Suitcase and World: Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe ("Virgen de Guadalupe") is a dominant religious figure for Catholics in Mexico.  She is the Virgin Mary.  Images of Guadelupe can be seen everywhere - in homes and commercial establishments, in cities and towns large and small.

So, it was not surprising that our city tour of Mexico City would include a visit to the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Basilica of Our Lady of Guadelupe) which is actually a complex that is comprised of a Roman Catholic church, a minor basilica and the National Shrine of Mexico.

Our van pulled over on the roadside, in a very non-descript neighborhood. As hard as I tried, I could not spot any structure that looked like a Basilica.

Guadelupe, she's everywhere! We crossed the street and entered into a store that I can only describe as selling Guadelupe kitsch. You name the object, there was Guadelupe imprinted on it. Sometimes, she was clad in a blue robe which I think is how she is depicted most other countries. Here, we saw her draped in green, we think to represent Mexico as green is in the national flag.

There were also a fair share of items with the face of the Pope John Paul II superimposed alongside the image of Guadelupe. Apparently, when the Pope came to Mexico in 1979, he paid the Basilica a visit and actually delivered a sermon here. Marketers of Guadelupe still like to remind everyone of that occasion.

Cookie break. Although I am not Christian, I respect those who are and their devotion to Guadelupe. As a foodie, I had no interest in the kitsch. I was more interested in the small cookies that a vendor, whom we had passed by on the way from the van, was making and cooking. I decided to walk back and check out the cookies. From what I could tell, the dough was a masa dough. She was making small balls and pressing them into rounds that were about 2 inches wide and maybe a half inch or so thick. She was cooking the cookies on a small flat metal disk sitting atop a small charcoal burner. She expertly and without pain from the heat of the fire, flipped the cookies to cook them on both sides. There was a small pile of cookies on the far edge of the metal disk. I could see bits of burnt corn. The smell that wafted up to my nose was that of grilled corn - a smell I love. I asked her how many pesos for the cookies and she replied, "Bentay". That would be veinte or 20 pesos, less than $2. I couldn't resist so I handed over my pesos and she threw in two more cookies into my plastic bag. Those last two cookies were still hot and were the first two I sunk my teeth into. The cookie was literally dry as sawdust, so dry that the moment I bit into it, it crumbled all over the ground. Not what I expected in terms of texture but the corn taste was so satisfying - pure corn goodness.

I made my way back to the store and offered cookies to my brother and Richard, forewarning them that they were dry but tasty. I was in need of a swig of water after the cookie and I think so were the guys. I'm sad to say no one indulged in a second cookie.

Before we left,we were all handed a card of Guadelupe and we were given little green stickers that we affixed to our clothing. A few folks also took advantage of the stores "banos" (bathrooms) before heading out.

After what seemed like a longer than expected visit to a Guadelupe kitsch shop, we hit the pavement. Like all well trained tourists, we followed Daniel back across the street where the van had originally deposited us.

Walking around a small grove of trees, we came across a small gathering of souvenir vendors, sheltered under plastic tents. There was a lot of Guadelupe stuff for sale and a few stalls selling food. We had arrived or at least were near to the Basilica.

The Modern Basilica.  We entered the grounds of the Basilica and walked alongside a very modern circular structure which is the "Modern Basilica" which was built from 1974-76.  As continued to round the Modern Basilica, a small, red domed church came into view. As we continued walking, a larger, yellow domed church came into view. Fronting all three buildings was an enormous plaza.

As we strolled across the plaza, there were two men,walking on their knees across the plaza to the modern church. One of them was carrying a bouquet of flowers as he slowly made his way, shuffling gently on his knees. According to Daniel, this is a form of paying penitence. It was quite a long distance from the plaza entrance where the men started their walk to the doors of the church. For the first few feet, it would be painless task to walk on your knees on the hard stone surface of the plaza but I would imagine it would not be long before pain would set in.

The Old Basilica. As we stood in the center of the plaza, I could see that the two dome churches stood side by side, separated by what Daniel told us was a chapel that was leaning. Later on, we would get to see just what he talking about.

Turns out the yellow domed church is the "Old Basilica".  Construction on the church was begun in 1531 but was not finished until 1709.

Perched on the hillside behind the churches that fronted the plaza were several; more churches - 5 to be exact. 
  • The Capuchin Nuns' Temple
  • The Indians' Chapel, or San José de los Naturales chapel, a 16th century building in which Our Lady of Guadalupe was first venerated
  • The Pocito Chapel, which means chapel of the little well, a Baroque hermitage built around a ferrous waters well with healing properties
  • The Saint Michael chapel, a chapel built on top of the Tepeyac hill, devoted to the Archangel Michael
  • The baptistry, a chapel whose floor plan is snail-shaped
The entire complex, including the Modern and Old Basilicas is known as the *Villa*, which means "town".

A Basilica worthy of an Old Fashioned Lady. We started walking towards the the Old Basilica.  Given the level of devotion to Guadelupe, I was expecting to see a stunning interior and I was not disappointed. WOW!

Perhaps it's the woman in me coming out but this church has a more feminine feel to it. The wall and ceiling adornments seem more dainty with more filigree work adoring the beams and encircling the paintings on the ceiling,

On the right side wall was a huge painting depicting the conversion of the native Indians to Christianity.

Leaning chapel of Guadelupe.  We made our way to a side chapel to take a quick view. We passed through the church store on the way out. Looking back to the door I just walked through, I realized I had just been in the leaning chapel. Richard pointed out where I could see a gap between the buildings and how metal rods had been inserted to, I presume, somehow bolster the building though I don't know how it could *fall over* considering it's basically squashed between the two other churches.

As we walked back towards the plaza, Daniel also pointed out that the Basilica is also leaning ¬ - not sideways but forward.

A Basilica worthy of a Modern Lady. From the Old Basilica, we headed towards the Modern Basilica which, in my opinion, seemed so out of place in a complex filled with churches dating back to the Spanish colonial period.

 A very modern looking set of doors greeted us at the entrance.  We quietly entered the church as there was a service underway.  The interior of the basilica was very modern in design; definitely something that was built in the latter part of the 20th century.  The room was huge. According to Daniel, the church can accommodate up to 10,000 parishioners!

We followed Daniel around the pews and down a passageway that took us under the altar. I've never been under a church altar before. Looking up, I could see the modern elements in the interior design of the church. I have to say, beauty is definitely in the eyes of the beholder and my eyes did not know how to appreciate the beauty of this church.

At the bottom of the passageway, we were greeted by something that I have never, ever seen in a church before.......three people movers. Yes, you read that right......people movers!

We walked towards one of the people movers and watching what everyone else was doing, I looked upwards to see what I though a painting of the Lady of Guadelupe. I managed to snap a couple of photos before the end of the people mover. To give people full chance to admire the painting, you can get back on another people, traveling in the reverse direction, which is exactly what we did. An in case, you still need one more opportunity to see the painting. there's one last people mover to ride. Today, only two of the three people movers were working.

The story of Juan Diego and Guadalupe. Juan Diego walked every Saturday and Sunday to church, and on cold mornings, wore a woven cloth called a tilma to keep warm.  The story goes that on December 9, 1531 Juan Diego had a vision of a young woman while he was on a hill in the Tepeyac desert, near Mexico City.

The woman told him to build a church exactly on the spot where they were standing. Juan Diego recounted what he experienced to his local bishop, Fray Juan de Zumárraga who was skeptical and asked Juan Diego for some proof. He returned to the spot on the hill and once again, the woman appeared before him.   He told the woman that the bishop wanted proof, and though it was December when normally nothing blooms in the cold. the woman said "Bring the roses behind you." Turning to look, he found a rose bush growing behind him. He cut the roses, placed them in his tilma and returned to the bishop, saying he had brought proof. When he opened his tilma, instead of roses, there was an image of the young lady imprinted on the cloth.  Supposedly, the image on that piece of cloth is what is displayed on the wall above the people movers.  Neither the cloth nor the image have ever analyzed using modern scientific methods but if you are faithful and believe in Guadelupe then that's all that matters.
Following Daniel, our next stop was just outside the church's gift shop where there was a large painting of Guadelupe that you could stand next to and have a photo taken. The Mexican family who was touring with us took the opportunity. We all smiled as they said "queso" to the snap of the camera :-)

We exited the church and walked on a pathway alongside the street vendors. Lots of Guadelupe stuff and other religious paraphernalia for sale. Oh and where masses of people congregate, there is food, lots of food. There is food for sale everywhere in Mexico. Somewhere I had heard that if you are a street food addict (hello, Julee), Mexico is the place for you. Based on what I've seen so far, I will be a very happy street foodie on this trip :-)

The van was waiting for us on the other side of the street. Contrary to what you might imagine about a crowded, busy city like Mexico City, traffic is very orderly here. As long as you cross the street as the crosswalk, you have no fear of either getting hit by a car speeding through the light or not having enough time to cross - they definitely give you plenty of time to cross the street. At major intersections and they have big intersections here, there are police to also help control traffic so pedestrians as well as bicyclists have no worries about getting to the other side of the road.

We dutifully boarded the van for our ride to Teotihuacán.