|photo credits here|
Even before the sun breaks through the horizon on December 12, the burst of firecrackers ring throughout Mexico to announce the greatest national fiesta of the year—the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
At la Villa de Guadalupe, the National Sanctuary near Tepeyac Hill, pilgrims begin to arrive days earlier to camp out on the Plaza surrounding the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Many travel for days to get there, entering la Villa on their knees as a sign of their devotion and gratitude for la Virgen Morenita’s protection. By nighttime on December 11, millions have already gathered and the monumental atrium leading to the Basilica is standing room only. Much like a family member holding a beloved’s picture close to the heart, the pilgrims carry images of their Mother Guadalupe on their backs, banners and bodies.
For these faithful pilgrims, the chants, ballads and traditional dances that are part of Guadalupe’s liturgical celebrations are well known, having been passed down from generation to generation.
During the annual dance at Guadalupe Plaza, detailed ballads chanted by elder Indians have chronicled for hundreds of years every aspect of the Guadalupe story: the miracle of the roses; Juan Diego’s account; and the progression and care for the sacred image. Initially communicated only orally, the story of Guadalupe was first recorded through Aztec pictographic chronicles called mapas. The first authored document, “el Nican Mopohua,” was written in 1556 in the official language of the Aztec empire, Náhuatl.
Celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe always culminates with the reenactment of the familiar story. In 1531, just a few decades after Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World, the Mother of God appeared three times to a humble Chichimeca Aztec baptized as Juan Diego. Our Lady asked him to be her special messenger and provided proof of their encounters for a skeptical bishop in the form of two signs: a cloak full of fresh roses in December and a miraculous image of herself on Juan Diego’s tilma, or shawl.
Yet the 483-year-old Guadalupe apparition is not only one of earliest Marian apparitions. It is also the only time in history that Our Lady has shared her portrait.
[from my article -- "Our Lady of Guadalupe" -- published
in the December 2014 issue of St. Anthony Messenger Magazine]