Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Virgin of Guadalupe of Mission San Diego de Alcala

Soon after the Miami Valley issued the Southwest challenge, I went to San Diego and toured the beautiful mission there. In a small niche towards the front of the sanctuary sits a beautiful carving of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I lived in New Mexico, and the story of this localized icon has always been compelling to me, so I decided to use this image as the source of my January 12x12 spiritual challenge quilt.

I've used many of the common tropes used for the Virgin's presentation. She is often pictured in a way that looks as if she's standing on Juan Diego, but notice that his arms are outstretched as if he's lifting up his cloak with the vision of her on the back. Her gown is cut from a fabric that depicts roses in full bloom, like the flowers he brought to the bishop. The rays of light coming from around her are also traditional, as is the blue robe. Some other visions of Mary have her wearing the celestial robe, and I've duplicated that here.

I've added other images, too. The top quiltlet is of the ocotillo. This thorny native to the Mexican and American Southwest deserts sprout lush red blooms after rainfall. It's one of my favorite desert plants, and it's the most exuberant red bloomer in the desert, a reference to the roses Juan Diego brought to the bishop and to the crown of thorns. The next quiltlet is the bell tower at the Mission San Diego de Alcala. The third quiltlet from the top is the Virgin standing in a field of grain to symbolize how her gift of faith to the indigenous people also provided sustenance for their bodies. The lowest quiltlet is a bit of a reference to the goddess faiths around the world. Many see the Virgin of Guadalupe as a syncretic link between the new religion offered by the Catholic Spaniards and the female deities of the old indigenous religions of Mexico and the Aztecs.

More about the Virgin of Guadalupe

Wikipedia describes the Catholic accounts of the miracles like this: " According to official Catholic accounts of the Guadalupan apparitions, during a walk from his home village to Mexico City early on the morning of December 9, 1531,[1] Juan Diego saw a vision of a young girl of fifteen to sixteen, surrounded by light. This event occurred on the slopes of the Hill of Tepeyac. Speaking in the local language of Nahuatl, the Lady asked for a church to be built at that site in her honor. From her words, Juan Diego recognised her as the Virgin Mary. When he told his story to the Spanish bishop, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, the bishop asked him to return and ask the lady for a miraculous sign to prove her claim. The Virgin then asked Juan Diego to gather some flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill, even though it was winter when no flowers bloomed. He found there Castilian roses (which were of the Bishop's native home, but not indigenous to Tepeyac). He gathered them, and the Virgin herself re-arranged them in his tilma, or peasant cloak. When Juan Diego presented the roses to Zumárraga, the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe miraculously appeared imprinted on the cloth of Diego's tilma."

That's the church version, the local version holds that because Juan Diego saw her and because she closely resembled the Mexican goddess Toantzin and/or an Aztec goddess, the new religion was made more palatable to the indigenous population. This similarity drew indigenous people to the church and thus saved their lives, insuring food and medicine from the monks.

No matter the true story, to me the Virgin of Guadalupe represents God making God known to people in a way that they can accept and identify with. It is an image of compassion and love. And it is an image of service. I wonder how many people feel God's hand in their lives or view miracles and never talk about it for fear that they might be called crazy. But Juan Diego, a child, was willing to serve his people by telling the truth of what he saw, and I can't help but think that his courage saved a number of lives.


PeggySue said...

Very nice! I enjoyed reading the history of the imagery. I particularly like the 4 mini quilts, they add a unique dimension, visually and contextually. The red lines pull it together well. I read your QA post and smiled, I know the frustration from being stuck until I work something out! My muse is quite demanding.

LaughingLG said...

Thank you. I had a lot of fun doing the mini-quilts and it was a new direction for me. I'm glad you thought it was integrated.