Continuing the story of Juan Diego: When he opened his cloak to display his find, in addition to the roses, an image of Mary appeared. Now a believer, the archbishop ordered the shrine to be built. This church, the Basilica of Ville Madera, still stands, and still contains Juan Diego’s cloak with the image of the Virgin Mary.
Juan Diego and his archbishop might have considered the occurrence to be a miracle, but it took over 200 years for the Catholic Church to recognize it as one. During that time, Juan Diego’s encounter became legendary, and Mexicans all over the country celebrated the Virgin of Guadalupe, including establishing other churches in her honor and ensuring that she is represented in most, if not all, of the country’s churches. La Guadalupe is usually shown as an Indian woman to acknowledge the cultural blend of Spanish, Mayan, and Aztec, and representations of her, such as statues, are found in many locations throughout Mexico, and during the Festival many people visit their churches or travel to others, particularly the original basilica, to pray to La Guadalupe and celebrate her and her role in Mexican history and religion.
The Festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe reaches its peak—and end—on December 12, the day it’s believed the Virgin told Juan Diego to pick the roses, but observances in the Virgin’s honor begin a week earlier. This Festival is observed all over the country, since the Virgin of Guadalupe is considered the patroness of Mexico. The Basilica of Ville Madero draws pilgrims from everywhere in Mexico, some of whom spend the entire week traveling on foot or by burro for hundreds of miles, but churches throughout Mexico hold masses in observance of La Guadalupe, as she is known, and cities and towns hold parades and parties, and are decorated lavishly in celebration.
The church in Merida held both solemn and celebratory activities throughout the day. The decorations, as the picture on the previous page shows, includes a photo backdrop of La Guadalupe so visitors can have their picture taken “with” her. Runners and bicyclists from all over the Yucatan Peninsula also travel to Merida as part of the festivities.
It’s an interesting mix of solemn religious observances, parties and celebrations, and attractions, and the emphasis placed on this Festival, along with the work that goes into it, shows how large a role religion plays for the Mexicans. It’s a vital part of their culture, and the Festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe is one of the most important events of the year for Mexicans.
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