Monday, April 25, 2016

Mexico City's Original Villages: Tepeyac and the Virgin of Guadalupe

Here we begin a series of posts devoted to our ambles through the pueblos originarios, the original, indigenous neighborhoods and villages of Mexico City. Today they are simply islands surrounded by the modern urban sea, most of them more or less hidden from the view of outsiders.

To understand the dynamics of the confrontation between and subsequent synthesis of indigenous, Mesoamerican, and Spanish worlds, we don't start our tour with the now-hidden indigenous neighborhoods of Tenochtitlan or the first villages around the lake which the Spanish Catholic friars entered to implement the cultural transformation known as the Spiritual Conquest.

We begin, instead, with the most potent, quintessential embodiment of this process of Mexican reincarnation:

Tepeyac and Its Temple to Tonantzín, the Earth Mother

Tepeyac (circled) lies on the shore of Lake Texcoco,
just north of Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco,
to which it was connected by a short causeway.

Before the Spanish arrived in the Valley of Anahuac, one of the multitude of temples around the lakes was located on a hill in the capulli, village of Tepayac. Located on the shore of Lake Texcoco, north of and across a narrow channel in the lake from Tenochtitlan, Tepayac was linked to Tenochtitlan by a causeway that passed through Tlatelolco. The temple was dedicated to the goddess Tonantzín.  

Tonantzín is a manifestation of the Earth Mother, who was also known as Coatlicue, the mother of all living things. Conceived by immaculate and miraculous means, Tonantzín, or Little Mother, was the patronness of childbirth. In Mesoamerican culture, the earth was both mother and tomb, the giver of life and the receiver of human remains as they decomposed to rejoin the Life Force. Hence, the goddess was also the one to decide the length of life given to a person. As a primary force in human life, she had a devout following.

A Vision Transforms a People and Their Culture

According to tradition, on a Saturday, December 9, 1531, ten years after the fall of Tenochtitlán, Juan Diego, a Náhuatl peasant who had been baptized as a Roman Catholic Christian, was passing by the hill of Tepeyac headed toward the causeway to get to the Franciscan mission at Tlatelolco for religious instruction and to perform various religious duties. He was stopped by the appearance of a young, morena, brown-skinned, woman who addressed him in Nahuatl, his native language. She was clearly one of his own, indigeous people.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine, Irapuato, Guanajuato State, Mexico 07.jpg
From Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Guanajuato,
Photo by By Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca, Wikimedia 

She identified herself as Mary, the ever-virgin Mother of God, and instructed him to request that the bishop erect a chapel in her honor at that spot, so she might relieve the distress of all those who call on her in their need.

Juan Diego went into the Center of Mexico City, and reported his vision to the bishop, Fray Juan Zumárraga, who told him to come back another day, after he had had time to reflect on what he had been told.

Returning to Tepeyac, Juan Diego encountered the Virgin for a second time and announced the failure of his mission. Feeling himself to be merely "a backside, a tail, a wing, a man of no importance," Juan Diego suggested that she would do better to recruit someone of greater standing. But she insisted that it was he whom she wanted for the task. Juan Diego agreed to return to the bishop to repeat his request.

On the morning of Sunday, December 10, he returned to the bishop, who asked for a sign to prove that the apparition was truly one from heaven. Juan Diego returned immediately to Tepeyac. Encountering the Virgin, he reported the bishop's request for a sign; she agreed to provide one the following day.

However, during that night, Juan Diego's uncle, Juan Bernardino, fell seriously ill and Juan Diego was obliged to attend to him. In the very early hours of Tuesday, December 12, Juan Bernardino's condition having deteriorated overnight, Juan Diego set out for Tlatelolco to summon a priest to hear Juan Bernardino's confession and administer the Last Rites to him. In order to avoid being delayed by the Virgin and embarrassed at having failed to meet her on Monday as agreed, Juan Diego chose to go around the opposite side of the hill.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine, Irapuato, Guanajuato State, Mexico 08.jpg
From Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Guanajuato,
Photo by By Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca, Wikimedia 

But once again the Virgin intercepted him and asked where he was going. Juan Diego explained what had happened. The Virgin gently chided him for not having turned to her for help. In the words which have become the most famous phrase of the Guadalupe event—now inscribed over the main entrance to the Basilica of Guadalupe—she asked: "¿No estoy yo aquí que soy tu madre?" (Am I not here, I who am your mother?).

She assured him that Juan Bernardino had now recovered, and she instructed him to climb the hill and collect flowers growing there. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine, Irapuato, Guanajuato State, Mexico 09.jpg
From Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Guanajuato,
Photo by By Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca, Wikimedia 

Obeying her, Juan Diego found an abundance of flowers unseasonably in bloom on the rocky outcrop where only cactus and scrub normally grew. Using his open mantle as a sack (with the ends still tied around his neck), he returned to the Virgin; she re-arranged the flowers and told him to take them to the bishop. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine, Irapuato, Guanajuato State, Mexico 10.jpg
From Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Guanajuato,
Photo by By Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca, Wikimedia 

On gaining admission to the bishop in Mexico City later that day, Juan Diego opened his mantle, the flowers poured to the floor, and the bishop saw they had left on the mantle an imprint of the Virgin's image, which he immediately venerated.

The next day, December 13, Juan Diego found his uncle fully recovered, as the Virgin had assured him, and Juan Bernardino recounted that he, too, had seen her at his bedside; that she had instructed him to inform the bishop of this apparition and of his miraculous cure; and that she had told him she desired to be known under the title of Guadalupe. The bishop kept Juan Diego's mantle first in his private chapel, then in the cathedral on public display where it attracted great attention. 

On December 26, 1531, a procession took the miraculous image back to Tepeyac, where it was installed in a small, hastily erected chapel.

This image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, on display in the
Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The Virgin stands on the half-moon, which represents female energy.
 The cherub below the moon is interpreted to be Saint Michael the Archangel, 

patron saint of Mexico.

Virgin of Guadalupe, Mother of All Mexicans

The reported appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe to the recently-baptized Náhuatl peasant Juan Diego—and its combined acceptance by indigenous converts and the Catholic clergy—became the single most powerful unifying factor between the two peoples and their cultures. The conquered indigenous people identified the dark-skinned  Virgin who spoke in Náhuatl with the mother goddess Tonantzín and celebrated her with indigenous-tinged rites within the framework of the Catholic Church's veneration of the Mother of the Son of God.

The Virgin of Guadalupe was also embraced by the Spanish criollos, pure-blooded Spanish born in Nueva España, rather than in Spain. The Virgin´s personal appearance on Mexican soil was seen as establishing a sacred relationship between their actual homeland and their cultural homeland, Spain. Mestizos, those with mixed indigenous and Spanish blood, who were essentially outcasts from both cultures, found in the Virgin not just the recognition, but the very embodiment and, thus, sanctification and reconciliation of their conflicted heritage.

The Basílica's official web site posts the following, remarkable statement: 
"The people present the Virgin to their children as the mother of the Creator and Protector of the entire universe, who comes to the people because she wants to embrace them all—Indian and Spanish—with the same mother's love. The miraculous image imprinted on the sisal—a plant whose strong fibers were used by indigenous weavers to make tilmas (cloaks)—signaled the dawn of a new world, which was the Sixth Sun awaited by the Mexicas (Aztecs)."
The Virgin had adopted the Mexican people, el pueblo, as her own; in turn, el puebloindigena, mestizo, criollo—adopted her as the Mother of Mexico. All of Mexico, el pueblo mexicano, still respects her. Many still adore her.

Six Churches of the Basilica Complex

Tradition says that in response to the request of the Virgin to build her a chapel at the foot of Tepeyac Hill, in 1536, Bishop Fray Juan Zumárraga replaced an original temporary shrine with a church, This was replaced in 1622 by a larger church, which, in turn was replaced by a third at the beginning of the 18th century which still stands and is known as the Old Basilica.

Meanwhile, four other churches and chapels were erected around the base and atop the small hill. Most recently, in the 1970s, as the Old Basilica was both badly damaged by sinking into poor subsoil and earthquakes and too small to accommodate the faithful for the December 12 Fiesta of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a new Basilica was built.

Here we amble around the five churches:

Starting at bottom center, with the Antigua Basilica (yellow dome),
going counter-clockwise, the churches are:
Parroquia Capuchinas, Parroquia de los Indios, Capilla del Pocito, and Capilla del Cerrito
The new Basilica is bottom, left.

Old Basilica,
seen from entrance to Basilica grounds

Antigua Basilica:
The Old Basilica stands on the site of the first church, built around 1536. According to tradition, its construction was ordered by Bishop Fray Juan Zumárraga to comply with the Virgin's command. In 1622 the original church was replaced by a second structure that was, in turn, replaced between 1695 and 1709 with this Baroque-style structure, which remained in use until 1974. But this building lies, in part, over the old lake bed; consequently, there was considerable structural damage as the old lake bed continued to settle. The damage was such that a new Basilica had to be built. The old one then subsequently underwent extensive repair.

Dome of the Antigua Basílica, 
with image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, surrounded by angels

Parochial Church of the Capuchins, a Franciscan offshoot. Built in 1797 and intended to serve parish residents. The interior is very simple.

Church of the Indians
(It now has a modern interior
and roof)
Chapel of the Little Well
site of a spring,
believed to be miraculous.

Parroquia de Indios: Parish Church of the Indians, where the indigenous could worship. According to tradition, it is built atop the foundation for the ancient Mexicas-Aztec Temple of Tonantzín.

Capilla del Pocito. Chapel of the Little Well, considered to be the exact place where the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared for the first time and spoke with Juan Diego.

With its circular shape
and mudejar (Moorish) dome,
this one's my favorite
Chapel was built in 1777


Interior of Chapel of the Little Well

Baroque Vision of Heaven, full of Joyous Cherubs

From the Chapel of the Little Well, a stairway leads upward, through a beautifully landscaped garden, to the top of Tepeyac Hill.

Along the way, you pass a reminder of the indigenous foundations of Mexico:

Feathered Serpents, Quetzalcóatl,
copied from the Temple of the Feathered Serpent,
Teotihuacan, some miles north

Chapel of the Little Hill,
In 1660, a small chapel was built here
to commemorate the place where Juan Diego gathered the roses.
This chapel was built at the beginning of the 18th century.

Inside, a wonderful mosaic of angels

On the way down,
a view of the modern City.
The wide boulevard follows the path of
the original causeway across Lake Texcoco.

Modern Basilica, built in the 1970s,
an amphitheater seating 10,000 people
and housing the original image of the Virgin

"Thanks, Dear Little Virgin, for one more year."

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Mexico City's Original Villages: Introduction | Landmarks of the Spiritual Conquest

As we wrote in The Buried Heart of Mexico, Mexico City's Centro Histórico was previously the center of the Mexíca-Azteca city founded in 1325: México-Tenochtitlán.

In 1521, when Cortés defeated the Mexica in the name of the Christian god and the Spanish king, he had the surviving native Mexica expelled to Tlatelolco, just to the north, their city razed and the beginnings of a new Mexico City built above the old urban center. So the Spanish city and its contemporary Colonia Centro rest upon the buried indigenous capital.

The Palace and the Cathedral—framing the Zócalo and embodying in their grandeur the power of the Spanish State and the Catholic Church—were built over their respective political and religious predecessors, the "New Houses", the palaces of Moctezuma II, and the teocalli, house of god, Temple or Pyramid of the Sun. But that was only part of the task of attempting to replace one political entity, belief system and civilization with another.

Indigenous Context of the Spanish Conquest

As we wrote in our description of the geographic patchwork quilt that is contemporary Mexico City, it is an amalgam, not only of the colonial Centro Historico and its expansion beginning in the late 19th and across the 20th century, but also of ancient indigenous pueblos, villages, and altepetls, city-states that, beginning some two thousand years ago, were established on the shores of the five lakes at the center of the Valley of Anahuac and on some of their other islands as well.

Map of altepetls, city-states, and some villages 
at the time of the arrival of the Spanish in 1519.
Tenochtitlan is on the island
in the southwest corner of Lake Texcoco,
connected by causeways to other significant altepetls on the lakeshore.

Bernal Díaz del Castillo, one of Cortés's lieutenants, describes this complex lacustrine civilization:
"Gazing on such wonderful sights, we did not know what to say, or whether what appeared before us was real, for on one side, on the land, there were many great cities, and in the lake ever so many more, and the lake itself was crowded with canoes, and in the Causeway were many bridges at intervals, and in front of us stood the great City of Mexico." (The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, by Bernal Díaz del Castillo, translated by A. P. Maudslay, De Capo Press, 1996)
Southwest Bay of Lake Texcoco
shows many more villages and small cities. 

These are what Díaz del Castillo, Cortés
and the other Spanish soldiers
would have seen as they progressed up the causeway
from Mexicaltzinco (lower right) to Tenochtitlan.

Cortés's Challenge: Spiritual Conquest

So Cortés not only had to transform the center of power, he also had to transform a geographically extensive civilization and culture. This meant implementing a program of radical reconstruction of the culture, of the peoples' customary ways of being and their organizing beliefs.

It required the "conversion" of el pueblo, the people residing in hundreds of villages in the Valley and thousands across the territory of Nuevo España, which soon extended south to South America and north to the nomadic tribes in the deserts of Sonora and Chihuahua and, eventually, beyond to what is now the Southwest United States. This project was the "Spiritual Conquest", which followed the military one.

As with most all of Mexican history, this Conquest is not something confined to "history", to the past. Remarkably, to this day the landmarks of this process remain standing. They are the ubiquitous churches and chapels established by various groups of Spanish Catholic friars—Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and many others—in the multitudinous colonial-period cities, towns and pueblos all across Mexico.

These landmarks of the Spiritual Conquest embody the political and cultural entrance of the Spanish into the indigenous communities. This entrance was carried out literally and symbolically by the "vertical" imposition of the Catholic God with the attendant belief system and priestly institutions, over the indigenous ones. Sites where Catholic churches were erected were not random. At the geographic center of the ancient villages, they were often erected atop the ruins of the temples of their indigenous predecessors, torn down by the Spanish friars.

This act of destruction of one culture and the attempt to create another had a paradoxical result. In the effort to replace the old gods and the religious practices honoring them, the Spanish established a physical, cultural and spiritual continuity with those very predecessors. It is noteworthy that the Franciscans, and other religious orders that followed them in coming to Nueva España, while they had indigenous temples torn down and statues of their gods destroyed, they deliberately adopted a strategy of seeking out elements in indigenous religious practice that had similarities to Catholic Christianity and building on them to teach the new faith as an evolution from the old, rather than trying to completely suppress old beliefs and practices. The indigenous were seen as children who needed to be "brought up" to the religious and cultural maturity of Spanish Catholicism.

Landmarks of the Spiritual Conquest in Mexico City

The existence and centrality of colonial churches is taken for granted in Mexico's colonial-era cities and towns, as well as in the Centro Histórico of Mexico City, with its Metropolitan Cathedral and many Baroque churches. What is surprising, at least to the foreigner, is that an almost countless number of such churches and chapels still stand in all the sixteen delagaciones, boroughs of the capital, and in hundreds of their colonias, neighborhoods, and throughout the surrounding urban sea that has replaced the original lakes and now fills the Valley of Mexico with 21 million people, the world's fourth-largest metropolis.

Mexica temples of Tlatelolco (15th century) stand in front of Church of Santiago, St. James.
The church was erected by Franciscans in 1545 and became a major center of 
evangelization. It was enlarged in 1609.

Tlatelolco was an altepetl, city-state, on an island just north of Tenochtitlán,
built by a group of Mexica who split off from those in the other city.
In the early 15th century, Tenochtitlán, now the dominant power in the Valley,

defeated the warriors of Tlatelolco and incorporated it into their city.
(See: Portraying Mexico City's Azteca/Mexica Origins)

Original Villages: Ancient Living Islands in the Urban Sea

What is even more remarkable is that around some of these churches there still survive vital pueblos originarios, original villages, whose contemporary residents trace their roots back to before the Spanish Conquest. They are living historical islands in the urban sea.

The Mexico City government officially recognizes 150 such original villages and has programs to support their continued life. There are more sites where the original churches still stand as landmarks of the Spiritual Conquest, but the people have been displaced by chilangos, outsiders who have moved in as part of the expansion of the modern city.

Original Pueblos of Mexico City
Ethnographic Atlas,
National Institute of Anthropology and History, 2007

The churches—physically marking the location of these original villages—remain the centers of barrio life. Each has its patron saint, assigned by the original friars and whose name is often combined with the original indigenous name of the settlement (e.g., San Matéo Churubusco, San Marcos Ixquitlán, San Pedro Cuajimalpa, Santa María Aztahuacán).

As one pueblo stated on its Facebook page:
The church ... plays an important role in the life of the people, since it is through the patron saint that the people of the community acquire a strong sense of belonging to their community. (The patron saint) constitutes the basis of social organization (embodied in the mayordomo, the head of the fiestas' mayordomía [commitee]) and symbolic consensus, since the patron saint is considered not only as the protector and the defender of the pueblo, but as the center where all social relations converge, the vital principle of the community and a key element of its identity.
Every year, each pueblo celebrates its patron saint's day, often along with other fiestas on the Catholic religious calendar such as Navidad (Christmas), Three Kings Day (Januaary 6), Candelaria (February 2), Semana Santa (Holy Week), Trinity Sunday (at the end of the Easter Season), Corpus Cristi (The Body of Christ, May or June,), the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven (August 15) and Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead (November 1-2).

These fiestas are organized by committees of residents, often composed of key families of long-standing status, who by their faithful work earn the privilege of increasing responsibilities. The ultimate responsibility is to serve as mayordomo (head caretaker).

Patron Saint Festival of San Mateo (St. Matthew) Churubusco,
Delegación of Coyoacán.
"Glory to you, Lord"

Carnaval Festival,
Pueblo Santa María Magdelena Petlacalco,
Delegación of Tlalpan

Dancer is a "chinelo",
derived from the Nahuatl word “zineloquie”,
which means “disguised.”

Pueblos maintain connections with one another by means of "visits" of their saints to one another on their respective saint days. The visiting saints participate in the procession, a central event in the fiesta, and the celebrating parish hosts its guests with free, communally prepared meals. Some saints even spend part of the year on visitas, visits to various neighboring pueblos. Hosting these visits is a great honor.

Niño-pa de Xochimilco, Child God of Xochimilco,
visits Barrio Xoco (HO-ko) in Delegación Benito Juárez.
The two communities are about 9 miles apart. 

Next Mexico City Ambles

So, with this understanding, we head out on the next series of Mexico City Ambles, our own recorridos of a number of these original villages and their churches—living landmarks of the Spiritual Conquest begun by the Catholic friars, summoned from Spain by Cortés, nearly 500 years ago.

Series on Mexico City's Original Indigenous Villages:

Monday, April 11, 2016

From Mexican Muralism to Mexico City Street Art

For the past several months we have been ambling through the streets of various colonias, neighborhoods, of Mexico City, exploring the manifestations of Mexican history in the city's architecture and public art. Most recently, we followed the trail of representations of the Mexican Revolution and its particular and stunning eruption in the artistic genius of the Mexican Mural Movement.

Along the way, by happenstance, we also encountered contemporary street art. It is ubiquitous in Mexico City, showing up, usually ephemerally, on almost any available blank wall. There is even a Facebook page dedicated to it, "Street Art Chilango."

We have been intrigued by its many styles and themes and wondered where it might fit into the story of the self-representations of the inhabitants of "the city that dreams us all, that all of us build and rebuild" ("I Speak of the City", Octavio Paz). As an unforeseen outcome of our study of the Muralists, we think we have found the connection.

Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco painted murals in indoor spaces, using the ancient technique of fresco, painting on wet plaster, but David Alfaro Siqueiros fiercely sought to break out of those spatial and material limitations. He dedicated his life to realizing a vision of murals created on outdoor walls in public spaces, using modern materials to portray political and social themes. He inaugurated the artistic use of synthetic paints that had been invented to cover the metal surfaces of automobiles, and he employed spray guns, image projectors and other modern tools to create large works delivering new experiences to those who passed by.

In coming to know Siqueiros and his mission, we have come to see a direct, if underground, link between his work and street art. With their use of aerosol paints on publicly visible walls, anonymous street artists could be said to be Siqueiros's offspring. There are, of course, more ancient progenitors. Mexicans have been painting cultural and political messages on walls in public spaces for millenia, as we wrote about in setting the context for Siqueiros's culminating work, the Siqueiros Cultural Polyforum.

Given its ubiquity, we know we will run into more street art as we walk the city's colonias. But perceiving its roots in the Mexican Mural movement—and with David Alfaro Siqueiros in particular—we offer here a sample of street art we have run across thus far (links connect to original posts on each colonia):

Colonia Santa María la Ribera

In Colonia Santa María la Ribera—in an intentional transition from formal murals to street art—a community art center has fostered art on the walls that face it from across the street:

Mexico's paradigmatic eagle
Hummingbirds are a Mesoamerican symbol of sacrifice.

Bleeding Heart of Mary,
modern take on traditional Catholic image.


Where have we seen this hand before?

Siqueiros Cultural Polyforum

Street-side Picasso ... and more hands

Zoomorphic beings, conveyed with masks,
ancient symbols of the merger of human with natural and divine forces

When the Spanish arrived, Aztacalco was an indigenous Nahua community on an island in Lake Texcoco. It kept its name and retained relative social and cultural autonomy until the beginning of the 20th century, when it was incorporated into the expanding Mexico City and subsumed as part of the new subdivision, La Roma. It became known as La Romita.

As a "popular", i.e., working class, indigenously-based barrio, it kept itself apart from the new La Roma of los de arriba (those from above). Lacking the means to express their dreams in stone or glass, residents—inspired by a local artist—have turned to another medium to express theirs.

Using the featureless walls of their houses, they express themselves with paint. 

Even Telephone Poles Become Visions

But there are also more individual and modern messages written on these walls:

"A Mexican never devastates me"
I think Orozco would have loved
the realism of this painting.
And, in nearby Parque Pushkin (yes, named after the Russian author)

ancient indigenous symbol of the underworld

Masked, zoomorphic figure in jeans,
sporting indigenous ear plugs

now popular with some youths

with miniature jaguar on his back,
dives into unknown waters.
Roma Sur

"A green thought in a green shade"
(poem by Andrew Marvell, 1621–1678)

A modern city adjoins an indigenous pyramid,
lit with candles like a Day of the Dead ofrenda.
Left: Jaguar, god of the night, roars
Unfortunately, graffiti has obscured parts of this mural.

Zoomorphic. indigenous figure confronts tiny, anonymous modern ones.

More modern form of flight

Villa de Cortés and Natívitas, Delegación Benito Juárez

Villa Cortés and Nativítas are two small, adjoining colonias at the eastern edge of the Delegación, Borough, of Benito Juárez, south of Delegación Cuauhtémoc and Centro Historico. Benito Juárez is, overall, a middle and upper middle-class borough that has engulfed remnant "islands" of pre-Hispanic, indigenous villages. Initiated in the 1920s and 30s, after the Mexican Revolution, most construction in the borough took place after World War II, when Mexico City's middle classes began to expand at pace with the economic benefits of supplying the war and post-war needs of the United States. 

Villa Cortés and Natívitas lie at the more modest end of that spectrum and east of the great dividing line of the Calzada de Tlalpan highway, where each has a station on Metro Line 2. They consist of simple but generally well-kept private homes built of bricks or cinder-block faced with concrete. Here every muro, wall, is kind of modernist, abstract mural, a study in color. 

And here we come acoss street art, a mural, that is a cartoon-like dream of darkness and sunshine.

Shark, black cat, sun, moutains, whirlpool

And my favorite, The Metro

And this message about all murals, all art.

"Just look at them."
"Never allow them to take away
what you have already imagined."