Academic journal article Chasqui

The Image of a Miracle: The Virgin of Guadalupe and the Context of the Apparitions

Academic journal article Chasqui

The Image of a Miracle: The Virgin of Guadalupe and the Context of the Apparitions

Article excerpt

According to the legend, the foundation of the Guadalupe shrine is a direct result of the story of Juan Diego and the four apparitions of the Virgin demanding such a building. During her forth apparition, in 1531, the Virgin asked Juan Diego to gather some very special, out-of-season, roses in his rough cactus fiber outer-garment, his tilma, to be brought to the bishop, Juan de Zumarraga. Once there he began to tell his story while unfolding the tilma, as the bishop saw the wonderful image of Our Lady of Guadalupe stamped on it. This image, rather than the flowers, was the sign that Bishop Zumarraga had been waiting for. News of the prodigy spread quickly. As a result, the Indians who had been very resistant to Christianity flocked into the Church. Today the shrine at Tepeyac is visited by millions of pilgrims from all different status and situations, and Our Lady of Guadalupe is widely celebrated.

I have opened these pages by sharing the main details of the foundational legend around the apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe. But, in spite of Pope John Paul IPs canonization of Juan Diego, (1) the story's veracity has repeatedly been called into question. This article is a reflection on the manipulation of the image of the Virgin in the process of conquest and colonization of New Spain. In it, I will explore the apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe or, more accurately, the handling of her supposed apparitions to Juan Diego by the Zumarraga administration. I will show that, in the light of the documentation produced at the time, it does not seem likely that the apparitions ever took place or that Zumarraga, or his administration, was in any way involved. Rather, they point to the fact that the legend around the apparitions and Juan Diego's story were manufactured at a later date. Whom does the legend benefit? In other words, if the Indians rejected the Christianized Tonantzin and embraced an indigenous-friendly Virgin of Guadalupe, who would win in the change? To answer this question, I will contrast this first treatment of the apparition with the actions taken by the archbishop to follow, Montufar, to better understand its effects on the monopoly over the natives' evangelization process.

New Spain at the Time of the Encounter

Archbishop Juan de Zumarraga has traditionally been portrayed as a learned individual, one ready to face challenges, both in Spain and in the New World, and who left abundant testimonies of his diligence in the form of letters, catechisms, memorials and assorted books. He was remarkable in his careful way of producing trails of information, whether it be with other religious authorities in the colonies or with the Emperor Charles V himself. In light of this meticulous behavior, how are we to understand that there is not one single mention of his encounters with the Virgin of Guadalupe? Did he forget to record this event? And, even if he himself was not present during the apparition of the Virgin, did he forget to report the sightings by others? What could explain this silence in a man who seemed to report everything and take note of everything? The only possible explanation, in my opinion, is that he was indeed not present in the episode involving the stamping of the Virgin in Juan Diego's tilma, nor was he a witness to it, although he is included in the miraculous account; rather, I am inclined to say that the foundational legend lacks true correspondence with the chronological development of New Spain and that the miraculous apparitions possibly did not even take place during Zumarraga's time, as I will explain later.

The situation of New Spain in the years following the arrival of the Spaniards and before the supposed apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe was one of struggles against the "idolatry" of the Indians, as seen through the conquerors' eyes and recorded by Motolinia:

Desde a poco tiempo vinieron a decir a los frailes, como escondian los Indios los idolos y los ponian en los pies de las cruces, o en aquellas gradas debajo de las piedras, para alli hacer que adoraban la cruz y adorar al demonio, y querian alli guarecer la vida de su idolatria. …

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