Mexico City is home to the second most visited Catholic shrine in the world - the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a shrine to the Virgin de Guadalupe. Who was the Virgin? And why is she so important to the Mexican People?
The Virgin of Guadalupe, who is also called Our Lady of Guadalupe, was actually an apparition. According to tradition, on December 12, 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego while he was walking towards Hill of Tepeyac. The Virgin told Juan Diego to tell the local Bishop to build a church at the top of the hill for her. The Bishop ignored Juan Diego and again the Virgin appeared, this time telling Juan Diego to go and collect flowers from the top of the hill (which should have been bare-it being the middle of December.) Juan Diego did as he was told, collecting the flowers in his coat and rushing them to the Bishop. When he presented the flowers to the Bishop, the image of the Virgin herself had miraculously appeared on his coat. The out-of-season flowers, along with the image of the Virgin on Juan Diego’s coat, convinced the Bishop, and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe was built on the top of the Hill as the Virgin asked.
As Mexico Struggled for independence, the Virgin became a symbol of freedom the Mexican people. Because the Virgin Mary was depicted as a mixture of the indigenous people and the Spaniards, she is sometime viewed as the “first Mestiza” (The first true “Mexican”-not Spanish or indigenous). She helped bring about the racial and religious blending that makes Mexico what it is today. Miguel Sanchez wrote "this New World has been won and conquered by the hand of the Virgin Mary...[who had] prepared, disposed, and contrived her exquisite likeness in this her Mexican land, which was conquered for such a glorious purpose, won that there should appear so Mexican an image." Sanchez was one of the first to recognize the power of the Virgin to her people and is buried at her shrine. Revolutionaries from Emiliano Zapata to Comandante Marcos have used the Virgin to invoke feelings of pride and power in the Mexican people.
Now days the Virgin De Guadalupe is celebrated as both a religious iconic and pop culture symbol of Mexico. Thousands of people travel to Mexico every year to visit her shrine, leave flowers on her altar, and pray for her intercession. Her feast day (December 12) is celebrated as a national holiday, with traditional food, dancing and processionals. She is an amazing symbol of Mexican life and has become a very symbol of Mexico in the eyes of many.