The Virgin of Guadalupe: Celebration and Origins of a Mexican Tradition
by pedro graterol
December 12 marks a day of great significance for millions of Mexicans and Catholic believers around the world as they commemorate the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, affectionately known as the “Morenita del Tepeyac.” This festivity, full of devotion and traditions, has its roots in a miraculous event that, according to the Catholic faith, took place on December 12, 1531, on the hill of Tepeyac.
The story revolves around Juan Diego, a native of Cuautitlán, who sought help for his ailing uncle. In four appearances, the Virgin of Guadalupe asked Juan Diego to take Bishop Fray Juan de Zumárraga to the hill of Tepeyac to build a temple. Despite hesitancy due to the severity of his uncle’s illness, Juan Diego ultimately complied with the Virgin’s request. In the fourth appearance, the Virgin assured him that his uncle was healed and asked him to gather roses from a place where they did not bloom. Upon presenting them to the bishop in his ayate (cloak), the now-famous image of this Marian apparition was revealed.
Official recognition of this festivity came in 1667 when Pope Clement IX instituted it as a Feast Day in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Subsequently, in 1824, the National Congress declared it a National Holiday, and over the years, the celebration has deeply ingrained itself in Mexican culture, becoming a significant event. Every year, on December 12, the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, considered the second most visited Catholic center in the world after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, becomes the epicenter of the celebration.
Despite its significant religious character, the Virgin of Guadalupe represents a symbol of national unity, accompanying Mexico in key moments of its history. It is believed that Miguel Hidalgo carried a banner with the image of the Virgin during his famous “Grito de Dolores,” which initiated the process of Mexico’s independence. The Virgin has also been present during tough times, such as the earthquakes of 1985 and 2017, as well as the economic crisis of 1995, giving the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe a special intensity.
Moreover, due to migration, homage to the Virgin of Guadalupe is paid not only in Mexico. In cities like Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Chicago, ceremonies and religious celebrations take place in December. Since 2001, the Guadalupana Torch Run has attracted thousands of participants running from the Basilica of Guadalupe to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. In fact, one of Anchorage’s co-cathedrals is named “Our Lady of Guadalupe” which year after year hosts the celebration. Every December 12 at 5am, Catholics in Anchorage unite to sing the “mañanitas” to the Virgin. Devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe transcends borders and manifests in various forms, all of which, in their own way, leave an indelible mark on the history and identity of Mexico around the world.
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