The Ubiquitous Virgin of Guadalupe

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by Jim Griffith, guest contributor

Editor’s note: December 12 is the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, observed by Mexicans of the Catholic faith and many others, during which celebrations and fiestas are held in her honor. In Mexico City, those venerating her make pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe where her image is displayed. Here, Jim Griffith shows us her presence in northern Mexico and the Southwestern U.S.

The Virgin of Guadalupe accompanies Mexicans wherever they may be. Her legendary first appearance was to the Indian Juan Diego in 1531 on a hill outside Mexico City – a hill sacred to the Aztec mother goddess Tonantzin. That was taken as evidence that she cared seriously about both Spaniards and Indians. Her image was fixed for all time when Juan Diego, attempting to convince Bishop Zumárraga of the truth of his mystical experience, gathered roses from the desert hill and dumped them at the Bishop’s feet. His tilma or wearing blanket was revealed to bear the image of the Virgin, a dark-skinned woman robed in stars, standing on a crescent moon, and surrounded by a halo. This image, “not made by the hand of man,” helped spread the devotion to the virgin morena (dark virgin) throughout the Mexican world.

Over the years different groups of Mexicans identified her as their special patron. Indians, mestizos, nationalists struggling for independence from Spain, Mexican laborers seeking better wages in the United States, Chicanos fighting for civil rights—all these have marched under her banner. It is no wonder that her image appears in such a wide variety of places and cultural contexts. This photo essay concentrates on a few of those places and contexts in Arizona and Sonora.

All photos by Jim Griffith:

Photo by Jim Griffith
West wall of the Menlo Park Video store at the corner of Congress and Grande, Tucson. This was the third such mural on this store, whose owner was a strong devotee of the Virgin. It was painted by David Tineo. The gate of the niche below the mural was left open for candles during times of crisis such as the Gulf War. March 1996.

Photo by Jim Griffith
Magdalena chapel on the wall of a combination mechanic and car wash shop on Highway 15 as it passes through the northern outskirts of Magdalena, Sonora. September 2006.

Photo by Jim Griffith
Guadalupe Day altar on the front porch of a house on South Main, Tucson. December 2003.

Photo by Jim Griffith
Some images of the Virgin are just where they are. This carved limb of a tree behind the home of Anibal Reyna in Oquitoa, Sonora, was created by Juan Pedro Espinosa Reyna. April 1999.

Photo by Jim Griffith
I have no explanation for the Virgin’s presence on this street divider in Villa Seris, Hermosillo, Sonora. Perhaps she protects pedestrians from motorists making hasty turns. February 2000.

Photo by Jim Griffith
Guadalupe has always been concerned with her people, especially the less privileged among them. She appears on this mural on South Sixth Avenue in Tucson along with such other symbols of Chicanismo as revolutionary soldiers, Aztecs, low riders, the Farm Workers’ Union flag, and the Catholic Church. The mural, which has since been overpainted, was created on the wall of the Perfection Plumbing building by students at Tucson High School under the direction of Antonio Pazos. 1981

Photo by Jim Griffith
Speaking of low riders, this bed cover of a low rider pickup belonging to the Escudero family was ordered from Mexico. It was photographed in the parking lot of a low rider show at the Pima County Fairgrounds. Note the offering of a red rose. September 1984

Photo by Jim Griffith
Partially covered mural at an interchange on Highway 15, just south of Magdalena, Sonora. The interchange was under construction, and dirt was piled up against the cut, but the image of the Virgin had been left visible. When the construction work was finished, the back dirt was removed. October 1989.

Photo by Jim Griffith
Huge cliff-side mural on Highway 15 between Magdalena and Santa Ana, Sonora. Other than those on cement slabs, this is the most ambitious cliff mural I have seen. September 1999.

Photo by Jim Griffith
Road cut on a dangerous stretch of mountain road just east of Ures, Sonora, called los seis mil curvas (the six thousand curves). The message reads: “Take care of us, Little Virgin”. A painting of the Virgin at the beginning of this same stretch warns the driver to be careful. June 2014.

Photo by Jim Griffith
And finally, the boarded-up window of an abandoned house at the corner of 10th Street and 4th Avenue in Tucson: the photograph that inspired this essay. Whoever felt She needed to be there took the trouble to pencil in the outline first.

Suggested Reading

  • Brading, David A. 2001. Mexican Phoenix. Our Lady of Guadalupe: Image and Tradition Across Five Centuries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Dunnington, Jacqueline Orsini. 1999. Guadalupe: Our Lady of New Mexico. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press.
  • Dunnington, Jacqueline Orsini with Charles C. Mann, photographs. 1997. Viva Guadalupe! The Virgin in New Mexican Popular Art. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press.

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