In 1532, the virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, a converted Aztec peasant. “Build me a church right here!” she commanded. The farmer turned to the bishop and conveyed the message, but he wanted proof. The virgin returned to Juan Diego and said, “Bring the roses at the top of the mountain to the bishop.” He scooped them up in his apron, but when he went to the bishop, the roses had transformed into an image of the virgin imprinted on the apron. This was proof enough and they built the basilica of Guadalupe.
The myth of Guadalupe became the bridge on which the native Indians crossed over to Christianity. The basilica of Guadalupe is today one of the world’s largest pilgrimage sites. Every year on 11 and 12 December, millions of believers (2009 had an estimated 6.1 million visitors) walk for days or weeks to the church. The last part leading up to the church is walked on their knees, for extra dramatic effect.
Mary said, “Build me a church,” but she should have been more specific. She should have said, “Build me a really really big church, so that it can hold the millions that will come in the future.” But she didn’t, so the church is much too small. So they built another one, and I can safely say that it is the ugliest concrete monstrosity I’ve ever seen.
The grey basilica stand in stark contrast to the hundreds of dancers gathered in the square outside, all dressed in splendid Aztec costumes complete with colourful feathers, death-mask face paint and skulls. These people dance to the rhythmic beating of drums, chanting and generally behaving in every way contrary to silent contemplation of Christ.
I can’t help but wonder over the timing of the Guadalupe vision. It coincided with the arrivals of the Spanish. Why did Mary wait until then to visit the Aztecs? She took 1500 years to deliver the message of Christ to these people. During these years, presumably, roughly fifty generations of Indians went to hell for not knowing, and thus not accepting, Christ as their saviour. Surely, the spirit of Mary didn’t need to hitch a ride with the Spaniards to get to Mexico from Jerusalem. So why the delay? It can’t have been a plot cooked up by the Spanish in order to subjugate the natives through religion, can it?
One last note on Guadalupe. Guess what kind of shop is located at the corner closest to the church? A shoe shop. This must be the most strategically placed shoe shop in the world! What do millions of people need after walking for weeks? New shoes of course!