The old and new Basilicas
Last Sunday, I decided to cycle up to the Basílica de Guadalupe in the north of Mexico City. This is Latin America's most important Catholic shrine and the second most visited one in the world after the Vatican. Millions of pilgrims arrive here every year, especially on December 12th which is the Feast Day of the Virgen de Guadalupe.
I guessed it would be better to visit it when it wasn't so packed so I left early in the morning and pedalled up there, arriving just after 8 o'clock to find that others had beat me to it. They allowed me to wheel my bike into the complex but as I didn't have a chain to lock it up, it accompanied me everywhere on my visit. This meant I couldn't go inside any of the buildings or up to the top of Teyepac Hill so I'll have to wait till another day to do that.
I read somewhere that the Virgen de Guadalupe is the symbol of a unified Mexican identity and that certainly is backed up by the people I saw at the Basilica. Old and young, families and youths, people from all walks of life... they were all rubbing shoulders together. I could easily pick out the city-ites from the villagers and the country folk. Groups of indigenous people dressed in colourful outfits brought splashes of colour to the scene. Among the crowd were well-dressed men in suits, tramps, the healthy and happy, the sick and infirm, some in wheelchairs, contrite souls approaching painfully on their knees, others in a holiday mood. They were all represented. In fact, in general, there was a festive atmosphere and it seemed like los fieles were out on a family excursion.
The Plaza Mariana is huge, big enough to squeeze in 50,000 pilgrims and 10,000 can fit in the new Basilica. Everywhere I looked I saw churches, chapels, shrines, monuments and statues, so many it was hard to count them. A unique Mexican combination of faith and superstition filled the air. Images, candles, flowers, wishing wells, good fortune birds, blessing modules... a bit of everything to keep everyone happy, I suppose.
Approaching the Atrio de las Americas, more popularly known as La Villa, now clear of stalls after the area was remodelled. Straight ahead is the Old Basilica with its yellow domes.
Construction of the Old Basilica began in 1531 and wasn't completed until 1709. It was slowing sinking down into the soft ground and became too dangerous to use so a new basilica was built. The old one was closed for many years but is now re-opened following repairs to shore it up and make it safe. To its right is the Templo de Capuchinos, initially a convent for Capuchin nuns and then used as a hospital before becoming a parish church in 1929.
The New Basilica is a spectacular bold design, built by Mexican architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, who was also responsible for the Aztec Stadium and the Museo Nacional de Antropología. It is a circular building to allow for maximum visibility of the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe inside. The Basilica can hold up to 10,000 people and has nine chapels.
The whole complex is huge
A big poster welcoming the Pope to Mexico when he comes to Guanajuato later in the month.
A devoted Catholic approaching the Basilica on his knees.
A floral representation of Our Lady of Guadalupe
A bronze statue of Pope John Paul II who beatified Juan Diego, the Indian to whom the Virgen appeared.
A priest standing at one of the doors.
A view inside the Basilica where you can see the original image of the Virgen de Guadalupe hanging up behind the crucifix. Moving walkways transport visitors past the image helping to avoid agglomerations.
The decorative designs on the doors.
Looking up at the windows above.
People waiting to go inside.
A group of boys from the state of Puebla dressed in special clothes.
Proud of his outfit
Two boys show me their clothes
Detail of the Virgen de Guadalupe embroidered by his mother
This boy's aunt embroidered a cross and heart
Pilgrims gather outside the new Basilica
This shrine attracts people from all walks of life.
An indigenous lady wears a specially embroidered shawl
Waiting to go inside the church
The Carrillón, a kind of modern bell-tower, has bells that ring every hour and four different ways of telling time. There is a modern clock, an astronomical clock, a sun dial and an Aztec calendar clock with 18 months of 20 days. It is said to resemble a pre-Hispanic god, but is also in the shape of a huge cross.
The Templo del Pocito (Little Well) was built on the site where the Virgen de Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego at a spring.
A statue showing Juan Diego opening his cloak with roses tumbling out and the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe miraculously impressed on the garment.
The Capilla de Juramentos where people wanting to give up smoking, drinking, drugs and other vices come to take an oath promising not to do these things for a certain length of time.
Small monument to the Fourth Apparition of the Virgin to Juan Diego, where the Parroquia de los Indios stands.
The Templo del Pocito
The blue and white tiles on the Templo de Pocito, a Baroque-style church
Visitors enjoying the gardens and ponds
Statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe in her blue cloak
Aztecs and Indians worshipping the Virgen de Guadalupe
A lady throwing a coin into the waters and making a wish
The Good fortune man with his small birds who pick out a little piece of paper with your fortune on it.
By-standers watching the small orange bird telling their fortune
A place to have your photograph taken on a horse wearing a Mexican cloth and a mariachi hat, along with the Virgen de Guadalupe and the Pope!
A skyline of colourful church domes
A group of dancers performing in the Plaza
Young dancer learning the steps
An energetic dance accompanied by drum beats
A general view of the plaza
A girl on her knees
Stalls outside selling religious articles
If you want more information on the Basilica de Guadalupe and the Virgen de Guadalupe, you can read my blog post "Squeezing 7 million pilgrims into DF" of 14 December 2011.
The following blog posts by Lynda Martinez del Campo are also excellent readable explanations of Mexico's most important shrine: