The Virgin of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico. She is depicted with brown skin, an angel and moon at her feet, and rays of sunlight that encircle her.
According to tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared to an indigenous man named Juan Diego on Dec. 9, 1531. The Virgin asked that a shrine in her name be built on the spot where she appeared, Tepeyac Hill, which is now in a suburb of Mexico City. Juan Diego told the bishop about the apparition and request, but he didn’t believe him and demanded a sign before he would approve the construction of the church.
On Dec. 12, the Virgin reappeared to Juan Diego and ordered him to collect roses in his tilmátli, a kind of cloak. Juan took the roses to the bishop and when he opened his cloak, dozens of roses fell to the floor and revealed the image of the Virgen of Guadalupe imprinted on the inside. The tilmátli with the image is on display in the Basilica de Guadalupe.
The appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe to an indigenous man is said to be one of the forces behind creating the Mexico that we know today: a blend of Spanish and native blood. Her dark skin and the fact that the story of her apparition was told in the indigenous language of Nahuatl and in Spanish are said to have helped convert the indigenous people of Mexico to Christianity at the time of the conquest. She is seen as having a blend of Aztec and Spanish heritage.
Her image has been used throughout Mexican history, not only as a religious icon but also as a sign of patriotism. Miguel Hidalgo used her image when he launched his revolt against the Spanish in 1810. She could be seen on the rebels’ banners and their battle cry was “Long Live Our Lady of Guadalupe.”
Emiliano Zapata also carried a banner of the Virgen of Guadalupe when he entered Mexico City in 1914.
Pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego in 2002, making him the first indigenous American saint, and declared Our Lady of Guadalupe the patroness of the Americas.
In Puerto Vallarta, thousands of people will participate in the nightly pilgrimage to Our Lady of Guadalupe church in downtown Puerto Vallarta between December 1 – 12. The streets are filled for twelve nights with music, celebration, and the colors of Mexico as people make their way with gifts for the Lady of Guadalupe altar in the church.
The nightly candlelit pilgrimages are one of the area’s most celebrated traditions during the Christmas season in Puerto Vallarta. The last night of the pilgrimages, December 12, is by far the most crowded and exciting closed by a special service honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe at the church and in the streets. Like any true celebration in Puerto Vallarta, the evening finishes with a firework show over the Bay of Banderas.