Celebrating the Empress of the Americas
Lupita by Elena Campbell
On December 12, celebrants from the upper reaches of Canada to the tip of Argentina light candles, sing special songs, make pilgrimages and gather to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe, known as the Patron Saint of the Americas.
Scholars, priests and poets have told the story of her miraculous appearance to a peasant named Juan Diego on a hilltop outside of modern day Mexico City in 1531. The site, once called Tepeyac, is now the home of a huge Basilica, where 8 million devotees gather to venerate Our Lady every year. There, on her special day, thousands of people come bearing flowers and candles, many walking on their knees and travelling from all over Mexico to honor La Virgencita —also known as the Blessed Mother.
While scholars have researched and written about Guadalupe and her role in the evolution of contemporary Mexico, for this article, we have interviewed two local artists who both have painted The Virgin of Guadalupe and have stories to share. Ceci Garcia was born and raised in San Manuel, a former Arizona mining community. Elena Campbell was born in Douglas, Arizona and raised in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. Both artists are former art instructors and currently active members of Raices Taller 222 Art Gallery & Workshop—Tucson’s only co-op gallery dedicated to supporting Latino and Native American artists.
Can you share any stories about the role The Virgin of Guadalupe played in your own families while you were growing up?
Garcia: In my family, Thanksgiving was like a gateway to celebrating La Virgin. At Thanksgiving, we give thanks for the harvest and this gratitude continues on through Dia de Guadalupe celebrations, then all the way through the Christmas season. In my grandmother’s house, she always had an image of Guadalupe foremost in her bedroom with a candle. She explained to me, as a child, that Guadalupe had originally been known to indigenous people of Mexico as Tonantzin, the Great Nature Goddess.
Tonantzin was the Goddess of fertility and blessings. She, like Guadalupe, was considered as a Mother Deity. Tonantzin was worshipped in the same place where Juan Diego beheld Guadalupe so many centuries later. My Abuela taught me that Guadalupe was The Mother of the Creator and in essence represents Mother Earth. My parents’ comadres and compadres were all musicians, so in my household, Guadalupe was always celebrated through prayer and song.
Campbell: In my family, it was my grandmother, my aunts and later my sister who were devotees of La Virgin de Guadalupe. She was honored and celebrated through prayers and pilgrimages, but not by my parents themselves. Although raised in the Catholic church, both of my parents rejected organized Catholicism during the revolution of the “Cristeros”, and after reading horror stories in the 1960s and 1970s about serious misconduct within the seminaries and monasteries in Mexico and the church itself. My parents encouraged me to become a “spiritual seeker” and to find a spiritual path that suited me rather than to accept dogma of any kind.
I am forever grateful for this advice because it sent me on a quest. I studied world religions for many years and eventually became a student of Michael Harner, a renowned teacher of the Shamanic Tradition. This path is deeply rooted in honoring the natural world. My appreciation of Guadalupe as she represents The Feminine Principal and as Mother Earth aligns with Shamanic beliefs.
Do you have any personal stories relating your own life experience to The Virgin of Guadalupe as a transformative and healing force in our lives?
Garcia: Years ago, my mom had a stroke as a result of an aneurism in the brain. She was relatively young, only early 60s, at the time. Doctors proposed an experimental surgical procedure telling us that without intervention, we would be counting the days of her remaining life. The day my mother was undergoing surgery, I sat in the waiting room and prayed to The Virgin as I drew her picture. In my prayers, I promised Guadalupe that, if my mom survived the surgery, I would create a large-scale image in her honor. Well, my mom not only made it through surgery, she lived another amazing 27 years. To honor my commitment, after the successful surgery, I went home and cut a Virgin out of wood which I painted in her image. It’s a longer story, but that Guadalupe has been installed at the church at Old Pasqua in service to the Yaqui community ever since.
Campbell: My story is about the power of faith and prayer and while it isn’t directly related to Guadalupe, affirms how powerful both can be. Years ago, my baby boy was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. At that time, this diagnosis was essentially a death sentence. Distraught beyond reason and expecting another baby, I prayed to Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and ecology, to intervene on my son’s behalf. While waiting for test results, I devoted three entire days to intense prayer and promised I would name my unborn child after St. Francis if he would spare my son. The next appointment with medical professionals revealed no signs of cystic fibrosis in my son. Miracle or misdiagnosis? We will never know for sure, but we named my next child Francine to honor St. Francis.
Can you share with readers any insight into why you choose to paint The Virgin of Guadalupe?
Garcia: I am most comfortable creating paintings as “homenajes” or homages. One series I have worked on over time pays respect to the men and women of the mining communities here in Arizona where I grew up. One of the images printed here in the magazine is called “La Virgen del Cobre”, which means the Virgin of the Copper. I used actual earth from the copper mines to grind as pigment for her dress and cloak. Guadalupe was such a profoundly important spiritual symbol for the families of the miners who took such enormous risks as they descended into the earth every day in search of copper.
Campbell: I paint The Virgin of Guadalupe as a way to continue the tradition of honoring “Coatlallope”, who was a Goddess of Nature venerated by the Aztecs. La Virgin de Guadalupe represents our “Mestizo” heritage, and the most powerful instinct of motherly love given to all her children and to nature. Many scholars and laypeople believe that the Virgin of Guadalupe is a Spanish Catholicized reflection of this original Mother Goddess whose presence we desperately need to remind us about the principal of balance in our lives and world today. After unbalanced millennia of domination by The Masculine in our Western World, we can use all the healing forces of The Feminine we can call on these days.
Carolyn King is a local teaching-artist who has a special connection to The Virgin of Guadalupe. Twenty-six years ago, her daughter, Analyssa, was born on December 13 in Central Mexico. Seriously overdue at that point, King’s prayers that her baby girl live through her perilous birth were answered after a long day of labor on Guadalupe’s Day. Connect at [email protected] or CarolynKingArts.com.