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Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe

Peruvian retablo featuring a very traditonal Our Lady of Guadalupe

Peruvian retablo featuring a very traditional Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Tomorrow, in much of North and South America, the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe will be celebrated with pilgrimages and fiestas throughout the two continents. It is believed that on that date in 1531, the Mother of God appeared for the second time to Juan Diego, a humble Nahuatl peasant, and gave him the proof that he needed to convince the Spanish Archbishop to build her a temple on Tepeyac Hill in what was to become Mexico City.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is widely embraced as the Mother of the Americas for a number of reasons. She appeared to the indigenous Juan Diego, rather than to the Spanish ruling priests, and spoke to him in his native tongue, saying, “Do you not recognize me? Am I not of your own kind? Are you not in the shadow of my protection?” The miracle of the tilma – her image being emblazoned on Juan Diego’s cloak – was covered

Ceramic recreation of the appearance of Guadalupe by the Aguilar Family of Oaxaca, Mexico

Ceramic recreation of the appearance of Guadalupe by the Aguilar Family of Oaxaca, Mexico

up by Castillian roses and revealed only when the roses tumbled onto the floor of the office of the Archbishop. He would have recognized the significance immediately: The roses did not grow on Tepeyac Hill and certainly not in December. They were from his own native Spain. Even with her uncustomarily dark skin, the Virgin’s image was laden with Marian symbolism which the white colonial Archbishop could not fail to understand, from the blue of her gown, to its celestial brocade, to the aura that surrounded her. In short, Juan Diego’s evidence was compelling beyond fault and her miracle was declared.

The beginnings of the temple were built in 1533 and dedicated in her honor. A second church on the same site was begun in 1556 and in 1695 the cornerstone of a new, larger sanctuary was laid. The modern Basilica de Santa Maria de Guadalupe, was formally dedicated in 1976. Therein,

Guatemalan wood carving of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Guatemalan wood carving of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Haitian metal art by Edward Dieudonne

The Virgin of Guadalupe worked in Haitian metal by Edward Dieudonne.

the miraculous tilma hangs on permenant display.

Over the centuries, European and New World cultures as well as tradition, history, and politics have combined to establish the Virgin of Guadalupe as a universally recognized Marian icon. Her image is revered and artistically rendered in every imaginable medium: ceramics, textiles, paper – even tatoo ink. As the “Mother of the Americas,” the Virgin of Guadalupe’s role and corresponding iconography evolves continuously in response to the ever-changing needs of society.

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

Black Madonnas of the New World

Our Lady of Guadalupe retablo from Peru.

Our Lady of Guadalupe retablo from Peru.


Since the first known representation of the Madonna, found in the catacombs of Rome and believed to have been painted in the second century A.D., the portrayal of her physical characteristics have been widely varied. Though images of ivory- skinned madonnas often pop readily to Western minds, there are over four hundred “officially recognized” Black Madonnas. These Black Madonnas are considered by academics to be aa type of Marian statue or painting of mainly medieval origin (12C-15C), of dark or black features whose exact origins are not always easy to determine, and most important, of particular prominence. The latter, the prominence of the Black Madonna, is mostly due to the allegedly miraculous character of the image. Read the article by Michael P. Duricy here:



In the New World, two “Black Madonnas” have special significance, though both have their roots firmly planted in Europe. Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Mother of the Americas, was the dark-skinned image that appeared on the cloak of a poor indigenous man that Mary visited on a hilltop in Mexico in 1531. She came to be called, “Guadalupe” because of her similarity in origin to an earlier Black Madonna, Santa Maria de Guadalupe in Caceres, Spain. That Madonna was a wooden figure that had reputedly been carved by St. Luke and given to the Archbishop of Seville. During the 8th century Moorish invasion, the statue was hidden and remained so during the years of occupation. Seven hundred years later, a cowherd by the name of Gil Cordero was visited by the Virgin Mother. The cowherd ran to the priests and told them to dig at the site of his vision. There they found the long-lost sacred statue, now blackend after its years of “entombment.” A shrine was quickly erected, which grew over time to become the Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Guadalupe in Extramadura, Spain.

St. Luke was also the reported creator of “Our Lady of Jasna Gora,” a Black Madonna on canvas which he painted on a cedar table belonging to the Holy Family

Image of a Black Madonna as Erzulie Freda adorns a sequined bottle from Haiti

Image of a Black Madonna as Erzulie Freda adorns a sequined bottle from Haiti


. The painting was “discovered” by St. Helen in Constantonople in Jerusalem in 326 and worked its way over the next eleven centuries to Jasno Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, Poland via Constantinopole and Belz, Ukraine. It is this image of Mary that Polish soldiers, fighting on both side of the Haitian Revolution, brought to the Caribbean. There, black slaves and free men embraced her as their own. In Haiti, Our Lady of Jasna Gora was absorbed into Voodoo culture and became associated with the Voodoo spirit, Erzulie Dantor. See Blog:here:https://www.itscactus.com/blog/2013/04/10/erzulie-dantor-the-fierce-mother/


In both cases, the arrival of Black Madonnas on New World shores resonated with local populations. They recognized her as the Universal Queen. To them, her message was clear: “Am I not here with you as your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Surely you recognize me, for I am of your kind.”


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus


Erzulie Dantor – The Fierce Mother


The Black Madonna of Czestochowa

Thinking about Mother’s Day just around the corner, it seems fitting to recall the Haitian spirit of the “Fierce Mother,” Erzulie Dantor.  She is characterized as hard-working, independent, aggressive, wild and strong.  She is recognized as the great protector of children, and will go to any lengths to keep them from harm. Like any mother, she bears the pain of her children’s sorrow but  also radiates the joy of their successes. Erzulie Dantor is often depicted by the image of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, an icon reportedly painted by St. Luke on a cedar table thought to have belonged to the Holy Family that somehow ended up in a monastary in Poland. Curiously, it was Polish Catholic soldiers fighting on both sides of the Haitian Revolution that brought the image to the nacient island nation, where it was quickly embraced and absorbed into voodoo culture.

Erzulie Dantor’s symbol, the veve, is drawn onto temple floors during religious ceremonies to summon her presence.  Meda Ulyssee has recreated that symbol in recycled metal.  Of course, he had all of the cultural background to communicate its meaning with hammer and chisel, but we  had to learn the story before we could fully appreciate the significance he struck into every detail. What we called simply “Meda’s Heart”  is actually much more.  On a pure and elemental level, it is a beautiful representation of the strength of a mother’s love.

Meda Ulyssee in his studio

Meda Ulyssee in his studio



Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

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