Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Home Altars and the Virgin of Guadalupe in Quinceanera: Historical and Critical Perspectives

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Home Altars and the Virgin of Guadalupe in Quinceanera: Historical and Critical Perspectives

Article excerpt

[1] The Virgin of Guadalupe is integral to Mexican religion and culture and she plays a vital role in the lives of many Hispanics in the United States. (1) Guadalupan images are at the center of rituals and make it possible for devotees to be in touch with her and to invoke her intercession. Connections are made when her images are displayed on bodies and motor vehicles, in public spaces and churches, and in homes and yards. An industry of prints, sculptures, paintings, jewelry, and commercial products also provides a means to communicate with her. Guadalupan religion is an aesthetic and material-based enterprise involving the senses.

[2] While many of her devotees adhere to structures such as nationalism, Roman Catholic hierarchy, and Christian scriptural traditions, their devotion also allows them to transcend institutional and national boundaries and to contest and modify orthodoxies. In such cases, their devotion is strategic, and one of the most palpable strategies consists in the construction and design of personal altars where a conversation with the Virgin ensues. (2) Devotees who construct them often confront political and religious elites, countering ideologies of assimilation. Shrine construction facilitates identity and agency, especially for the disenfranchised. (3) In their resistance, Hispanic devotees obtain and share an empowering collective memory and religious identity based on their historical mestizaje, or ethnic, cultural and religious cross-pollination. (4)

[3] The Mariological tradition that Hispanics inherit stems from ancient traditions and resolutions established between pagans and Christians at the time of the conversion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century CE. (5) One continuity from antiquity still active among Hispanic devotees is the edification of altars containing religious images and memorials of their lineage. (6) In the Christian context, this device of recollection allows believers to fashion a familial plot within a Marian narrative and Christian cosmology.

[4] The Hispanic roots of Marian devotion are Iberian. A survey of the crowns of Aragon and Castile reveals a vast geography of Marian shrines "often localized in dramatic sites in the landscape," and a distribution of portable altars, retablos, detailing Mary and the saints. (7) The Holy Family, the pain of the Mother (experiencing the mutilation of her son), her intercessory role in human affairs, and the emotional dimension of believers seeking solace and consolation--these are themes incarnated in retablos and inscribed in Marian shrines in almost every community of the Spanish empire and its colonies. (8)

[5] In the United States, in particular Hispanic neighborhoods, Marian devotion consists of a repertoire of contestational practices. The Virgin's appearance is a continuous phenomenon where the implementation of Latino-phobic policies, often directed against working immigrants, inspire Marian reconstructions. (9) By reactivating Marian devotion and constructing altars, Hispanics advance a historical memory based on policies of occupation and a common past as mestizos enduring colonization. (10)

[6] The performances of Marian faith include liturgies, prayerful rituals, and spatial arrangements of holy objects that involve the routine or practice of veneration. This religion of sacred images entails aesthetic traditions and craftsmanship and involves all of the senses. Devotees devise routines using folk stories and modified visions of Holy Family narratives and accounts of the merciful Baby Jesus, the nurturing Mother of Heaven, and the Suffering Lord rejected by all except his mother. (11) Devotees revise orthodox models of the Virgin as the Mother of God. When believers build a shrine they access her and thus solicit membership to the chapel in heaven, for "the Eternal Feminine leads us upward." (12) Home altars are moveable and permeable, repeated aesthetic reconstructions of the Holy Family and of their respective domestic environment. …

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