How could an apparition of a female figure captivate such a large swath of humanity throughout the centuries? The answer ties into the previous article I linked to yesterday.
La Virgen de Guadalupe, appearing to San Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, was morena - dark skinned. The language she spoke wasn't English, Spanish, or French - rather Nahuatl - the mother tongue of the Aztecs, whose empire was ending its rule due to the conquests and disease of Europe. She instantly became a symbol of empowerment for the indigenous people of Latin America who were fighting to preserve their identity in their own homeland, which was rapidly changing with each new ship to their shores.
While the Roman Catholic Church obviously played an important role in this event - San Juan Diego was instructed by La Morena to present himself to the bishop - the woman was also seen as a manifestation of the Aztec Goddess Tonantzin - a lunar deity. If you notice, La Virgen de Guadalupe stands atop the crescent moon on the tilma image. Also, the pyramid dedicated to Tonantzin was located in the spot where today's Basilica de Guadalupe now stands.
The Indians, whose religion had many gods and goddesses of all shapes and attributes, revered Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent. Following Juan Diego's encounter, they accepted the God of the Spaniards and flocked to the shrine built to house the holy image. The message of the apparitions and the symbolism of the miraculous portrait of Guadalupe had great significance to the Indian population. In the next seven years, eight million Indians were converted, at least nominally, to Catholicism. The Spaniards continued to colonize Mexico and to extend the teachings of the Church in America. Without the fortuitous appearance of Mary, they might have vanished from Mexico.The Guadalupe apparition has had a divided meaning from the very beginning. Its most popular mainstream account was attributed to Father Miguel Sánchez while the native people received the news and message via the Nican Mopohua in Nahuatl - detailing the four apparitions of Nuestra Señora. Here are versions in nahuatl, spanish and english. It begins this way:
The Virgin of Guadalupe is important to Mexicans because she is their supernatural mother and because she represents their major political and religious aspirations. The Spanish Conquest represented not only their military defeat and the destruction of their culture, but also the defeat of the old gods and the decline of the old ritual. The apparition of Coatlaxopeuh to a common Indian can be viewed as the return of Tonantzin. The old religion is still alive!
Ten years after the seizure of the city of Mexico, war came to an end and there was peace amongst the people; in this manner faith started to bud, the understanding of the true God, for whom we live. At that time, in the year fifteen hundred and thirty one, in the early days of the month of December, it happened that there lived a poor Indian, named Juan Diego, said being a native of Cuautitlan. Of all things spiritually he belonged to Tlatilolco.The mestizo people have always fought to claim their indigenous identity as well as demand dignity in a society that weaves together racism and classism. It continues today, and on the feast of Tonantzin, we remember the blending of sangre that has produced much richness, yet exists in a world still full of disparity. The color of the skin determined how one was treated back in the 15th century and continues through today.
The promise of Guadalupe is one that echoes the tenets of liberation theology - a reminder to the poor that they do not suffer without an advocate for their plight.
She who is always found among the poor...becomes a model of a spirituality of liberation for the poor and for those who live in real solidarity with the poor. Her Magnificat becomes a song of historical liberation. In the Puebla documents she becomes a model "for those who do not accept passively the adverse circumstances of personal and social life . . . but who proclaim with her that God 'exalts the lowly' and, if it is the case, 'pulls down the princes from their thrones"' - linkage