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EXPLORING MEXICO CITY

Basilica of Guadalupe
by Ron Mader

DF WIKI

Am I not here, who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection?
- Mexico Notebook

Basilica de Guadalupe, Mexico City

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Mexico City - The Basilica of Guadalupe is home to one of Mexico's most familiar icons. Less known is that the grounds of the Basilica comprise a national park, part of the Sierra de Guadalupe.

While the historical accuracy of the story is debated, the phenomenal popularity of the Virgin of Guadalupe cannot be disputed. The shrine receives more than 15 million visitors a year -- several thousand each day -- some of whom travel the last few hundred meters on their knees.


TEPEYAC

The cathedral is built on Tepeyac, a hill north of downtown Mexico City. This is also the former site of the temple of Tonantzin, the Aztec fertility goddess. If you're interested in earth-friendly spirituality, this is a beautiful place to visit.

1531

The story is that in the winter of 1531 a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, an indigenous farmer and recent convert to Christianity, who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

The appearance took place 10 years after the Spanish defeated the Aztecs. The grand city of Tenochtitlán was in ruins. Juan Diego, born in 1474, participated in Aztec ceremonies and witnessed the collapse of his civilization. What is important in the story is that Mary appears not to the Spanish conquistadores, but to the Mexicans. And it is to Juan Diego, a poor farmer, who she requests a church be built on this hillside, sacred to the Aztecs.

Mary asked Juan Diego to climb the hill where he would find special proof of the divine appearance to take to the Bishop. On top of the hill, Juan Diego surprisingly found flowers, in spite of the winter frost. He picked them up and bundled them inside his cloak. When he went to the Bishop's house to give him the flowers, another surprise was in store. The image of the Virgin Mary appeared on the inside of his cloak, or tilma. This is the portrait that hangs in the Basilica.

Mary stands on a crescent moon and is silhouetted by the rays of the sun - symbols of the Aztec gods. She is also pregnant, signified by the black cord around her waist. While contemporary viewers may see her folded hands as a sign of prayer - this was the indigenous symbol of gift giving.

This image resonated throughout Mexico and the Americas. Guadalupe shrines shine from the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands to Brazil.

NATION-BUILDING

The popularity of the Virgin of Guadalupe was incorporated in Mexico's nation building. Padre Miguel Hidalgo -- the founding father of the independence movement -- brandished the banner in his military campaigns in 1810-11 as did Emiliano Zapata's troops in the 1910-20 revolution.

BASILICAS

There have been a number of Basilicas constructed on the site. The oldest existing chapel is located up the hill.

The newest structure opened its doors in 1976 and was designed by architect Pedro Ramirez Vasquez, who also created the Azteca Stadium. The Basilica's circular floorplan allows visitors to see the image of the Virgin from any point within the building. The image of the Virgin is hung above moving walkways that carry the visitors back and forth in front of it.

Today, the Basilica of Guadalupe draws 1 million people on pilgrimage to La Villa every December and is second only to the Vatican as the most popular Catholic attraction in the world.

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VISITING?

LOCATION -- The Basilica is located in Mexico City's La Villa neighborhood.

Travel!

TRANSPORTION -- Take the metro line #3 from downtown to Deportivo 18 de Marzo. Change to line #3 in the direction 'Martin Carrera' and exit at thee Villa-Basilica station and walk two blocks north along Calzada de Guadalupe. You can also catch the microbus on the south side of Reforma, west of the Auditorio metro. Look for the microbus labeled 'Villa.'

TIP -- Unless you like big crowds, avoid the church on December 12th when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit. If you love music, visit November 22nd when thousands of mariachis arrive to honor Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music.

RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL -- Those entering the sanctuaries should be respectful of those who are worshipping. Flash photography is NOT permitted in most churches and sometimes tripods are prohibited. It's best to dress appropriately -- no shorts and please remove your hat. If you have a cell phone, turn it off. (Favor de apagar su celular.)


AUTHOR

Ron Mader is the responsible travel correspondent for Transitions Abroad and host of the award-winning Planeta.com website.


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