Saturday, January 12, 2008

Viva Guadalupe!

It's probably because of the way we learned about her but Mars and I seem to have acquired quite a secular attachment to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

It was Wishbone, the PBS television program.

In spite of our religious upbringing prior to marriage, Methodist for her and Roman Catholic for me, and possibly because of our lack of "churchiness" since our wedding day, we both were totally unaware of this particular apparition of the mother of Jesus on the hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City in December 1531.

Then a few years ago, while I was out somewhere, Mars was watching the above mentioned TV show starring Jack Russell Terrier (yup, a real, live dog) who daydreams about being the lead character in stories from classic literature or history. And then, with the help of several human actors, he actually portrays those characters and presents the story.

The canine thespian had performed such roles as Ichabod Crane in the Headless Horseman, Sancho Panza in Don Quixote, and Louis de Conte in Joan of Arc. And this particular evening in an episode titled "Viva Wishbone!" he was cast as Senor (now Saint) Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, the indigenous Mexican who first witnessed and then reported the apparition of the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531.

Now Mars doesn't get outwardly excited too often, particularly about programs on the tube, but when I got home she could not wait to tell me what she had seen. And she continued for several days afterwards. It was hard to tell if she was more excited about discovering the V.O.G. or the idea of a feisty small dog acting the part of a (at the time) potential Saint of the Catholic Church, albeit one whose actual existence may be questionable.

"For more than three hundred years, the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe in her Mexican advocation has been celebrated in New Mexico.....Guadalupe is a folk symbol, an emblem of statewide culture and history.....She stands on home altars, lends her name to men and women alike, and finds herself at rest under their skin in tattoos. Guadalupe's image proliferates on candles, decals, tiles, murals, and old and new sacred art. Churches and religious orders carry her name, as do place names and streets. Trivial and sacred objects abound. Far from vulgarizing her image, these items personalize her and maintain her presence in daily life." (Viva Guadalupe by Jacqueline Orsini Dunnington - a Christmas gift from Monica and Bram)

Neither of us remembers when it was that Juan Diego/Wishbone first appeared to Mars, but we are reasonably certain that it occurred several years after we had begun our annual pilgrimages to the state of New Mexico. According to the above book and others Our Lady of Guadalupe was at that time pretty ubiquitous in the everyday culture and commerce of the Land of Enchantment. I am certain that we saw some of those appearances (how could we not have seen her?), but evidently too few to form any kind of lasting impression. However now that we had been alerted to her Mexican manifestation by a manic mutt we saw that she was, in fact, basically everywhere. And wondered in a different sense "how could we not have seen her?"

We began to collect her.

(Pause if you like now and ponder the philosophical and sociological meaning of the transmutation of an apparition of the Mother of Jesus from being a simple object of devotion to a small chosen group of relatively impoverished Central American peasants to becoming an item of interest and decorative element to an increasingly larger self-selecting number of fiscally-fit religious aesthetes and collectors - while still largely maintaining her original "down home" significance. Okay - enough of that serious stuff! Back to the game.)

Neither Mars nor I remember which came first but one of the earliest pieces that we bought was done by a Taos New Mexican folk artist named Lydia. We actually met Lydia a few years ago at what was at the time her relatively new gallery/workshop on the outskirts of town. When we first came across her works they were being sold at a small private gallery in the downtown area of Taos.

Lydia's art falls into the category of New Mexican religious folk art - paintings and statues made by formally untrained artisans using the materials at hand in an effort to portray the stories of the various Saints who have such meaning to them in their day-to-day life. The Guadalupe that we purchased was painted on the inside of a tin "Hormel Spam" container whose sides had been cut into strips making them look like rays emanating from the image of the Virgin which is painted in the remaining center portion. On the back of the icon, where for example the illustrative photo of the prepared Spam was still visible (albeit in strips of thinly sliced metal), Lydia had written "Nustra SENORa de Guadlupe: I Love you mother. amen Lydia 94Taos".

Not all of the images of the V.O.G that we have were made in New Mexico and some have a more "professional" look to them. Monica and Bram gave us a large throw pillow with her brightly colored image on the front, and we have purchased similarly decorated large glass candles. We also have a compact disk called "El Milagro de Guadalupe" performed by the San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble and car visor clip-ons for both of our vehicles. One of my favorites was a baseball cap that we came upon when Mars and I were hiking by ourselves through the sandstone cliffs and spires of Plaza Blanca in Abiquiu, New Mexico. We left it there out of respect for the aura that it created.

We are not hoping for nor are we expecting any miraculous interventions on our behalf simply for having a great number of Guadalupe effigies in our possession. Our interests lie much more on the iconic folk symbol side of la Virgencita's persona.

Our son Bram describes Domestic Diva Rachael Rae as "Cute and she can do just about everything. What's not to like?" The V.O.G. is similar to that and more so - well maybe "cute" isn't the right word, but hopefully you get the idea.

She's just really nice to have around.

1 comment:

Bram said...

Some great VsOG are in the work of Laura BrinkInnocence is my favorite (and look, available as a print...), but also check out Sunday on the Plaza.