Nican Mophua

click to see larger image... Blessed Juan Diego, the Indian, and Our Lady’s love for Native Peoples

Guadalupe and Juan Diego: myth or history?

On 6 May 1990, in the Basilica of Guadalupe, Mexico, John Paul II beatified Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin ("speaking eagle"), the visionary of Guadalupe: did he beatify a "symbol" or an historical figure? Popes and Latin American bishops speak of Juan Diego as a figure inseparably tied to the event at Guadalupe (cf. Congregation for the Causes of Saints, 184, Mexicana Canonizationis Servi Dei Ioannis Didaci Cuauhtlatoatzin, Vir Laici [1474-1548]. Positio super fama sanctitatis, virtutibus et cultu ab immemorabili praestito ex officio concinata, Romae 1989). What are the foundations of this historical truth?

At the beginning of Christian missionary presence in Mexico, a clash erupted between the religious and cultural world before Cortés and the Christian world that came from Europe. However, it was eventually to prove possible to arrange a convergence, yet not without suffering. Guadalupe is the most successful expression of this convergence (cf. III CELAM, Documentos de Puebla, n. 282; n. 446; IV CELAM, Documentos de Santo Domingo, n. 15) and the recently converted Indian, Juan Diego, its "messenger" as he is described by El Nican Mopohua, the most important indigenous document on the event of Guadalupe (the recent edition of the book by Fidel González Fernández – Eduardo Chávez Sánchez - José Luis Guerrero Rosado, El encuentro de la Virgen de Guadalupe y Juan Diego, Editorial Porrúa, Mexico City 1999, 564 pp. [fourth revised edition: 2001] presents this problem and the relevant documentation).

The topic of Guadalupe became the subject of heated discussion, particularly from the 18th century on. From that time, in the history of Guadalupe, polemic was to prevail over documentary research. Some hold that "Guadalupe" is a religious myth that represents age-old Mexican religious traditions and was absorbed in a syncretistic way by Catholicism. Others believe that "Guadalupe", as a symbolic creation of "Creolism" started in the 17th century, was an assertion of the new Mexican nationalism. For others, it is the lack of exhaustive sources from the first 20 years, especially from the so-called "documentary silence of the Franciscans", that prompts doubt. Some do not deny the historical truth of "Guadalupe" but see the symbolism that envelops it as its fundamental aspect. Others emphasize the dialectic element in the conquest.

Historical sources of Guadalupe

In analyzing the event of Guadalupe, an effort has been made to refer to the various kinds of written historical sources (accounts, letters, legal and administrative documents), archaeological, figurative and "industrial". These sources basically derive from three distinct cultural patterns: the "strictly Indian and indigenous", the "Spanish" and the "mestizo". The treatment of each source is determined by the nature of the source: to attribute the correct value to the sources, the cultural language of the two worlds must be taken into account as well as the way in which they were transmitted. At times, the written sources are in the form of annals, chronicles, "songs", etc., that determine an oral tradition. The epistolary sources are almost entirely Spanish, while the juridical sources vary considerably and have to do with Church government or worship: legacies bequeathed, testaments, indulgences and favours granted to Guadalupe, the dispute between the Franciscan Provincial Bustamante and the second Archbishop of Mexico City, Montúfar, disputes with the Hieronymite Brothers of Estremadura, etc. The administrative sources reflect the organization of the new Hispanic territory in censuses and maps (some very early ones even show the first shrine at Tepeyac).

Among the indigenous sources, the oral ones deserve mention. These are important in popular cultural traditions, such as the Mexican, that were mainly oral. An attentive 16th-century observer, the Jesuit, Fr José de Acosta (in his correspondence with the Mexican Jesuit, Fr Juan de Tovar) asked about the value of traditions and their oral transmission. A century later, the Mexican linguist, Luis Becerra Tanco, returned to the subject. The validity and reliability of this type of transmission are confirmed by modern researchers of the Nahuatl culture such as Miguel León Portilla (Miguel León Portilla, El destino de la palabra. De la oralidad y los glifos mesoamericanos a la escritura alfabética, FCE, Mexico City 1996, pp. 19-71). Some of these ancient "oral archives", in the "Guadalupan" case became archives: the writings were processed and authenticated in the so-called Informaciones Jurídicas of 1666. The "oral archives" extant today can be found in the oral tradition of certain Indian populations that inhabit Central Mexico, such as the "Totonacas" or the "Otomis". This type of source is especially important in cultures in which writing did not exist, that passed on their historical memories in traditions, songs, and in oral and poetic accounts that constitute proper "oral archives". Furthermore, in our case, since we are dealing with a religious event, we must include the forms of cultural expression. One criterion for the interpretation of the documents collected aims at understanding the significance of their attribution by the society to which they belong. In our case, its variants and its specific Indian, mestizo and Spanish components should be taken into account.

The historical period in which the events of Guadalupe occurred explains the scarcity of direct Guadalupan documentation from the earliest times. However, there are accounts that date back to the first 20 years after the events and others that treat the topic from the middle of the 16th century with recourse to ancient documents or testimonies, as in the case of Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxóchitl, and above all the Informaciones Jurídicas of 1666 that collected many of these testimonies, including those of people who were acquainted with contemporary witnesses of the events and their protagonists.

The indigenous codices are of special importance in the history of the documentation. In a recently discovered letter from the 18th-century Italian scholar, Lorenzo Boturini, the author lists the documents he intends to retrieve and seeks the intervention of the competent persons to obtain them (we have seen the original letter in the Archives of Chimalhuacán Chalco, Mexico State, contained in a dossier called Códice Teresa Franco. Cf.: El encuentro.... pp. 283-284). Many indigenous codices were destroyed, as the friars Fr Bernardino de Sahagún and Fr Gerónimo de Mendieta affirm (cf. Fr Bernardino de Sahagún Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España, Ed. Porrúa, Mexico City 1982, pp. 18-19; Fr Gerónimo de Mendieta, Historia Eclesiástica Indiana, Ed. Porrúa [Col. Biblioteca Porrúa n. 46], Mexico City 1980, p. 630, also the friar Fr Juan de Torquemada, Monarquía indiana, Ed. Porrúa [Col. Biblioteca Porrúa, nn. 41, 42, 43]. Introduction by León Portilla, Mexico City 1986, 3 Vols., T. III, p. 449. Theft, fire [especially the fire in the Municipal Archives of Mexico City in 1692], the recycling for commercial use of written legislation, etc., further explain the scarcity of archival sources). In 1578, the Dominican Friar Diego Durán realized that he had erred in the destruction of the indigenous codices. In spite of all, a few indigenous codes with references to Guadalupe have been preserved, for example the "Crónica de Juan Bautista" (1563-1574), kept in the Archives of the Basilica of Guadalupe.

During the 20th century, various authors published collections of bibliographies on Guadalupe (cf. G. Grijales - E. J. Burrus, Bibliografia Guadalupana [1531-19841, Guadalupan Bibliography [1531-19841, Washington 1986; 1049 titles are included in chronological order; and the collections of Héctor Rogel H. - Francisco Organista -Guadalupe Marín; E. de la Torre Villar - R. Navarro de Anda [1982]; E. Chávez Sánchez has collected 2206 titles on the subject of Guadalupe). The historian, Burrus, catalogues 25 documents for the 16th century alone, up to 1590. In the introduction he writes: "The attentive reader will easily perceive, by means of this bibliography, the abundance and variety of Guadalupan writings produced in the course of more than four and a half centuries: manuscripts starting in 1531 and, from 1610, printed documents. The manuscripts mentioned show plainly that the eminent Mexican historian, Joaquín Garcia lcazbalceta, was mistaken when he thought that there were no 16th century documents extant proving the historical event of the apparitions and the subsequent devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Even if his assertion may have corresponded to the situation at the time when he was writing (1888), it cannot, of course, be reaffirmed today" (G. Grijales -E. J. Burrus, Bibliografia Guadalupana [1531-1984], Guadalupan Bibliography [1531-1984], Georgetown University Press, Washington 1986, p. VII. Burrus, E.J., discovered the oldest manuscript that has been passed down to us, El Nican Mopohua, in the Lennox Library, New York, USA. Manuscripts section, Guadalupan Monument).

Archaeological and Iconographical sources

In the archaeological sector, excavations in one of the presumed birthplaces of Juan Diego, Cuautitlán (Mexico State) are bringing to light important elements that confirm the oral tradition, and other written source material. The same thing can be said regarding the objects of devotion of Guadalupe and of Juan Diego.

The place in Mexico where Juan Diego was born or lived is disputed: Cuautitlán, Tulpetlac or San Juaníco, all located in the great valley of the Anahuac. It is impossible to establish with absolute certainty which of the three is his birthplace, but all three are certainly linked to his biography. A church in Cuautitlán, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, has been found; the present building dates from the end of the 18th century. Beneath it was discovered a pre-Hispanic indigenous house; next to it, already in the 16th century, a small chapel had been built, whose archaeological remains can still be seen. The Indians who gave their testimonies in the Informaciones Jurídicas of 1666 unanimously declared that this was Juan Diego's birth place; as proof of a living indigenous tradition concerning this subject, the Informaciones Jurídicas should be readily accepted. A Franciscan convent was built at Cuautitlán whose parish registers from 1587 contain numerous entries with the name "Juan Diego", a name seldom used elsewhere and here repeated in honour of the visionary. In 1853, further testimonies were gathered from the Indians of Cuautitlán; the Proceedings were in the possession of a local notary, Covarrubias, who was already working there in the 17th century ("I myself saw the Proceedings that today are in the keeping of the town's reporter, Lic. Fragoso"). The oral tradition in Cuautitlán can be seen to be still alive at the many festivals and markets (tianguis) which have taken place without interruption since the pre-Hispanic period. This demonstrates the reliability of oral traditions that are frequently confirmed by archaeologists and in written literature.

Iconography of Juan Diego, linked to that of Guadalupe, multiplied in the 17th century, especially in places that were predominantly Indian. At Tepozotlán, not far from Cuautitlán, the Jesuits built one of their most important formation centres. They were convinced champions of the traditio of Guadalupe, hence it is understandable that they dedicated a church in the village of San Lorenzo Río Tence to Our Lady of Guadalupe. This Church has a peculiarly Guadalupan appearance. The main altar and altar piece represent the tilma (poncho) with the icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe; a sculpture of Juan Diego, his arms wide open holding an altar and altar piece with the icon; Juan Diego occupies the angel's place in the traditional icon of Guadalupe, he is in the same position as the angel and clutches the hem of Our Lady's mantle, showing it to the people.

Because of its importance, the "ayate" (blanket) on which the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary is painted stands out as the principal figurative source. According to oral tradition and some 16th-century documents, this was the very poncho that belonged to Juan Diego (studies on this poncho are still incomplete). At the beginning of the 1980s, certain somewhat disputable interventions were made under the direct responsibility of the basilica's authorities at the time, without the knowledge of the Archbishop of Mexico or of the Holy See. The complete photographic and written documentation of this intervention is kept in the basilica's museum, together with all the samples of material removed. It has yet to be published. In several of the Spanish documents this date is found, as well as in the notes written in the early 1600's by Sister Ana de Cristo, the travelling companion of the Franciscan nun, Sister Jéronima de la Asunción, on a journey to the Philippines through Mexico.

Guadalupan iconographic production has been constant both in Mexico and in the rest of Spanish America since the 16th century. The great Mexican artists of the 17th and 18th centuries have left us many paintings of this subject and, from the 17th century, more and more churches were built in honour of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Mexico and in the rest of Spanish America and even in Spain.

Observations on indigenous and "mestizo" sources

In the work by Fr González Fernández - E. Chávez Sánchez - J, L. Guerrero Rosado, 27 documents or indigenous testimonies about Guadalupe are presented, from various sources and with varying value and interpretation. Eight of them come from mixed Indian-Spanish or mestizo sources, among which those that belonged to Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxóchitl stand out and the so-called Escalada codex, recently discovered by the Spanish Jesuit Javier Escalada (cf. on this document in: El encuentro..., pp. 329-352).

The most important of the indigenous sources is undoubtedly "El Nican Mopohua", attributed to the Indian writer Antonio Valeriano (1520-1606), about whose authorship the best experts today have no doubts (cf. J.L. Guerrero, El Nican Mopohua. Un intento de exégesis, U.P. of Mexico City, 2 vol. 1998; and the recent study by M. León Portilla, Tonantzin Guadalupe. Pensamiento náhuati y mensaje cristiano en "El Nican Mopohua", FCE, Mexico 2000. Reprinted: 2001). The document has a poetical structure and is "an important attestation of the transculturation process of Christianity in the New Spain" (R. Nebel, "Nican Mopohua". Cosmovisión Indígena e inculturación cristiana, in Hans-Jurgen Prien [ed.], Religiosidad e Historiografia, La irrupción del pluralismo religioso en América y su elaborazión metódica en la historiografia, Frankfurt am Main: Vervuert, - Madrid: Iberoamericana, 1998, 238). No doubts can be cast on the historic content of the essential elements that served as the basis for the author's historic and literary work. The Nahuatliaco scholar, Edmundo O'Gorman, maintains that Valeriano wrote the Nican Mopohua in1556. On his part, another well-known Nahuatliaco expert, Miguel León Portilla, agrees with O'Gorman, and recalls, citing the contemporary missionary friars, Fr Sahagún and Fr Torquemada, that Valeriano was a well-known Latinist and also a distinguished teacher at the famous Franciscan school in Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco; he advances an interesting hypothesis that we shall quote.

"What was happening at Tepeyac seemed to prove that the Mother of God had chosen this place to show her love and protection to all who might go to her there. Consequently if so many were flocking to Tepeyac, the belief that they were complying with the desire or wish of Tonantzin, Our Lady of Guadalupe, to have her shrine in that spot would not have been a figment of the imagination ... thus Valeriano is supposed to have based his account, with great theatrical gusto, on an Indian, a man of the people to whom he had to give a name. If he had not had one, the story would have run the risk of being considered make-believe. It is therefore logical to presume that the name of Juan Diego had already been linked much earlier with Our Lady, venerated at Tepeyac. Here we should remember the document known as the 'informaciones de los viejos de Cuauhtitlán', said to be the native village of Juan Diego. These testimonies, gleaned from the lips of various indigenous men and women, advanced in years, as the result of a provision issued in 1665 by the Chapter and the Metropolitan Cathedral, certainly shed light on the figure of Juan Diego. The abundant, coinciding information they provide on him deserves to be taken into consideration". After adding some extra observations on other literary forms of the ancient Nahuatl tradition, certainly familiar to Valeriano, the celebrated Nahuatliaco expert ends: "This does not mean that Valeriano betrays himself by wishing to pass off as history the account of the origins of the paintings and devotion of Tepeyac. In fact, rather than inventing a story, he may have combined various traditions. It is an obvious fact— as the 1556 witnesses say—that the chapel attracted many people, Indians and Spaniards alike.... It was not far from the truth that, as in many other accounts, an intermediary had existed between the Blessed Virgin and the one who was to fulfil her wish to have a shrine built. Thus something had to be said, as the elderly people of Cuauhtitlán were continuing to ask, about the macehuatl Juan Diego, a native of that place. Indeed, Juan Diego's name and the mention of an apparition of Totlazonantzin, Our precious Mother, (Guadalupe), are recorded in various annals. Among them are those of Tlatelolco e Mexico, of Puebla and of Tlaxcala and l'Añalejo de Bartolache, which record a year equivalent to 1531 as regards Tonantzin (Guadalupe), and 1540 [sic] for the death of Juan Diego. Consequently all this leads us to see that effectively many people were already flocking to the chapel of Tepeyac long before 1556, and that the tradition of Juan Diego and the apparitions of Tonantzin (Guadalupe) had already spread".

León Portilla, with scrupulous scientific integrity as an expert in the Nahuatl language and literature, thus recognizes an obvious truth that the professional historian can only verify by comparing it with other documents, reaches the twofold conclusion: the poetic presentation of the account that incorporates both ancient poetic forms and recent Christian forms learned at the Franciscan school, and the historical events received from the testimonies and from the living tradition (the events and testimonies were barely 20 years "old"), that are presented in a poetic form of rare beauty that interweaves "two visions of the world, beliefs, metaphors and signs, a warp and weft of multicoloured threads..." (ibid., p. 47).

Antonio Valeriano's document, made known in his Náhuati text from Lasso de Vega in 1649, "is a complex yet simple text that has become the paradigm for other subsequent reports and had a crucial influence on the Mexican religious devotion. In this text in Náhuati what is most striking, as the historian and expert in Nahuatliaco, A. Maria

Garibay has already said, is the extraordinary message of Mary's spiritual motherhood, above all for the poor and the outcast" (ibid., p. 346). For all these reasons the document should be studied in its cultural context, in the "literary form of the event of Guadalupe" (ibid., p. 238).

In the interpretation of the Guadalupan indigenous sources, it should be borne in mind that they are not "pure" in the cultural sense of the concept, but indeed come from indigenous Christians or from those who came into contact with the Spanish cultural world. Nor should the humanistic background of many missionary friars and conquerors be forgotten. This Christian humanism encountered the traditional Indian wisdom, and Antonio Valeriano is an example of it. Missionaries, "conquistadores" and indigenous sages have bequeathed to us "a wealth of literature", Guadalupan, too. The Náhuatl language is very rich from the poetic viewpoint, and full of imaginative symbols. It was both the "frank" language and at the same time "literary" language of Central America. The events and message of Christian doctrine were also expressed in it with the same methodology, the same accents and the same development of philosophical thought of the ancient "damatinime" (Mexican sages, troubadours, chroniclers and poets).

Let us call "mixed Indio-Spanish or mestizo" sources those in which we find the decisive presence of a cultural combination, as in the case of Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxóchitl (the descendent of a Spanish father and an indigenous mother) and the case of the Escalada codex (with the signatures of the Indian Antonio Valeriano and Fr Bernadino de Sahagún). Some of these sources can be catalogued in which a new kind of cultural approach can be seen, such as the Nican Motecpana of Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxóchitl, the Inin Huey Tlamahuizoltica, the map of Alva Ixtlilxóchitl, the Inin Huey Tlamahuizoltzin, the testament of Francisco Verdugo Quetzalmamalitzin, the Florentine Codex (of the friar, Fr Bernardino de Sahagún), the attestation of favours granted to the inhabitants of Teotihuacán provided by Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxóchitl and the Escalada Codex (the "Codex has been studied by about 20 specialists in various subjects, coordinated by the Physics Institute of the UNAM and also by Dr Ch. E. Dibble of the University of Utah, USA, and by experts in graphology of the Bank of Mexico. The results, all favourable, can be found in the Appendix to the Enciclopedia Guadalupana. One student, a graduate in Communication Sciences, set up a website on Internet in mid-2001 with his critical work on "Codex 1548"; this student had never seen the original codex).

Spanish and European Sources and the gratitude of the Popes

Many "Guadalupan" documents of the 16th century "of Spanish provenance, refer mainly to the devotion to the Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe. The subject of numerous other documents is donations or acts of Guadalupan devotion; yet others refer to juridical questions concerning the Shrine of Guadalupe or to controversies connected with the devotion.

Some of these documents were not directly concerned with the topic of Guadalupe, but with other matters; but the fact is that there may be a reference to Guadalupe in a document that did not have "Guadalupe" as its main subject. In the work cited, "El encuentro de la Virgen de Guadalupe y Juan Diego", documents concerning "Guadalupe" were presented which date from the mid-16th century (from about 1555) to 1630: in all, there are 9 testaments, 2 documents concerning donations, 2 of a juridical kind (controversies); there are 11 references to Guadalupe in contemporary chronicles. Important are: a sort of diary, written by the nun Sister Ana de Cristo in 1619, the proceedings of the Chapter of the Cathedral of Mexico City between 1568 and 1569, the so-called map of Uppsala, several early iconographic witnesses such as the Virgin of Echave of 1606, the mural in the Friary of Ozumba that dates back to the early 18th century, as well as the engraving by Stradanus of 1622, petitions for indulgences and privileges, concessions of graces by the Holy See, from Gregory XIII, and witnesses of Jesuits to Our Lady of Guadalupe. All these documents show the growing perception of the importance of the event of Guadalupe in New Spain.

Growing power of the devotion to Our of Lady of Guadalupe

The "Spanish" sources increase after the second Archbishop of Mexico City, the Dominican, Alonzo de Montúfar (1554-1573). The devotion to Our Lady of the Mexican archbishops starting with Montúfar is indisputable, as is that of the Spanish viceroys, who, by the second half of the 16th century were already beginning to make a stop in the Church of Guadalupe before their official entry into the capital of their viceroyalty. Starting with Pope Gregory XIII, and at the request of the third Archbishop of Mexico, Moya de Contreras (1573-1589), the Roman Pontiffs gradually began to intervene in Guadalupe, granting privileges and indulgences (cf. In El encuentro... ; new discoveries on this subject in the Secret Archives of the Vatican and in the Archives of the Basilica of Guadalupe confirm this papal interest. Some, but not all, had already been published by: Documentario Guadalupano, 1531-1768. Monumenta Historica Guadalupanensia, n. 3, Ed. Tradicion, Mexico 1980, 299 ps. This centre has various collections: Ms [cf. Comemoracion Guadalupana 450, Mexico 1934, p. 451]. Copia de los Documentos Pontificios y de los Exmos. y Revmos. Sres. Delegados Apostólicos que obran en el Archivo de la Secretaria del Arzobispado de Mexico, Concediendo indulgencias al culto guadalupano, in Pascual Díaz Barreto, Carta pastoral del IV Centenario de las Apariciones, Mexico 1931).

From the 17th century, "Guadalupe" became more and more a part of the Mexican Catholic conscience. As one author writes: "in socio-cultural terms, the veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe enables the indigenous peoples, thanks to the particular circumstances of her apparition to a poor Indian, to assert their requests for respect and recognition in colonial society and for participation in the hope of salvation.... Our Lady of Guadalupe was the property neither of the Indians nor the conquerors, but became a crucial element in the vast process of the formation of a Mexican mestizo culture..." (Nebel, ibid., pp. 237-238). In the second half of the 16th century, and with greater momentum in the 17th century, Mexican Guadalupe was spread by the missionary friars and Spanish colonizers throughout the territory of present-day South America, from Mexico to the south of the continent.