Guadalupan Voices in the History of Mexico
Dr. Jorge E. Traslosheros
Historic Research Institute
National Autonomous University of Mexico
Introduction: Religion and Tradition, Unity in the Diversity
In this lecture we will discuss the diverse voices in the formation of a highly important religious tradition in the history of Catholicism. We are referring to the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Before we get into the issue, however, it seems necessary to clarify a few points. When we delve deeply into the study of religious faith and phenomenon, we are generally getting into the field of tradition. Religion and tradition are in some ways inseparable.
Sociology texts would assert that religion marks the distinction between the sacred and the profane, leading to ways of life and organization that often create institutions that among Christians are called churches. The strength of a religion lies in its capacity to propose and generate culture both during a period of time and at specific junctures. The capacity religion to influence culture has led to the formation of traditions throughout the history of mankind.
To understand a tradition it must first be differentiated from traditionalism, which is a way of cultural stagnation incapable of adapting to new times. It is not unwarranted to identify it as “the dead voice of the living.” Tradition, on the other hand, is that which is transmitted from one generation to the another, whereby the new generation receives it, updates it and renews it, all at the same time, in order to project it into the future, while presently living it and recognizing the deep roots that uphold it. That’s why true tradition is called “the living voice of the ancestors.” If we observe carefully, there is nothing as new and current as a tradition.
It should not surprise us that the liveliness of a tradition implies the involvement of numerous social factors, each in its own voice and, in turn, encompassing the complexity of human culture. A religious tradition, if it is authentic and not simply a passing fancy, is always new, precisely because it nurtures its life from the deep roots of history. Furthermore, it is made of very diverse manifestations, which we will call “voices,” which do not necessarily express the same things or think the same. Nothing is as foreign to a tradition as a one-voice concept. A tradition is like a symphony in which multiple sounds take part, each within its own score and all united by a dominant, central theme that gives coherence and depth to its execution.
The cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe is a tradition with deep roots in the medieval Hispanic and indigenous Middle American Catholic world, composed by many voices and enriched and diversified for almost 500 years. The cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe is unity in the plurality within the Catholic Marian tradition, where the symphonic theme is marked by the indigenous voice reflected in a document known as the Nican Mopohua. In this lecture, we will quickly explore the nearly 500 years since the appearance of Our Lady, addressing above all the voice of the intellectuals in the history of Mexico. This in no way exhausts a tradition that has long ceased to be particular to Mexico, and has become a cultural patrimony of mankind.
1.- The Original Feud (1555) and the Three Dominant Voices
In 1554, Fra Alonso de Montúfar, second archbishop of Mexico, arrived in New Spain. His main characteristic was his enormous apostolic zeal. Shortly after arriving, he found a growing cult of a new Marian devotion named Guadalupe. He learned that a miraculous origin was attributed to her, and immediately called to consolidate her cult among both Indians and Spaniards. His efforts found resistance from the Franciscan provincial, Fra Francisco de Bustamante. More than a theological feud, it actually turned into a conflict among jurisdictions, which we will not explain in detail at this point. While the high-ranking men fought each other in the Olympian summit over Guadalupe, a group of indigenous students of the Santa Cruz School of Tlatelolco, a higher education institution led by Franciscan priests, discreetly wrote a document known as the Nican Mopohua, which in time would become the canonic text of the Tepeyac Marian zealous devotion. It should be mentioned that these Indians were the disciples of the first great missionaries, specifically Fra Bernardino de Sahagún.
In the wake of the developments of 1555, three voices, originated in the Guadalupean tradition, appear: on one side, the anti-apparitionists ready to deny everything, and on the other side, the zealous apparitionists always ready to put up a fight. Yet, more importantly, another more serene voice emerges, that of Indian-Christian and mestizo tradition, which will end up leaving a mark. A voice that does not fight nor debate, but simply proposes, shows itself and makes itself felt. In this history there are no good or bad sides. The three voices have been present and, without them, the tradition, especially the more cultured one, would be incomprehensible. In the course of centuries they would gradually mix, at times fighting each other, until finally complementing each other until our time.
2.- Informed Traditions and Dialogue of Voices
2.1.- 16th Century. 1531-1648
It has been possible to document the constant growth of the devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe in the Valley of Mexico between the years 1531 and 1648, and to confirm that the cult has an unequivocally indigenous origin. We know of the existence of oral traditions and documented vestiges that speak of the Tepeyac Marian zealous devotion, a very visible trend in the year 1555 during the feud between the Franciscan provincial and Archbishop Montúfar. This tradition includes pilgrims, devotional acts, and the construction of three temples, mainly by the secular clergy and the indigenous population. Well into the 17th century, two events demonstrate its growth: the inauguration of a new temple in 1622 and its constant evocation during the ugly floods in Mexico City during that decade.
2.2.- 17th Century. 1648-1749
During the long 17th century, the great century of New Spain that we call baroque and to which its inhabitants attributed a “spring-like” nature, we witness the development of the informed tradition held by the growing devotion. Its main protagonists, though not the only ones, were: Miguel Sánchez, who in 1648 published Image of the Virgin Mary Mother of God of Guadalupe, in which he establishes a link between Tepeyac’s canvas and the Lady of Apocalypse and Immaculate Conception; Luis Lasso de la Vega, who in 1549 published Huei Tlamahizoltica - Nahuan Relations of Apparitions and Miracles, which is nothing more than the first impression of the Nican Mopohua, which Don Luis asserted he had authored; Don Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora, who in 1662 published his poem Indian Spring; Luis Becerra y Tanco, who in 1675 published Mexico’s Happiness, written in the wake of reports ordered in 1666 by the Metropolitan Cabildo in Mexico City. And, finally, giving Jesuits a strong voice in the Guadalupean choir, Francisco de Florencia, who in 1668 published his Mexico’s North Star.
It is not the time or place to elaborate on each of these texts, except to note their postulates and points in common.
• They are all texts of a devotional nature and should be considered as such: works inspired by enthusiasm and faith, perhaps with interesting theological and mariological reflections, but which are not, nor have they any intention to be, history or theological treatises.
• They rest upon the common element of indigenous devotion using the oral and written tradition that exists since the 16th century, particularly the Nican Mopohua, stories of miracles performed by the former student of Santa Cruz of Tlatelolco, Don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxóchitl, plus the oral relations of 1666.
• The association of the Virgin of Guadalupe with the Immaculate Conception, a form of devotion very dear to the Hispanic religious tradition that in 1618 was made official within the monarchy. It is thus asserted that the Virgin of Guadalupe is the entity with no original sin that eliminates the demonic dragon: sin, idolatry, violence, plague, famine, floods, everything evil that can exist in society and human life. There is abundant evidence of the existence of all this in the volumes of sermons that we are not addressing at this time.
• The Immaculate Virgin of Guadalupe is, above all other attributes, mother of all the inhabitants of New Spain, identified in the person of neophyte Juan Diego, the native to whom the Virgin appeared in 1531.
• Her miraculous origin is visible in the image reflected in Juan Diego’s blanket.
• Guadalupe is the founder of a new chosen people in New Spain, the New World, creator of a New Christianity who, by her own right, presides over the social order.
• The Virgin is the creator of the Indian Spring, the “immortal spring of the Mexican kingdom,” and all the inhabitants of these lands are under her aegis and protection. She is the “Mexican Spring” icon.
During the long century of the Indian Spring, the cult spreads from Mexico City to all of New Spain, from Central America to the north. For example, in San Luis Potosí, the first sanctuary was built outside of Mexico City in the middle of the 17th century. The cult grows promoted by the regular and the secular clergy, but mostly by the impulse of the popular tradition that inspires all the works and their expansion.
The religiosity of that long century is characterized for being very lively, full of imagination and influenced by the Neoplatonic, Renaissance, and Indo-Christian traditions. This is why it must be noted that intellectuals, like those mentioned here, do not create a tradition; if anything, they join the devotion and try to explain it, reinforce it, interpret it, and even enrich it with learned reflections that hardly generate it. When this type of religious phenomenon is studied, it is imperative to place things in order and in their right place.
2.3.- 18th Century, 1730-1821
The Enlightenment, with its rationalistic perspective placing emphasis on the importance of documents and their necessary criticism as elements of proof, changes the dynamics of the Guadalupean works and studies. Now the disciplines of criticism and rationalism in the historic studies are added to the devotion, with the systematic search of sources pursued not simply as a curiosity but to gain knowledge.
The father of this new approach to the Guadalupean tradition is Don Lorenzo Boturini, an Italian scholar, who upon his arrival in New Spain in 1736, made it his job to collect documents on the Guadalupan tradition. From his 1742 catalogue we know that, among his documents, there were many in Nahuan tongue and many other in Castilian Spanish that, according to Boturini, explicitly linked the tradition to the original document of the Indians in the middle of the 16th century, that is, the Nican Mopohua. It also pointed out the existence of many other manuscripts on the tradition hidden by the Indians because they considered it their own. Among other things, Boturini was the first promoter of the crowning of the Virgin, which did not take place until 1895.
Following the steps of Boturini, that is to say, with the same devotional and enlightened interest, was Cayetano de Cabrera y Quintero’s Mexico’s Shield of Arms. This document tells the story of the terrible plague of 1738, the Virgin of Guadalupe’s protection, and her acclamation shortly after as the new patron of New Spain; and also includes Juan José de Eguiara y Eguren’s Panegyric of the Virgin of Guadalupe; Miguel Cabrera’s American Wonder; Mariano Fernández de Echeverría y Veytia’s México’s Bastions; and José Ignacio Bartolache’s Satisfactory Manifiesto. Once again, we will insist, in a brief synthesis, on what they have in common, especially highlighting all that nurtures the tradition.
o To the 17th century tradition they add a series of studies and reflections on the image of Juan Diego’s blanket, which they present as documentary proof of the Guadalupean miracle. They cite the incorruptibility of the cloth bag, its supernatural impression and the beauty that contrasts with the rough and tough material on which it is printed.
o They attest to the centennial tradition and recognize its origin in the 16th century, granting the indigenous population the paternity of the tradition, since they were the recipients of God’s conversion and mercy before anybody else, followed later by the entire society until it transformed into a devotion for all in New Spain.
o Because of Guadalupe, Mexico’s fidelity to religion is sustained and it is because of her that it is free of apostasy in New Spain. She is New Spain’s protecting shield and what makes it even greater than Old Spain. She alone is its glory, its privilege and its honor.
The proclamation by all principal cities of Guadalupe as the patroness of New Spain in 1749 is a central point in all this era, which culminates in the erection of the Colegiata of Guadalupe. More than 200 years of devotion and worship had generated a powerful tradition. It is worth noting that there is a profound patriotism surrounding Guadalupe that is not in any way opposed to the monarchy, but suggests the recognition of New Spain as one of its main components, like kingdoms on their own right where a New Christianity has been founded by the Virgin Mary herself.
The enlightened critical studies inevitably led to ideas that ran contrary not to the devotion per se, but to its miraculous origin. These ideas ds not emerge in New Spain, but in the Spanish peninsula. Juan Bautista Muñoz, the principal cartographer and chronicler of the Indies, wrote his famous Memoir about the Apparitions and the Cult of Our Lady of Guadalupe of Mexico in 1794. This document is the first systematic elaboration of the anti-apparitionist thesis. This memoir rests on the argument of silence; in other words, that in the absence of written evidence of the tradition in the 16th century, there is no choice but to doubt or deny the legitimacy of the miracle. In any case, it would be just one more devotion. It must be clear that this is not an anti-Catholic thesis, but one that challenges the thesis of the miracle within Catholicism using the tools of criticism corresponding to the Enlightenment, as appropriate as the one Lorenzo Boturini used to assert the opposite.
As it is well known, Muñoz’s thesis received the support of the great heterodox Guadalupan Fra Servando Teresa de Mier, which is the reason he settles in New Spain. Parallel to this incipient controversy, the Guadalupan voices are radicalized by heated temperaments until reaching a level of combustion in 1808. The clashing voices are felt with more weight and growing radicalism. War is about to break out.
2.4.- 19th Century. 1808-1895.
Undoubtedly, a point of agreement among the various interpretations historians have given of the Guadalupean phenomenon is that Mexico owes much of its independence to the Virgin of Guadalupe. The first head of state of an independent Mexico, Emperor Agustín de Iturbide, proclaims the cult of the Tepeyac Virgin as consubstantial with Mexico, and its first president changes his name from Félix Fernández to Guadalupe Victoria. While all of this is beyond doubt, it tells us little of the development of the tradition during that century that I dare name as the Great Century of the Mexican Guadalupanism. In the 19th century, in the heated context of the formation of the Mexican identity and precisely due to the importance of the cult, the feud of apparitionists vs. anti-apparitionists reached its climax.
The fight against the anti-apparitionist thesis, in accordance with the elevation of the Virgin of Guadalupe to the level of official cult and the Mexican nation’s official symbol, generated various works during the first half of the 19th century. It was in the interest of its authors to give the Tepeyac miracle a reliable historic foundation while, at the same time, granting it to the Mexican nation or, better yet, the Guadalupean nation. Thus, the works of Miguel de Guridi y Alcocer, José María Tornel and Carlos María de Bustamante. It is the epic civic-religious discourse in which the Guadalupan voice is highlighted.
The Virgin of Guadalupe is the mother of the Mexican nation. There is an attempt to create a confessional state that bases its identity on the miracle of the roses, to the point of considering it the ultimate “foundational myth,” and therefore making the promotion of its cult essential. It is an official cult anchored in tradition. This is also why Guadalupe turns into a banner against foreign aggression, defending its interests, and by which all the feuding factions claim to be the children of Guadalupe. By the will of revolutionaries, heads of state, emperors, presidents, federalists, centralists, political leaders, tribal chiefs, indigenous mestizos, nationalists, and society as a whole, Guadalupe ceased to be a faction symbol to become a symbol for the entire nation.
The liberal reform (1854-1867) created a secular state and, therefore, the public discourse sought the nation’s identity in something other than religion. The liberal state resorted to the classic indigenous past — a traditional topic of the enlightened neo-Hispanic elite — and developed the myth of the mestizo nation. The cult of Guadalupe gained social autonomy and embarked on its own course far from the state, which paradoxically gave it great strength.
The Guadalupan topic continued to intrigue the Mexican intellectual elite, be it Catholic or a new type of previously unknown thinker, the anticlerical who could at the same time be Christian, agnostic, atheist or even Catholic. Under a more serene mood, far from revolutionary passions and enjoying the so-called Porfirian peace, scholars of different mindsets reflect on Guadalupanism. However, a disruptive voice emerges in the enlightened tradition, albeit totally involuntary. Mexico’s Archbishop, Don Pelagio Antonio de Labastida y Dávalos, asks for a full accounting of the known documentation about the miracle from scholars and the Church’s historiographer, Don Joaquín García Icazbalceta. In a private letter addressed to the Archbishop dated October 1883, he argues in favor of silence regarding documents about 1531; however, he makes it clear that from the perspective of faith he had no doubts whatsoever about the miracle and that the tradition dated as far back as the 16th century. Written with no intention of having the letter published, it was made public in 1883 by one of his detractors, who seems to be, according to all indications, the basilica’s canon, Don Vicente de P. Andrade. The incident led to a heated debate.
It must be pointed out that, for the sake of justice, Icazbalceta’s study was performed with a professionalism seldom seen in his time and that greatly benefited the study of the tradition. I even venture to affirm that it was the catalyst of the modern history of the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I likewise give way to the temptation of remembering that there continues to be a negative and profoundly unfair judgment against Don Joaquín García Icazbalceta within the Catholic Church, a prejudice that must end once and for all. The fact is that Don Joaquín is, by his own right, the father of the Mexican ecclesiastic historiography, and he was a model Catholic and scientist. A man who deserves the highest recognition has been dumped into the silence pit. It is a manifest injustice that must be repaired.
One of the great contributions of García Icazbalceta’s letter was to reclaim the enlightened heritage and its hunger for knowledge and connect it with the scholarly method and its enormous capacity for criticism and methodology. In other words, Don Joaquin deserves credit for making the tradition an object of study beyond the gossip among ecclesiastic elites and the pro-con debate. There remains, as principal elements, the work published in 1884 by the highest priest of liberalism, Ignacio Manuel Altamirano, who performs the first integral study of the enlightened tradition of Guadalupanism and which, to this day, marks the path to follow by all similar studies. The surprising documentary collections of the Guadalupan tradition by Bishop Fortino Hipólito Vera, (c.1891) must also be mentioned. Both works are totally complementary, convergent and essential for any scholar studying the Guadalupean phenomenon.
While the cult grew, it developed, and by the initiative of Mexican bishops and the faithful in every diocese, there was a crowning of the Virgin of Guadalupe in 1895. The diversity of voices harmonizes in the affirmation that Guadalupe is the founder of the motherland, as well as author of its independence, the mestizo mother of an also mestizo modern Mexico and now also its queen. Tradition and cult make all the voices converge into one single voice. Mexico is the Guadalupan nation. The cult is internationalized by a decree signed by Pope Leo XIII in 1900 during the first synod of Latin American bishops.
2.5.- The 20th Century to our Day
1910. The official centennial celebrations of Mexican independence are presided over by the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe carried by Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. The revolution and resistance against religious persecution (1914-1938) are waged with Guadalupan banners and flags. It is clear that the years of religious persecution favor the development of the cult by its own impulse, and Catholics find shelter under Guadalupe’s maternal cloak.
But devotion also grows thanks to certain external support, such as that from Luis N. Morones, who in 1921 prompted by his own anger, did not hesitate to send a man with explosives to the basilica to destroy Guadalupe’s special cloth bag. The bombing attempt failed and was interpreted as a sign of Guadalupean protection to her people. Either way, at the end of the storm comes the tranquility that coincides with the birth and development of an academic historiography in which experts from other countries also participated. The contributions of García Icazbalceta, Altamirano and Fortino Hipólito Vera were duly weighed. In principle, we can differentiate the deeply rooted Catholic academicians from laymen with no confessional intention. Let’s take a look at the different contributions of each side and how their testimonies converge.
Catholic Academicians. The Center for Guadalupan Studies is born and, at times independently, a group of academicians embrace it to study the Guadalupan phenomenon. A mix of Guadalupan devotion and a vocation for history characterizes its studies. Its inspiration is religious, as is its ultimate objective. Its professionalism and good intentions are also beyond suspicion. So, little by little, a very Catholic-oriented thesis is formulated that will end up being dominant: the evidence of the tradition goes beyond what is properly documentary contributed by the enlightened elites and becomes clearly visible in other manifestations of the cult (art, poetry, etc.). Thanks to this development, studies focus on a point that will result in decisive studies and that will permit scholars finally to overcome the sterile pro-con debate that marked much of the 19th century. The objective of the study is, thus, the tradition, and the miracle will be seen through the tradition. Among other topics, the studies will lead to the analysis of the document that can already be considered foundational: the Nican Mopohua. The consequence is clear. The evidence of the tradition has a foundation and is admissible to all. Among many historians we can mention Mariano Cuevas, Antonio Pompa y Pompa, Jesús García Gutiérrez, Bravo Ugarte, Xavier Escalada, Lauro López Beltrán and José Luis Guerrero, as well as his most outstanding disciple, Father Eduardo Chávez; but above all, it is imperative to pay tribute to Father Don Angel María Garibay.
The Virgin of Guadalupe enters the university and obtains the highest grades. Lay academicians, Mexican and foreign university students devote their time, from the Sixties to our days, to study the cult in the history of Mexico. Following non-confessional paths, or not inspired by faith, they will reach convergent points with the deeply rooted Catholic-oriented academicians. They all date back the Guadalupan tradition unquestionably to the first years of the conquest of Mexico, albeit identifying their stages and rhythms of growths and expansion from the Valley of Mexico to all of New Spain. Again the Nican Mopohua attracts attention. Among many others we have: Francisco de la Maza, Ernesto de la Torre Villar, Jacques Lafaye, William Taylor, Alicia Mayer, Edmundo O´Gorman, Xavier Noguez and Don Miguel León Portilla.
It is important to point out that this is not about academic groups in confrontation. Quite the opposite. There is constant communication among many of them, and the close relationship between Ernesto de la Torre and the Guadalupe basilica, or Miguel León Portilla and Angel María Garibay, known as his disciple, should not surprise anyone. They are differentiated for what inspires them and the goals they pursue, but above ideological differences and religious debates, the professionalism held by most of them is beyond any doubt. They converge on the following points:
• There is an indigenous origin in the tradition that dates back prior to 1550. Whether it is a syncretic phenomenon or a miracle matters little. The seed and foundation of the tradition is indigenous.
• They also assert that, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the enlightened intellectual elite of New Spain assumed leadership of the tradition, owned it and spreads it among all social sectors within the viceroyship.
• During the war of independence and later in the construction of the national state the Virgin was elevated to a national symbol by a confessional state and later supported by the Mexican people, who identified the Virgin as a symbol and the banner for freedom, identity and independence.
• In the 20th century it is assumed as one of the most important cultural symbols of the Mexican identity and it is projected toward all of Latin America and the United States.
• The most important document of the tradition is the same one that gave it direction from the 16th century, the Nican Mopohua.
While there is substantiated consensus, not all share the same characterization of the Guadalupan phenomenon. There is another hypothesis that follows the old idea of the argument of silence presented by Juan Bautista Muñoz in 1793, which is the reason Miguel Sánchez’s work of 1648 is cited as the foundational moment of the Guadalupan tradition. Its principal advocates are Stafford Poole, David Brading, Lisa Sousa and James Lockhart. They deny that the tradition finds its support in the 16th century and that it is indigenous, ignoring the evidence contributed by the other scholars. The problem is that, with their hypothesis, they try to negate any other possibility, often confusing the tradition of the cult with the tradition of an enlightened national elite. As we warned at the beginning of this lecture, to think that a tradition is determined by only one voice is a crass methodological mistake.
In the case of David Brading, it is necessary to give nuances to his thesis, since his contributions to the study of the tradition are truly irreplaceable, such as calling attention to the need to gather wisdom on the Eastern Catholicism regarding the theology of the image, the need to go back to the Second Nicene Council to better interpret the Guadalupan iconographic tradition, and in general that aspect of the Tridentine religiosity. May honor go to those who earn it.
As it can be observed, during almost 500 years the enlightened tradition was originated, channeled and finalized in the Nican Mopohua, that simple text on which we need to focus before the end of this lecture.
3.- The Nican Mopohua
The 20th century’s systematic study of the Nican Mopohua has provided invaluable information and insights. It is clear that it is the most complete document on Tepeyac’s Marian devotion, from the narrative of the event to its literary quality and theological depth. It was developed between 1555 and 1560. The oldest copy known is in New York and experts establish its date in the middle of the 16th century. It is considered the foundational document of the tradition of the Virgin of Guadalupe’s cult.
While it is true that it is the most complete document, it is also true that it is not the only one, nor the oldest. There is another one, known as “The Atabal’s Street Vendor’s Cry” which may date from 1541-1545. The Nican Mopohua is, thus, the fundamental document, the most complete and significant in a series of Nahuan voices and texts on the Tepeyac’s Marian devotion elaborated prior to and after the 1550 decade.
The Nican Mopohua has been studied from the most diverse perspectives: linguistic and grammatical, paleographical, semantic, theological, Mariological, and within the Nahuan-Christian, political, educational and cultural contexts. It has been subjected to the criticism of the highest-caliber Nahuan experts. To only cite the most relevant: Primo Feliciano Velásquez, who translated it into Spanish in 1929 and whose version continues to be the best known; Don Angel María Garibay, who established the unequivocal link to the wise Indians of Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco; and the most recent study by Miguel León Portilla in 2002. The historiographical criticism has been able to establish that the text is a finished product of the Indo-Christian culture, very much in keeping with the style of the 16th century, elaborated in the Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco School, truly completed by the indigenous Don Antonio Valeriano in collaboration with the rest of his Indian colleagues.
Now that the nature of the text has been clarified beyond all doubt, what are currently being debated are its possible interpretations. It is very desirable that the debate be prolonged at least another 500 years, since it is the source that nurtures the tradition. We can never forget that to focus the study of Guadalupanism on the tradition as such and to clarify the nature of the Nican Mopohua are two valuable contributions of the 20th century’s academic historiography to the study of the history of the Virgin of Guadalupe’s cult.
What does the Nican Mopohua say?
First of all, it should be clear that it is the foundational text of a religious tradition. It is not a historic chronicle, much less a journalistic story, but the narration of a Marian devotion in which its authors honestly believe. It is a foundational text of a tradition in the same manner in which the Gospels are of Christianity. This means that they do not invent the tradition, but simply present an account of an event considered sacred in an orderly, clear form, with theological and explicative intention. The Gospels render an account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. They do not create the character as a novelist would do, nor are they biographies of an amazing Jewish carpenter.
Likewise, the Nican Mopohua is an account of Tepeyac’s Marian devotions. The comprehension of this type of texts cannot be detached from the event they narrate and to which they claim being witness, a fact every historian must consider regardless of his personal beliefs. To impose personal belief runs the risk of betraying the historic method, distorting sources and giving unsustainable interpretations at the end. A text that narrates events considered sacred is religious by its own nature and it must be considered as such by anyone approaching it. It is a matter of method, not of personal belief.
By all indications, the Nican Mopohua discourse is constructed by using very simple theological categories and resorting to Nahuan cultural concepts such as that known as difrasismo to evoke wisdom and poetry, as well as the Ometeotl/Omecihuatl attributes now interpreted in Christian code (lord of duality, of the near and together, creator of people, the one that is in everything, etc.). It is also evident that in the narration everything happens from the periphery to the center, from the neophyte in the faith to the bishop, and that in this movement the salvation and conversion announced by the Virgin operate through a poor Indian. A simple theology is studied by Fra Francisco Morales for that same period in another document of great transcendence such as the famous Colloquial for the Twelve.
This becomes clearer when we consider the second dominant element in the narration. Facing the Virgin, Juan Diego is treated with respect and is spoken to tenderly. Then everything around him is renewed: rugged and dry land turns beautiful to the point of making the Indian believe he is in paradise. The violent world of his simple life, even the illness, disappears before the Guadalupan presence. In contrast, when Juan Diego leaves the Tepeyac and faces the Spaniards to deliver the Virgin’s message, he is mistreated, beaten, mistrusted, humiliated. The world of injustice becomes present. However, it is possible for a different society to exist, where Indians and Spaniards live in harmony, though with the condition that the latter recognize the message God is sending through the Virgin and put it into practice. In my opinion this harmony becomes a symbol when Juan Diego discovers the Guadalupan image printed on his blanket before Bishop Zumárraga, giving way to a totally different relationship between the two.
The Virgin of Guadalupe’s attributes that have been dominant throughout the history of the tradition are recognized clearly in the Nican Mopohua. Especially her maternal nature. The Virgin does not earn devotion for performing miracles, but for her profound maternity, so:
o She is the mother of Juan Diego, a poor Indian, a ladder, a cord, a feather to the wind, and in him she is also the mother of “all the inhabitants of the earth and of all who believe in me.”
o She is the mother who gives away love, compassion, aid, and defense as part of a project for humanity effective in its own context, but which also extends along history. Not an “atemporal” proposition, but deeply ingrained.
The academic historiography of the 20th century has rendered the pro-con debate of the miraculous apparition obsolete simply because it has identified that which can actually be subject to the study of history, that is, the tradition sustained throughout almost 500 years. In consequence, it has placed a challenge before us. Having resolved the more important problems, it is appropriate to study those other voices of the tradition not remotely limited to the opinions of the enlightened elite no matter how important they may have been. The time has come to listen with serenity to the many other voices that have given form to the tradition of the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe throughout more than four centuries.
It must be pointed out that the rest of the voices of the Guadalupan tradition come from the original Indo-Christian voice: plastic arts, scenic art, literature, devotions, processions, particular cults, chapels, major and minor churches, advocations, family and parochial devotions, local, national, continental and universal councils, political manifestations, independence, revolutions, rebellions, crownings, migration, collective identities in Mexico, in the U.S., in Latin America, Catholic devotions and beyond Catholicism, creation processes of collective identities, etcetera. Without putting aside any manifestation, each voice is supported by persons and social groups that are, all of them, voices of the tradition.
From this great symphony of voices, the scholars have so far addressed especially the ones related to the enlightened, intellectual, university and national elites and their heirs. To a lesser extent, attention has been placed on plastic arts, painting in particular. While well known and in some ways explored, such as poetry and music, the rest truly waits for scholars willing to go deep into them from the most diverse perspectives. We cannot fail to point out the fact that the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe expands in different directions with a force that seems unstoppable. It is clear that it has transcended by far the borders of Mexico and, in certain instances, those of Catholicism. It is an undisputable factor in the Mexican, Latin American and U.S. Hispanic identity. And, unbelievable as it may seem, the greatest part of the tradition is yet be investigated.