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Tonantzin Coatlicue AKA Our Lady of Guadalupe

The following description contains words in the Indigenous Mexican language of Nahuatl and in Spanish.

Much more than a religious symbol, Guadalupe is a symbol of national and ethnic identity. She is also much more than the mother of Jesus, much older. Before the Spaniards came, our people already had a complex society steeped in our own spiritual and religious beliefs. We had a tonantzin, a divine mother, whom we loved deeply. We know with her apparition that she has never abandoned us. She spoke to Juan Diego in Nahuatl (one of our native languages) and identified herself as the mother of god. The Spanish clergy assumed "oh, she must mean OUR god!" forgetting that our deities also had mothers. She was not fair skinned but dark as the indigenous people she called her children. The names she gave to Juan Diego and to his uncle include: tequantlaxopueh (she who banishes those who ate us), tlecuauhtlacupeh (she who comes flying from the light like an eagle) and coaltlaxopeh. There are no corresponding sounds in the Spanish language, and so may have been replaced by convenient romance language sounds to form the word Guadalupe. Interestingly enough, the site of La Basilica is the site of a destroyed temple to Our Lady Coatlicue, the goddess of the earth. Was she just asking for her home to be rebuilt? Some of us think so.

Today she has become the symbol of all struggling and oppressed people. Her image flew on the flag that led the people of Mexico to finally overthrow their Spanish colonizers, as well as on banners carried by farmworkers and strikers when they are fighting for justicia. Chicana feminists have also reclaimed her as a symbol of self-determination and revolution rather than passive motherhood that the Christian Mary implies. As Ana Castillo says in her opening Goddess of the Americas: Mother, we have returned.

Here is a condensed version of the actual story:

In 1531, she appeared at Tepeyac (rocky summit) to a young Indigena (indigenous person), identifying herself as Inninantzin in huelneli (mother of the true god), and asking him to carry her message to the bishop that she wanted her sacred house built on that spot. Of course the European bishop ignored Juan Diego's story. When Juan Diego suggested that maybe she should send someone more important, she insisted that it must be he, the smallest of all her children, who should deliver the message of the queen of heaven. Again Juan Diego approached the Bishop, who then asked for proof. But, distracted by the needs of his dying uncle, Juan Diego didn't go to Tepeyac. She appeared to him on his way to fetch a priest and told him to open his heart and not be afraid, that his uncle was well. "Am I not your mother? Will I not protect you?" She instructed him to pick flowers growing on the normally barren spot and take them as proof. When he got an audience with the Bishop, he let his cloak full of flowers fall. The image of Our Lady was printed on the cloth, not painted by a human hand. It still hangs in the cathedral built for her.


This story exists in our oral history, but is quickly becoming very publishable.

A wonderful source of information as well as creative work on the subject of our mother is Goddess of the Americas: Writings on the Virgin of Guadalupe, edited by Ana Castillo.



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