The Queen of Mexico, The Empress of the Americas, The Patroness of the Americas or Tonantzin are just a few of the popular titles that have been bestowed upon, who is most commonly known as, the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Her presence here in Mexico is unavoidable. From a stall in the tianguis (weekly market) selling cheap key chains to buses invoking her image for protection, her image is everywhere.
The story goes that the Virgin of Guadalupe first revealed herself to a native peasant named Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill (now in the north of Mexico City) on December 9, 1531. She asked that a church be built on the spot where she had revealed herself, so Juan Diego went to take the message to the Spanish Archbishop Juan de Zumárraga. After hearing what Juan Diego was claiming, Zumárraga sent the peasant away to ask the Virgin for a miraculous sign to prove her claim.
Juan Diego returned to the spot on Tepeyac Hill and told the Virgin that he needed to bring a sign back to the Archbishop; so the Virgin instructed Juan Diego to gather some roses into his tunic and take them to the Archbishop Zumárraga. Juan Diego did as he was instructed and made the journey back.
When he arrived to where the Archbishop was and opened his tunic to reveal the roses, miraculously an image of the Virgin was imprinted on Juan Diego’s tunic. This same image is the one that is still venerated to this day.
The revelation of the Virgin came at a crucial time in Mexico’s history. Just 10 years after the Spanish conquest, the native population was nothing more than slaves. A defeated and abused population, the revelation of the Virgin of Guadalupe gave the native people an image to worship that looked more like them and who spoke Nahuatl (the language spoken by most natives in Mexico City at that time). She gave them dignity and comfort in a time when both were in short supply.
Her image has been invoked at times of national crisis (Hidalgo used her image in the War of Independence in 1810 and Zapata during the Revolution of 1910) as well as times of personal and spiritual dilemma.
Having been to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe myself, on a number of occasions, I’ve seen first hand the fervent reverence that most Mexicans feel for their spiritual mother. It’s always been a good experience for me to go there and take it all in. Just the sheer number of people who are there on any given day is an inspiration.