Beginning the second week of December, 1531, spiritual events overtook the Mexico City community and changed forever much of the country’s belief system and that of the Americas. On December 9 of that year, a brown maiden appeared to Juan Diego and spoke to him in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, to indicate that her temple destroyed by the Conquest be rebuilt on Mount Tepeyac, above where the Basilica of Guadalupe rests today.
The request was so insistent and the proof so convincing that Juan de Zumarraga, Bishop of Mexico City, agreed to the task and on December 26th led a procession that installed that proof in a new structure erected on that sacred hill. Today we can enjoy this proof, the portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe, by standing on a moving ramp that travels under her image behind the great altar of the Basilica.
For decades afterward, worshipers and the priests that delivered the sermons on that site referred to the Brown Virgin as Tonantzin, the young mother figure venerated in that place long before the arrival of the Spanish. This conjunction of Spanish and Nahuatl spiritual attributes served to establish the identity and value of the Mestizo reality that came to dominate the future of the Western Hemisphere.
The spiritual power of a religious identity that represents the majority in North and South America is due in part to this historical event. But also important is the way the Virgin came to visit and the power of her request that amounted to a command.
Erich Neumann, the famous Jungian analytical psychologist, published his famous volume titled The Great Mother in 1955 that traces the character of the mother figure from primitive to sophisticated cultures and categorizes her role in their stories. The great divide revealed in deconstructing the figure are represented by two opposites: the Good Mother and the Terrible Mother, both which have repeatedly appeared in cultural stories as well as in the adventures of their heroes.
The Terrible Mother concept immediately brings to mind the Perseus, the Greek hero that took on the evil Gorgons and the danger they represented. The Good Mother immediately raises the image of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus that suffered the dangers of his ministry and his ultimate sacrifice for Mankind.
The traditional Mexican mother, “la madre sufrida,” the suffering mother is that part of the Good Mother that adores and never finds fault in her children, especially her sons that leave never to return. On the other side of the spectrum is “la llorona,” the woman that drowned her children only to be condemned to an eternal search for them along the rivers of life.
Between those two stands the Virgin of Guadalupe, a product of the native Tonantzin and the Spanish conquerors that together reveal her image. She understands the complexity of her nature and role as a forceful advocate for those she was created to serve.
On December 12th Juan Diego attempted to bypass the place of her appearances because he was in a hurry to find a priest that could hear the last confession of his uncle that suddenly got sick and was dying. She intercepted him and uttered the famous words that inscribe her patronage: “Am I not here, I that am your mother?”
Those words from a powerful woman brought hope to a vanquished people. It also began a relationship that eventually led to national independence under her standard and patron sainthood for the Americas.