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The Basilica de Guadalupe, mirror of Mexican faith

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:

Posted by margaretm 07:54 Archived in Mexico Tagged churches religion shrine faith mexico_city indigenous catholic Comments (0)

Squeezing 7 million pilgrims into DF

Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe




Over the past few days, there has been a constant background noise of firecrackers.... crack...crack..crack...boom! As you make your way around the city, you are sure to come across men, women and children walking, cycling, riding in the backs of open trucks, singing, carrying images, or bending over with large framed pictures on their back. Lots are wearing T-shirts bearing the same design. So where are they going and why the pilgrimage?

Here in DF we are in the throes of Mexico City's largest Catholic festival, in honour of the Virgen de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), Mexico's patron saint, which takes place around the 12th December. This year, by the end of the several-days-long fiesta, seven million people will have made the pilgrimage to La Basílica de Guadalupe on the outskirts of the city where the original image of the Virgen de Guadalupe is kept, said to be "responsible for uniting pre-Hispanic Indian mysticism with Catholic beliefs". One or two have cycled up to 1200 km from other parts of Mexico, others crawl in on their knees, many come from the surrounding states. Roads are closed or blocked, police cars and police motorbikes escort caravans of people, and trucks decorated with tinsel and images accompany pelotons of by-now wobbly cyclists. Early Sunday morning, before 8 o'clock, as I cycled through the centre wrapped in my jumpers and gloves due to Cold Front Nº 19, I saw groups of families including young children marching their way down Paseo de la Reforma. Some pilgrims have been walking for 4 days. Someone once said that it is virtually impossible to understand Mexico and its culture without appreciating the Mexicans' devotion of La Virgen de Guadalupe. I can believe that.

Pilgrims on their way to La Basílica

A group of cyclists follow their back-up van

When they arrive at La Basilica, reputedly visited by more people than St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City or the shrine at Lourdes, they will queue up to venerate the original image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, sing Las Mañanitas to her and attend a special mass. These days, unless it is your intention, it's better not to accidentally find yourself in that area since it has become the chaotic, colourful venue for teeming masses of weary travellers. Stalls selling sustenance for the body and soul abound. Scores of peregrinos lay sleeping on the ground in a state of combined physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion. Dancing, music, singing and lots of sharing goes on. Sometimes the unexpected happens. This year, a lady accompanied by her husband and three children was just minutes away from the Basilica when she went into labour and the baby was born there and then. The mother missed her chance of going inside since she and her new-born baby were taken to hospital.

Devout follower carrying a framed picture on his back

Masses of pelegrinos at La Basílica

Colourful indigenous dances

Weary travellers

Merchandise in neaby stalls

Carrying images of Mary and other saints

La Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is built on Tepeyac Hill where the Aztec goddess Tonantzín, known as "Our Revered Mother", was worshipped in pre-Hispanic time. It also happened to be the very spot where according to tradition, on 9th December 1531, a poor Indian Juan Diego saw a vision of a lady dressed in a blue mantle who told him to build a church there. The local bishop wanted some proof that it was in fact the Virgin Mary so he asked the peasant to bring him some evidence. Juan Diego returned on 12th December and the Virgin Mary told him to gather up some flowers from the hill in his tilma or cloak and take them back to the Bishop. When he opened up his cloak, the flowers dropped out and the image of the Virgen was miraculously emblazoned on the fabric. The Bishop needed no further convincing and immediately ordered a church to be built on this spot. On completion, the image on the original cloth, framed in gold, was hung there. Since then, millions of devout followers make the pilgrimage to see this image which continues to baffle experts. To many, it sounds suspiciously like a rather cunning ploy on the part of the Spanish priests to get the Indians to convert from their Aztec beliefs to Catholicism. Whether or not the story or image is authentic, however, is not an issue for the masses of fieles whose faith in La Morenita is boundless and who come to thank or ask her for her favours and to make promises they may or may not keep. Since the old church was unable to handle such an enormous number of people, the New Basílica with its spectacular bold design was opened in 1987.

The Old Basilica

The New Basilica next to the old church

The original image hanging inside the New Basilica

The original image on fabric on show in the Basílica

La Basílica de Guadalupe is, in fact, the most important Catholic shrine in the Americas and is visited by millions from all round the globe every year. These days especially, though, it has been attracting waves and waves of Mexican pilgrims who have engulfed the city not only to venerate La Virgen de Guadalupe on the 12th but also to celebrate on the 9th the feast day of Juan Diego, who was canonized by the Pope in 2002, invoking him as the "protector and advocate of the indigenous peoples". I'm sure many too will stop to do a bit of sightseeing in the Zócalo while they are here. Then they will be gathering up their mats, blankets, bags and backpacks, (and maybe even their pots and pans), and beginning the journey back home, which may take anything from several hours to several days.



And as some would say, it may be that, after all these centuries, the Mexicans are in fact still worshiping their goddess, albeit under the guise of their unique synchretic brand of Catholicism.

Posted by margaretm 06:34 Archived in Mexico Tagged religion traditions mexico_city virgen_de_guyadalupe la_basilica Comments (0)

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