Today all of Mexico is celebrating its patron saint La Virgen de Guadalupe (Virgin of Guadalupe) and the center of this national holiday is the Basilica of Guadalupe located in Villa de Guadalupe Hidalgo in Mexico City. Hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected to pay homage to the la Virgen with presents, dances and prayers. It is here Catholics believe the Aztec Indian Juan Diego was visited twice, December 9 and December 12, in 1531 by the Virgin Mary. She spoke to him in his native Nahuatl language and asked him to build a church in her honor. The 57-year-old peasant went to his bishop who insisted on proof the encounter happened and it is believed on December 12th she placed roses where only cactus grew. Juan Diego brought the roses to his bishop in his tilma (apron) and even after delivering the roses the image remained imprinted on the tilma.
La Virgen de Guadalupe was recognized in 1737 as the patron saint of Mexico City and in 1945 Pope Pius XII declared her the patron saint of all of Latin America. The Basilica receives millions of visitors each year and is the most visited Catholic shrine in the world.
The tilma preserved in pristine condition, a miracle in its self, is housed in the Basilica and has survived Mexico’s history and much skepticism that it is real. Nonetheless la Virgen de Guadalupe remains the most iconic cultural symbol of Mexico and often utilized as a symbol of hope. Miguel Hidalgo carried her image on a banner during the Mexican War of Independence as did Emilano Zapata 90 years later during the Mexican Revolution and in modern times Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers movement used the icon as a symbol of their struggle.
The novelist Carlos Fuentes summarized la Virgen’s importance best, when he noted, “You cannot truly be considered a Mexican unless you believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe.”
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