Dedicated to my Gramma Lupe, the homie Steve Lopez, and Dezi Dez Moreno — RIP
Every December we see two different positions go at it on social media. We either see the hyper Catholic narrative that bows to white Jesus and literally believes the story of Juan Diego, or we see the hyper Mexica narrative that believes the image of the Mexican Guadalupe is a complete fraud and tool used by Spain and the Church to trick naive Indigenous people into conversion. Both positions are annoying.
To start we must distinguish the Juan Diego apparition story from the sacred image and not refer to them interchangeably. Although they act as a complementary pair, they must distinguished as two separate items with different timeline contexts. When discussing origins, it is a sloppy mistake to refer to the image and story interchangeably. This sloppiness of course is just a reflection of sloppy research.
By now we all know of the apparition story of Juan Diego (most popularly known as the Nican Mopohua) that was alleged to have happened in 1531, 10 years after the fall of Tenochtitlan. We also know of the Sacred Image which most agreed was created in 1555 or shortly before. There is no exact date known as to when the apparition narrative came into circulation but it points to at least the mid 1500s. There are articles asserting the apparition narrative was created in 1648 by Miguel Sanchez but as we will touch on later, there’s no way that claim can be supported. The apparition narrative was most likely created in concert with the sacred image or the artist of the sacred image based the panting off the Native oral tradition that was already in circulation below the Spanish radar.
Like I mentioned above, it’s a right of passage of sorts in the Indigenous reclamation process to hold the stance that the apparition story and the image were hoaxes to convert our ancestors. I find that claim offensive because it relies on the “dumb Mexican” stereotype. We have to remember that Mexicah were arguably the most savvy and intelligent society in the world at that time. While acknowledging that the Catholic church and criollos (Iberians born in Mexico) have at times usurped the power and influence of the sacred image, it is asserted that the Mexican Guadalupe has always been a symbol created by and for Indigenous people. The sacred image (not to be sloppily conflated with the Cortes’ Virgin or Extremadura) and story was consciously made by an Indigenous person (or people) with the intent of providing a way to perpetuate our Indigenous traditions and reducing the violent social conflict that was still popping after the fall of Tenochtitlan. The story and the image were created within the Mexica/Tolteca values of “harmonizing the opposites.”
To claim hoax is offensive because it is based on the “dumb Mexican” stereotype. We have to remember that Mexicah were arguably the most savvy and intelligent society in the world at that time
For as many academic articles and blogs there is on this topic it’s amazing how much info is left out, dismissed, or just sloppily regurgitates unfounded assertions. One of the more popular assertions about the Juan Diego narrative was that narrative was made up in 1648 by Miguel Sanchez. That is a gross inaccuracy that cannot be sustained. There is too much information and testimony to the contrary. Such as the New York manuscripts of the Nican Mopohua sourced by Lasso de la Vega that dates back to at least the late 1500s and the Informaciones Juridicas de 666 which had testimony from 8 Indigenous Mexican elders who inadvertently confirmed that the Juan Diego narrative was known in Cuautitlan among the native peoples in the late 1500s.
The Informaciones of 1666 were an ecclesiastical inquiry, a Catholic spiritual supreme court if you will. Serious business and repercussions for all involved. The purpose of the Informaciones 1666 was not to verify the apparition story or alleged miracles. It was only to prove that a continuous tradition existed so that it could become an officially sanctioned cult under the Catholic Church. These sworn testimonies of 1666 establishing an Indigenous oral tradition must be given due consideration. It is in the culture of colonizers and such oriented academics to belittle Indigenous oral tradition. However, modern anthropology has proven that complex narratives can reliably be passed from generation to generation for as long as two centuries. The Nican Mopohua manuscript approximated at 1580 and the 1666 Informaciones of the many facts that easily smash any notion that Sanchez or even de la Vega created the story.
While Miguel Sanchez’ “Imagen de la Virgin” published in 1648 was the first publication of the apparation account and did popularize it among Criollos (Spanish people born in Mexico,) it was already an oral tradition amongst our ancestors. Also, based on the source documentation and accounts of Luis Becerra Tanco (1603-1672) and Jesuit Francisco de Florencia (1620-1695), the legend of Juan Diego had been known since the latter half of the 16th century (late 1500s.) The story of the Mexican Guadalupe was most definitely not “born in 1648” when Sanchez wrote about it. Miguel Sanchez “gentrified” the tradition of the narrative if you will. This is an important point to address because most anti- Mexican Guadalupe articles and arguments rest on this false claim. This is a good example of how some thinkers reinforce and build upon the racist colonizer pattern of dismissing Indigenous oral testimony and only validating our history when it has satisfied Western sensibilities.
One of the more popular assertions about the Juan Diego narrative was that narrative was made up in 1648 by Miguel Sanchez. That is a gross inaccuracy that cannot be sustained. There is too much information and testimony to the contrary.
General consensus has it that Antonio Valeriano (Nahua) is indeed the author of the original Nican Mopohua manuscript. It is estimated he penned it around 1560 but that it was based on an oral tradition already in circulation. Valeriano was born in Azcapotzalco around 1520 just before the fall of Tenochtitlan, and was of noble lineage thought to have been descended from the royal house of Tlacopan. He was a highly learned individual in both Nahua and colonial language and frameworks which further convinces most that he had to be the original documenter of the narrative tradition. The probability is that while he was the first to pen it, the oral tradition of the narrative was already in under the radar circulation amongst the Natives.
Valeriano also worked under Fray Bernardino de Sahagun which rightfully generates suspicion to some that he wrote the Nican Mopohua strictly for the nefarious purpose of “conversion.” However, it is sloppy to assume he deceptively did so just because of his proximity to Spanish officials and institutions. Even if it was proven that he did generate the story from thin air (which is impossible), no one can say with certainty what Valeriano’s intention was for writing it. The Nican Mopohua’s skilled “flor y canto” style actually perpetuates the Indigenous/Nahua worldview instead of undermining it. Thus there is no solid base to assert that the apparition story was a nefarious trick of the Catholic church. And again, claiming hoax totally dismisses Indigenous agency and is more invested in dumb Indian stereotypes.
The skilled In Xochitl In Cuicatl (“flor y canto”) style actually perpetuates the Indigenous/Nahua worldview instead of undermining it. Another reason there is no foundation to assert that the apparition story was a mere trick of the Catholic church.
Although some believe the Nican Mopohua narrative of Juan Diego to be literal, it is not. The “narrative” is written in the In Xochitl In Cuicatl (The Flower, The Song) tradition or “The wisdom expresses itself as poetry” medicine style. It must be understood within the context of Nahua worldview. Cuicatl is song, and as we know in Indigenous practice, songs are catalyst for healing and spiritual connections. So from here on when we refer to narrative or story remember that we’re really referring to a sacred, spiritual song.
XochitlCuicatl is also an epistemology style utilized by Nahua wise people to express the more elevated concepts of Nahua philosophy and of our cosmovision. The story is a message and a vehicle for knowledge, it is not to be taken literally. The symbolism of the Mexica people is embedded throughout the story— the four apparitions with the four directions and the fact that the story starts with a song and ends with flowers are some quick examples. Such embedded textual symbolism reflective of the Nahuatl worldview shows that apparition narrative was sourced from Indigenous oral tradition. We find it hard to believe that Spanish agency would indulge in and perpetuate the XochiCuicatl skillset and risk such an Indigenous association in a time of fierce anti-Indigenous sentiments and campaigns of eradication.
The symbolism of the Mexica people is embedded throughout the story— the four apparitions with the four directions and the fact that the story starts with a song and ends with flowers are some quick examples of the employed in xochitl in cuicatl epistemology.
The name “Guadalupe” comes out of convenience and habit. The Spanish were notorious for chopping up Indigenous words and place names. Since the narrative originated with the Indigenous people the true name could not have been Guadalupe because there is no “G” or “D” sound in the Nahuatl language. It is also highly unlikely that front man Juan Diego (Cuauhtloatzin) even knew about “Our Lady of Guadalupe” in Spain let alone be able to pronounce it. This is along with the fact that the Extramadura image that haters love to reference bears extremely little resemblance to the Sacred Image. The likelihood is that the Spanish heard a Nahuatl name and since they were centered in their own ways perverted it into a Spanish compatible pronunciation.
There is no certainty on what the true name of the sacred female image and character in the flor y canto story was. The foremost estimations has been Tequatlanopeuh, which means “she which originated at the peak of the crags” or Tecuauhtlacuepueh which means “she who bursts forth like a fiery eagle.” The latter having more weight with -cuep(on) suffix having bursting/exploding connotations. Mesox societies are known for aligning our creations with celestial phenomena. It could very well have a connection to Halley’s Comet’s appearance in 1531, the same year the Nican Mopohua narrative takes place.
There is a lot more to “Juan Diego” that we are often led to believe. His original Nahuatl name suggests a person of noble ruler status. The name Cuauhtlatoatzin roughly means ” honorable eagle that speaks.” Again, we have to use our Tolteca, Indigenous lenses right. Eagles are highly venerated animal relatives with strong warrior and spiritual connotations. Tlatoa literally means “to speak”, and as we know Indigenous words have profound symbolism. Tlatoa(ni) in a Nahuatl name is not to be taken lightly. It essentially means “speaker of the people” which in the Western worldview would equate to a “King.” So here we have a man whose name from a different layer means: “Honorable Warrior King.
With deeper understanding of who “Juan Diego” and Antonio Valeriano were, and as we shall see in the next section, Marcos de Cipac— we can easily see the capacity for an “Indigenous Spiritual Heist” against the Spanish to occur.
It is disputed whether or not “Juan Diego” whose real name is understood to be Cuauhtlatoatzin, ever existed or not. At one point, influenced by the Catecismo Guadalupe document, I leaned toward the conclusion that he never existed and was merely a literary device as per the Nican Mopohua, Xochicuicatl communication. However, after further research, more specifically the 1666 Informaciones where Nahua Indigenous testimonies inadvertently verified his existence, I now lean toward the hypothesis that he indeed existed and that his persona was utilized for the Nican Mopohua narrative.
Since the apparition narrative originated with the Indigenous people the true name could not have been Guadalupe because here is no “G” or “D” sound in the Nahuatl language. It is also highly unlikely that front man Juan Diego (Cuauhtloatzin) even knew about “Our Lady of Guadalupe” in Spain let alone be able to pronounce it.
The Spanish image and cult of The Virgin de Guadalupe and the Mexican Guadalupe are not the same. It is also not the Virgin Mary. It’s annoying to read articles that constantly conflate the Mexican Guadalupe as being the same or nearly identical as the Spanish (Extremadura) Guadalupe just because of the Marian theme. Any quick Google search of Cortes’ Virgin or the Virgin of Extremadura comparing it with the Mexican Guadalupe will show that it is a highly lacking in similarity. The Mexican Guadalupe is a painting while the Extremadura Virgin from Spain is a sculpture. If anyone actually cares to study the images in any depth, the collective iconography is very different. The Spanish Guadalupes are expressions of Christianity. The Mexican Guadalupe, while pulling from popular Marian (Virgin Mary) themes of that time, is more latent with the Nahuatl cosmovision.
“The stunning lack of any visual similarity between the cult images of the two preeminent Guadalupes, the diminutive Romanesque sculpture of a black madonna in Extremadura, Spain, and the two-dimensional painting on cloth in Mexico, has forced scholars to look elsewhere for prototypes.”
– Jeanette Favrot Peterson, Creating the Virgin of Guadalupe.
We must also acknowledge that the painting was not a miracle. While some of its technique did baffle various artists over the years and no one has been able to recreate it with available materials, the painting was clearly made from materials easily available for the time.
The sacred image was created in 1556 (appx.) by an Indigenous man named Marcos de Cipac. He was a celebrated painter (tlacuilo) by both Indigenous and Spanish standards. According to Anales de Juan Batista, Marcos Cipac was a very esteemed and accomplished artist achieving a unique independent status as a freelance artist. He was also acknowledged as a true tlacuilo among his people in addition be highly esteemed for his skill even by European standards of the time. In his painting he definitely pulled from different Marian themes but his creation is distinctly Indigenous. It garnered much respect and esteem from Indigenous people the moment it was installed. Even White historians remark about the distinguished difference of his Mexican “Guadalupe” and lack of visual similarity between the cult images of the two other prominent Guadalupes of that time.
There is a lot more value and profound implications to be considered by him also being an esteemed Tlacuilo among his people. For our Ancestors, oral methods along with pictographs were used to record and communicate information. The relationship and reading of shapes, symbols, and colors etc. was a meaningful science and method of communication as can be noted in this example. Recentering ourselves with Indigenous eyes we can start to see the potential of Indigenous art to communicate untapped dimensions of knowledge. To minimize and dismiss such Indigenous vehicles of knowledge is to be centered in a colonizer worldview. We will explore the suggested Indigenous imagery embedded into the sacred image in detail in a different piece.
There are profound implications to be considered by him also being an esteemed Tlacuilo among his people. For our Ancestors, oral methods and pictographs were used to record and disseminate knowledge and information. The reading of shapes, symbols, and colors etc. was a meaningful science and method of communication..
Numerous healings or “miracles” have also been also attributed to the sacred image. Embedded Ixiptla medicine may account for the numerous testimonies of its healing power. The sacred image is also referred to as Itlazoixiptlatzin— roughly: “her (Coatlicue) honorable + beloved image/representation”
“The Nahua concept of ixiptla derives from the particle xip, meaning “skin,” coverage or shell. … ixiptla has been understood as image, delegate, character, and representative. Ixiptla could be a container, but also could be the actualization of power infused into an object or person.”
If you have any experience with Indigenous medicine ways you will know that this is a valid dimension of spiritual science that needs to respected. As per Mexilore:
“Ixiptlas were then ubiquitous, the sacred force finding a vehicle ‘in a stone image, richly dressed and accoutered for the occasion; in elaborately constructed seed-dough figures; in the living body of the high priest in his divine regalia, and in the living god-image he would kill: human, vegetable and mineral ixiptlas’ (Clendinnen). The fact that the Mexica could view human-made objects as bearers of sacred force indicates that they conceived ritual matter as what Bassett calls ‘the stuff of gods’. “
It’s always been a symbol of and by the people. It was always the macehualtin that empowered the image.. Even though colonizers have exploited and used it to manipulate the people, it has always been the Mexican Indigenous that have venerated the Mexican Guadalupe, not the church. During the War of 1810 Father Miguel Hidalgo used the image to attract a wider following because of it’s anti-Spanish sentiments. During his insurgency campaign he only used three symbols to represent the revolutionary movement: Cuauhtémoc, the Mexican Eagle, and the Mexican Guadalupe.
This is how the image of the Mexican Guadalupe is employed today. It is a vehicle for the continuity of our Indigenous spiritual essence. The adaptive forms and expressions of our Indigenous essence can be missed by those who are too focused on the static images of our past and who turn off their Indigenous radar to consider how new shapes, expressions, and styles of our social, spiritual, and creative essence and mannerisms are unfolding.
During his revolution insurgency campaign, Miguel Hidalgo only used three symbols to represent the revolutionary movement: Cuauhtémoc, the Mexican Eagle, and the Mexican Guadalupe.
Tepeyacac is the place where the apparition narrative is centered. It is also a sacred power space where our Indigenous ancestors connected with Coatlicue, She of the Serpent Skirts. Coatlicue is considered an “Earth Goddess” but also manifests as Omecihuatl, essentially the female aspect of Creator. Female deities possess mother qualities which lead the people to refer to Coatlicue and her various manifestations as Tonantzin, “Our Sacred Mother”. This is also how the Mexican Guadalupe, or Tecuauhtlecuepeh if you will, is connected and referred to as Tonantzin.
Medicine people have understood Tepeyac as a space of great spiritual power and healing. Even Sahagun and others trying to convert maintained a healthy suspicion of the true purpose of Indigenous worship and pilgrimage to the site.
” Now that the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been built there, they call her Tonantzin too,the term refers to that ancient Tonantzin and this state of affairs should be remedied, because the proper name of the Mother of God is not Tonantzin, but Dios.
It seems to be a satanic device to mask idolatry and they come from far away to visit that Tonantzin, as much as before; a devotion which is also suspect because there are many churches of Our Lady everywhere and they do not go to them; and they come from faraway lands to this Tonantzin as of old.”
– Bernardino de Sahagun
Keeping ourselves centered in Indigenous purpose and intention, we should acknowledge that our people’s connection and pilgrimage to the sacred Tepeyac site was never defeated. The sacred image and the story are responsible for making sure our ancient connection was not severed. Whoever orchestrated this was conscious of this connection and ensured it would prevail.
.. our people’s connection and pilgrimage to the sacred Tepeyac site was never defeated. The sacred image and the story are responsible for making sure our ancient connection was not severed. Whoever orchestrated this was conscious of this connection and ensured it would prevail.
In the same fashion as we find Guadalupes in most Mexican and Mesox households today, anthropologist G.C. Vaillant notes how different expressions of Coatlicue were highly exalted in spiritual worship and were found in almost every Indian’s home.
“ Coatlicue was also represented as a mother carrying a child (Huitzilopochtli) in her arms. In this guise her function as a mother goddess brought her image into almost every home in the Valley of Mexico.” – G.C. Vaillant, Aztecs of Mexico p.146
While we are right to vilify most aspects of European and Catholic colonization. We also have to remember that Mexica philosophy revered balance and strived to “harmonize the opposites.” The Mexica were able to become a powerful nation because of their ability to incorporate other peoples ways into their own. Even as the Mexica “conquered” other nations they incorporated their ways and deities into their own spiritual pantheon and social systems.
Like most Indigenous people’s inclination to embrace compatible spiritual beliefs and practices, the Mexica’s creation of synthesized spiritual practices and concepts would have been inevitable, especially given the main similarities of Catholicism to Mexicayotl (Mexican Indigenous ways.)
New meanings were given to European religious importations by Indigenous peoples. When we dismiss symbols that our people frequently employ that bear Christian or European influence, who’s worldview, perspective and purpose are we centering? Who are we ascribing to be the prevailing agents of purpose and intention?
The existence of religious coincidences contributed greatly to the synthesis and adaptation of Catholic visual forms to Indigenous beliefs. It also allowed Indigenous spiritual activities a lot of room to guise themselves as Christian yet remain motivated by Mexica spiritual motives. Therefore we must be very careful about assessing how much the church actually accomplished in their campaign to destroy Indigenous ways. Who’s to say that it wasn’t the Mexica that proved to reverse conquer the Catholics by “harmonizing the opposites” (an Indigenous practice) and then creating the Mexican Guadalupe tradition (an Indigenous product) for them to embrace?
Spanish trickery proponents like to claim that the Indigenous Mexicans were in awe over the miracles which quickly swayed them to start following Catholicism. As discussed earlier the apparition was not real and it seems to be debatable whether Juan Diego actually existed. Thing is the Mexica were accustomed to out of the ordinary phenomenon. Moctezuma and the people of Tenochtitlan saw many omens before arrival of the Spanish and that’s just noting the instances documented. While a couple of those omens caused panic or concern, the concern was more about the purported meaning of the omens rather than “supernatural” phenomenon itself. So any alleged supernatural appearance of the Virgin wouldn’t have been so “super” to our ancestors.
Mesox Indigeneity didn’t end in 1532. IMO The sacred image should be acknowledged on the same par of reverence as the other great Mexica works of art like the Aztec Calendar and Coyolxauhqui among others. Viewing anything ‘after contact’ as no longer Indigenous, is a linear/Western subscription. It is to subscribe to an orientation that reinforces the idea of an ‘end’ to Indigenous traditions
If we as a people assert that the Mexica and other Mesox peoples were spiritually, technologically, and scientifically intelligent. If we then accept that the Virgen de Guadalupe is a trick that millions of Mexicans got duped into passionately worshipping for hundreds of years, then there is a glaring contradiction. Were our Ancestors arguably the most intelligent society of people in the world of that time or the dumbest? Let’s be consistent.
We cant’ be arbitrary about what Spanish info we want to accept as truth. We have to intelligently assess the dynamics and context of all the information sourced from Spanish sources otherwise all we have is a catalog of Spanish valued perspectives. Insisting on Western documents and procedures to validate information discriminates against Indigenous knowledge keeping methods and further reinforces a Spanish account of indigenous history. We need to flip the script and give Indigenous intelligence the same level of creativity, agency, and possibility that we give to the Spanish’s when we subscribe to the idea that they pulled a hoax on our ancestors.
Whether we are centered in our Indigenous identity or are Christians, the sacred image and story is a unifying symbol for all Mexicans and many more. We have to ask ourselves, what lenses are we using? Many stay fighting about what happened back then. But more importantly we need to ask what is happening right now. I and many others understand the sacred image and story, arguably the most popular piece of art ever created, to be a powerful medicine image & narrative rooted in, and perpetuating Indigenous ingenuity, strength, and spirituality.