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An aspiring poet sat with me in Captain Quackenbush’s Intergalactic Dessert Co. and Espresso Café on Guadalupe Street. He wore images of La Virgen de Guadalupe as kitsch, a tattoo on his bicep, her effigy dangled from his keychain. I mentioned to him that my father was a devotee and his face fell.
He couldn’t have known that in the 14th-century, a herdsman had a vision of the Holy Mother in the hills near Wad-al-lubb, a village that the Moors called “Hidden River.” She bade him tell the Roman priests to dig on the spot on which she stood, where they found a buried statue of a black Madonna, and quickly erected the Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe to house it.
Centuries hence, an ocean away, Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin had a vision on the hill at Tepeyac where a temple for Tonantzin, mother of the Aztec gods, stood. María spoke to him in Nahuatl as “the mother of the true deity” and bid him gather flowers in the midwinter light. When he returned with roses, she rearranged them in his tilmàtli and he carried them to the archbishop.
When he arrived, he opened the cloak and the roses fell on the floor to reveal her likeness fixed on the tilma.
Surely, a great miracle, but the Franciscans felt that it was an abomination wrought of Satan and would only promote idolatry and superstition. Zumárraja was undeterred and soon the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe stood in place of that of the goddess.
Her visage, painted on the cape by the Aztec artist, Marcos Cipac de Aquino, has enthralled millions since the 16th -century, her golden crown peeled off long ago, and the painting has appeared on T-shirts, tote bags and as a Precious Moments figurine.
Seeing how well the syncretism worked, Pope Leo XIII proclaimed a canonical coronation of the Queen of Mexico, Empress of the Americas.
For his part in the story, Don Diego was made the first indigenous saint.
When the cappuccino arrived at our table, we thought we saw her face in the froth.
*Nahuatl for the Aztec goddess who was regarded as “our lady who emerges from the region of light like the eagle from fire”
*Tilmàtli, tilma – was an outer garment worn by the Aztecs, a type of cloak, or cape.