The Land the Pope Will Visit: a Peek at Mexico

Our Lady of Guanajuato Brings Another Gift to Her City

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By Paloma Rives, Special Correspondent

GUANAJUATO, Mexico, MARCH 12, 2012 ( Guanajuato is a magical city. On entering it, one sees lovely colonial scenes: cobblestone streets, tunnels that evoke ancient mines and hills that are characteristic of this area of Mexico, with houses that seem to be scattered as pieces of a beautiful and original-scale model. 

We are now in the city center, which has been named a cultural patrimony of humanity.

We drive along the streets passing Hidalgo Market, an iron structure built at the end of the 19th century and covered with masonry.

We arrive at Peace Square, where His Holiness Benedict XVI will be on Saturday, March 24, just in front of the collegiate basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato, which is surrounded by colonial buildings, banks and restaurants that formerly were the residences of counts and great landowners.

Here is the beautiful wooden image of the Mother of Christ.

History recounts that Catholics in Granada, Spain, paid tribute to this very image of the Virgin. In the year 714, when Spain was invaded by the Moors, the city’s residents, fearful of disrespect to the Virgin’s image, hid it in a damp cave to ensure its safety. The image remained there for eight and a half centuries.

We know that this period of time would have been sufficient to destroy the hardest wood, but not the image of the Most Holy Virgin, which despite the unfavorable conditions and lack of ventilation, was in no way damaged.

While the Muslims dominated Spain, the image of the Virgin remained hidden, but when Granada was reconquered by the Catholic kings, the image was discovered in the mid-16th century and given to Charles V.

New Spain was already being evangelized and in 1546 the mountains of Guanajuato were included in the crown of Castile.

Soon news spread of the discovery of gold and silver veins in 1548 and 1550. It was at that time that Charles V gave a present to the lands of Guanajuato: the Virgin discovered in Santa Fe de Granada.

When Charles V abdicated in favor of his son Philip II, the new king carried out his father’s wishes, and sent the image of the Virgin to Guanajuato, commissioning Don Perafán de Rivera whom he appointed first major judge of the mines of Guanajuato.

The Virgin has been the patroness of Guanajuato since 1557 — for 455 years. Taking into account the eight and a half centuries that the image was in the cave, we are looking at an image of Mary that is more than 1,200 years old!

Since then, Our Lady of Guanajuato has interceded innumerable times with miracles that strengthen one’s faith just hearing about them. The first beautiful story recorded about her is one involving Don Perafán de Rivera in his voyage to carry out Philip II’s commission.

Architect Cuauhtémoc Robles Bello, professor of the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Guanajuato and member of the “Perafanes” group explained to us: “Don Perafán brought the image on the Santa Maria ship which arrived in Veracruz (southern Mexico). From there the image was taken by mule to the Yerbabuena plateau in Guanajuato (central Mexico). The travelers halted, fearing they had lost their way and the high possibility of being attacked by the nomadic Chichimecas, who were resisting evangelization. They set up camp to await the dawn, placing the image of the Virgin on a large drum as a pedestal and prayed for their safety, asking her to be their compass to arrive at their destiny.”

Architect Robles gave an account of the first miracle attributed to Our Lady of Guanajuato. “The following morning, the travelers saw two white pigeons who flew in the direction where their mission would be accomplished; they arrived in the Royal Villa of the Mines of Guanajuato, on August 9, 1557.”

It was mid-day. The bells were ringing for the Angelus. The architect paused in his conversation as did many people who were walking on the street. The music that was blaring from a radio in one of the shops was stopped and the prayer was broadcasted. After a few minutes, “I saw people in Salamanca de Guanajuato who knelt down at the call to the Angelus,” said the architect.

This is another beautiful miracle of Our Lady of Guanajuato! Amid the business of every day activity, of the daily pressures, of the news in the media, many people in Guanajuato turn to the Virgin every day at noon.

We continue our chat. “Many years ago, in the 19th century, some miners were buried alive while working.  Masses, prayers and offerings to Our Lady began immediately. Miraculously, and against all predictions – given the conditions and lack of technology at the time – the miners escaped with their lives from that disaster.»

Robles is very proud to be from Guanajuato and a follower of the Virgin.  So he continued: “In the 80s – 1983, if I’m not mistaken – we went through a very difficult time in the whole state. An unprecedented drought, among the worst we had ever experienced. There was no water for the land, for human use. It was terrible! So a procession was undertaken with the Virgin to the Dam of Hope. The abbot celebrated a Mass there with hundreds upon hundreds of faithful. We prayed for her intercession to help us in this serious problem of lack of water. Once the Mass ended, the pilgrimage began to return to the basilica and just before arriving, heavy rains fell which filled the Dam. What greater show of love could we have had at that time from our Mother!,” he concluded.

This year of 2012, the Virgin is granting her children another miracle: Pope Benedict XVI’s visit, said the abbot of the basilica, Monsignor Juan Rodriguez Alba.

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