Ezequiel history lesson VI: Our Lady of Guadalupe and Coatlicue
Catholicism is big in Mexico. About 90% of the Mexicans are baptized Catholic and it shows. Restaurants, street corners, and people’s houses are adorned with religious symbols, the most prominent of which is the Virgin Mary – or as she is called here Our Lady of Guadalupe. But there is something interesting (and controversial) about Mexico’s Guadalupe.
To begin, let’s address the origins of one of the most revered images in the world, Our Lady of Guadalupe (seen below).
The Virgin Guadalupe miraculously appeared to Juan Diego an Aztecan American peasant during the age of New Spain in Mexico. The year was 1531. According to the story, Juan Diego went to the bishop of the new church in Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City), Juan de Zumárraga, and claimed to have witnessed an apparition of the Holy Mother. The priest did not believe Juan Diego and requested proof that he had indeed seen the apparition. Juan Diego doubted that he would have another chance to see the Holy Mother but carried on with the mission at hand. He went to the top of a hill and prayed to the heavens. His prayers were answered when the Holy Mother appeared once again. This time she told Juan Diego her name was Guadalupe. When Juan Diego told her that the priest would need proof that he had seen her, Guadalupe told Juan Diego to go take the roses from a bush planted nearby. Guadalupe told Juan Diego to scatter these roses on his cloak on the floor in front of Bishop Zumárraga as proof of her apparition.
Juan Diego then went with the roses to Bishop Zumárraga. Biship Zumárraga’s was amazed when Juan Diego showed him roses that were neither in season nor indigenous to New Spain. The Bishop asked Juan Diego how he could have gotten the roses and Juan Diego simply said “from Guadalupe”. Juan Diego then commenced with Guadalupe’s instructions by removing his cloak and lying it on the floor. He then threw the roses onto the cloak. Miraculously the image of Guadalupe appeared on the cloak along the outline of the fallen roses.
From this act in history, Juan Diego was christened a Saint. But intrigue followed when his apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe was discovered to contain many symbolic elements of Aztecan folklore, most specifically aspects reflecting the Aztecan Goddess of Mothers – Coatlicue (seen below).
Coatlicue is the most motherly of all Aztecan gods… literally. And there is a story of how she created the universe which many believe is linked to Juan Diego’s image of Guadalupe.
Coatlicue was the mother of over 400 god sons and Coyolxauhqui (a goddess and leader of the southern stars). When Coatlicue became pregnant for the 401st time, her children embarrassed by the circumstances of their mother’s pregnancy (she was “touched” by a feather) swore to destroy the child and to kill Coatlicue. This effort was led by Coyolxauhqui.
To avoid her murderous children, Coatlicue fled to the top of a mountain where she went into labor. Within her womb, her yet-unborn son knew of the danger that awaited him. The unborn child Huitzilopochtli prepared for the imminent confrontation by arming himself while still inside Coatlicue.
As Coatlicue’s children climbed the mountain, she gave birth. Huitzilopochtli came into the world fighting and one-by-one killed each of his brothers. As the brothers were dying Huitzilopochtli would throw their bodies into space where they became the stars of our universe. After Huitzilopochtli had killed all of Coatlicue’s other sons he went to Coyolxauhqui and killed her by chopping off her arms and legs; then he threw these down the mountain. Huitzilopochtli then chopped off Coyolxauhqui’s head and threw it into space. Where it landed, Coyolxauhqui’s head became the moon.
Later to watch over the earth, Huitzilopochtli would become the God of the Sun.
Now where is the correlation between Coatlicue and Guadalupe? Well it’s in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe which appeared to the Native Aztecan American, Saint Juan Diego. Apparently Juan Diego’s image of Guadalupe contains many symbolic references to Coatlicue (please refer to the first image of Guadalupe above to check):
- Guadalupe’s cloak is blue like the sky and adorned with stars
- Guadalupe stands on a crescent moon, held up by a child
- While behind Guadalupe appear rays of sunshine
- Guadalupe’s tunic is decorated in sinuous lines that resemble images of Coatlicue
- And lastly, under Guadalupe’s hands she is wearing a black belt which was typical of pregnant Aztecan women and regarded to have been worn by Coatlicue during her pregnancy with Huitzilopochtli
These Aztecan connections explain why the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is controversial in the Catholic Church. They also explain why her image is so important in Mexico and especially revered by residents of Mexico City, otherwise known as La Ciudad de Guadalupanos. Guadalupe is completely unique to Mexico and its culture, reflecting both its ancestory and religious history.
As Carlos Fuentes said, “…one may no longer consider himself a Christian, but you cannot truly be considered a Mexican unless you believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe.”
Note: Who is Ezequiel? He is my co-worker. A constant purveyor of necessary information about Mexico and a g0-to-source for taco recommendations.