Monday, December 13, 2010

our lady of the big bang

A woman has been keeping me up almost every night this past week.

Well, her acolytes have.

Sunday was the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe).  I have concluded Elijah must have been talking to her supporters when he suggested their god must be asleep.  Or deaf.

For the past week my slumber has been periodically -- but regularly -- shattered by sky rockets designed for one purpose.  To impersonate a mortar shell bursting in air.  No rocket's red glare here.  Just percussion grenades.

I am certain there is a purpose for this week of nocturnal banging about.   But I do not know what it is.

Nor do my neighbors.  They simply respond: "It is for Our Lady."  If that is it, I would suggest substituting roses and chocolates.  They seem to work better for me.

That lady, of course, is the patron saint of Mexico -- a Spanish import with a decidedly Mexican twist.

The original Guadalupe lady is a black Madonna who, legend has it, was instrumental in driving the Moors from the Iberian peninsula.  Mexico, not to be outdone, found its own lady in the 1530s -- less than a generation after her cousin booted the Muslims back to North Africa.

 I am certain you know the tale.  An apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared to an Indian peasant (or prince, depending on which version of the myth you subscribe to) -- the now sainted Juan Diego (no relation to Zorro, as far as I can tell).

The apparition told Juan Diego to instruct the local bishop to build a chapel for the adoration of -- the apparition.  The bishop, auditioning for the role of Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar, told Juan Diego to tell the apparition to perform a miracle.  The peasant-prince then returned with a cloak filled with roses -- and mirable dictu -- the image of the Virgin impregnated on his cape.

I have no desire to get sucked into the debate over the authenticity of the myth.  You can color me skeptical -- if for other reason than all of the scientific studies showing clear evidence of at least three paintings superimposed on the super cape. 

But I live in a world where everything is not subject to the scientific method.  Faith is a big part of every life.  What is clear is that my neighbors adore her.

There have been nightly processions this past week -- with dancers in native dress, bands, believers, and a singer who proved that all Mexicans are not musicians.  Not to exclude the ever-present sky rockets that punctuate every third off-tune verse.

It was the equivalent of the Macy's Thanksgiving parade.  Christmas has officially arrived in Melaque.

But I left out the quintessentially Mexican element in this tale.

The place where the Virgin requested a shrine for her own adoration is coincidentally located where a temple dedicated to the Aztec goddess Tonantzin stood before the Spanish leveled it.  Even after the destruction of the temple, Christian Indians would come to the site to worship their old goddess.

We do not know a lot about Tonantzin.  Almost everyone agrees she was a prototype earth goddess -- a bringer of life.

Some interpret her role as the mother of all the Aztec gods -- and a virgin to boot.  If the Spanish friars knew that part of her mythical past, there was an obvious solution for a cultural win-win.

The Spanish had a problem.  How could they get their recent converts to stop worshiping pagan gods?

Juan Diego's tale offered it all.  Build the new chapel at the site of the old temple and substitute Mary for
Tonantzin.  And let the Indians worship.  What did it matter if they were still worshiping Tonantzin?  If it looked as if they were worshiping Mary.

It was a very Catholic solution.  The church did the same thing in Europe -- incorporating the winter and spring pagan festivals.  Giving us Christmas and Easter (not even bothering to change the pagan name of the latter).

And, in the process, Mexican culture began to grow as a combination of its Indian past and its European overlay.

Call it religious fusion, a hostile takeover, or a clever marketing scheme, the myth of Our Lady now forms the cultural cement of Mexico -- an icon even more ubiquitous than Coca-Cola.

And now that I have said nice things about her, I just hope she lets me get back to sleep.


Calypso said...

Yes I think their Lady is numero uno in Mexico. She gets TOP billing around these parts.

Inmigrante Rentista said...

You can follow this link to Mexconnect for an interesting article about "Our Lady of Bottle Rockets

Islagringo said...

I, like countless other of your readers, love how you always find a way to educate and entertain in the same breath.

Anonymous said...

And what exactly were those nice things did you say about Our Lady? Seems you called her a myth, a cunning marketing scheme and the equivalent of Stewie from Family Guy balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. I would be really surprised if she let you sleep now.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to figure out if I like Beth's response, or your post more.

For some reason, that post captivated me. Maybe because I am quite sure that I remember it, sure to bring it up at the most awkward time.

Anyway, well done on the post. Hope you are well. And you have made me want a laundress. Aside from the obvious benefits, I love the word. Now if she were only from Quebec...


Anonymous said...

Monkey see, monkey do - monkey pee all over you...

Steve Cotton said...

Calypso -- She seems to have no competition. At least, local competition.

Islagringo -- Thank you, sir. Most kind.

mbsmith94 -- Hmm. Well, I did suggest roses and chocolates. That was nice. By the way, great comment.

JoS -- For some reason, I was thinking of you when I wrote of the laundress. A Quebec limerick may be in store.

Steve Cotton said...

Anonymous -- Come again?

Steve Cotton said...

Inmigrante Rentista -- Sorry I did not comment earlier. I read the article. It certainly fills ion some of the holes.

Anonymous said...

That is my blog title suggestion.

Steve Cotton said...

Anonymous -- It may mislead some of the readers. Just some.

Laurie Matherne said...

Hmmm. Two things. You have given me an idea for a post on Suyapa our patron saint in Honduras.

Second. The picture. Are those ladies or men? They look hefty for ladies but not quite manly enough for me. One needs to know these things.

Steve Cotton said...

Laurie -- Women. We grow our Amazon warriors for battle here. Not just for show. There were men, as well, in this group, but the women were more interesting.

Anonymous said...

Also, I thought we understood that NNTP meant no need to publish. But that's cool too. I kind of like seeing my comment up there.

Dreaming of my Quebecois laundress,

Steve Cotton said...

JoS -- My initialism detector was on the blink. But, just like everything in life, it all works for the best.

Anonymous said...

You know I do not believe in initialism. It was created by grouchy old ment to undermine acronyms.