Friday, 19 October 2012

According to a legend firmly believed by Cortés himself, the magnificent reception laid on for him by Emperor Moctezuma/Montezuma, was on account of the Aztec belief that he was one of their gods, Quetzalcoatl (the ‘plumed serpent’), whose return from self-imposed exile was expected just at that propitious moment. Tepeyac meanwhile was a pre-Hispanic centre of worship of Tonantzin, translated as ‘our revered mother’, referring to a goddess, or else a series of goddesses in Aztec mythology. On 9th December 1531, Our Lady is believed to have appeared here to a 57 year-old indigenous Mexican convert to Christianity, a poor widower, St Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, who lived with his uncle, Juan Bernardino. Spanish dominion was established by that time, bringing hardships and humiliations to the native people; though one should never lose sight of the fact that human sacrifice and incessant warfare were essential features of the ousted heathen civilization. It is also noted that, for all their sophistication in some ways, Aztecs had not discovered how to use the wheel. Most importantly though, from a Spanish point of view, they knew nothing of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and there is reason to believe that the Church sought to defend native people from the excesses of colonisers who looked on them merely as a resource to be exploited. The story goes that, asking Juan Diego in his own Nahuatl language to petition the local Bishop for a church to be built in her honour at Tepeyac, Our Lady called herself Tecoatlaxopeuh, rendered as ‘she who crushes the serpent’; certainly an allusion to the third chapter of Genesis[1], but also resonating perhaps with the Indian population, for whom the ‘plumed serpent’, Quetzalcoatl, seemed to be responsible for such misery. Be that as it may, the Spanish ecclesiastical authorities under Bishop Juan de Zummarraga, attentive (eventually) to Juan Diego’s entreaties, are supposed to have heard Tecoatlaxopeuh as ‘de Guadalupe’, recalling a famous Marian shrine in the Kingdom of Castile.

Rosary monument, La Calzada de los Misterios
   At intervals along La Calzada de los Misterios are tall monuments, with painted Gospel scenes, some in better repair than others, dedicated to each of the traditional 15 Mysterios of the Holy Rosary of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.[2] Roses feature prominently in the unfolding narrative of St Juan Diego’s encounter with Tecoatlaxopeuh. On the third of their meetings at Tepeyac, the Bishop having asked for a sign to prove the veracity of Juan Diego’s assertions, Our Lady told him to come back to see her on the next day. However, at home he discovered his uncle, Juan Bernadino, apparently mortally ill, obliging him to stay by his bedside for two days. When he left the house it was to fetch a priest, an errand which entailed going via Tepeyac, where Our Lady was waiting. A part of the message she addressed to him that day, 12th December 1531, is inscribed in Spanish above the entrance to the great big round circus-like 1970s Basilica which i reached at about half past seven in the evening:
Big Top-esque: the Basilica

¿No estoy yo aquí que soy tu Madre?”[3]
A fuller version is as follows:

   “Hear and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little son; let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you. Let nothing alter your heart or your countenance. Also, do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folding of my arms? Is there anything else that you need?
   Do not fear for your uncle for he is not going to die. Be assured... he is already well.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City
   Our Lady then told him to climb to the top of the hill and, though it was December and the ground was frozen, to gather all the flowers he would find growing there. Juan Diego joyfully complied, discovering exquisite Castilian roses, unknown in Mexico, among the cacti, bare scrub and rocks. He collected them into his tilma, a kind of poncho made from coarse cactus fibre, then brought them down to Our Lady, who rearranged them before sending them with her protégé back to the Bishop. At length obtaining a third Episcopal audience, in the company of various other Spaniards St Juan Diego was barely less stupefied than they were to discover, that unfurling his tilma, not only did the gorgeous blooms fall out, but a glorious life-sized image of the Virgin was seen to be impressed on the inside.

   And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” [Revelation 12:1]

[1] “And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle, and beasts of the earth: upon thy breast shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” [Genesis 3:14-15]
[2] Comprising five Joyful, five Sorrowful and five Glorious mysteries in the life of Jesus and His Mother. ‘A compendium of the Gospel’ in the words of Blessed John Paul II, who added five Luminous mysteries in 2002. ‘Rosary’ is from the Latin word rosarium, meaning ‘rose garden’ or ‘garland of roses’.
[3] “Am I not here who am your Mother?”

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