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.
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 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.
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.
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.