the Catholic Church fusing local pagan mythological deities with Christian saints or spirits in order to win over the loyalty of local inhabitants. Another illustration is the church’s replacing the South American Umbandan and Candomblé ocean goddess Iemenja with the Our Lady of the Seafaring.