"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Roses in December: Our Lady of Guadalupe by Felipe de Ortego y Gasca

Roses in December: Our Lady of Guadalupe 
by Felipe de Ortego y Gasca


r more than 475 years Mexicans and their pro­geny around the globe have been celebrating the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalu­pe to Juan Diego at Tepeyac–near Mexico City–on December 12, 1531. Accounts of that appearance have varied over the years, but essentially the story is that on his way to seek Bishop Zumarra­ga’s help in healing his sick un­cle, Juan Diego, indio, encountered a woman en­route dress­ed in blue gossamer studded with stars who call­ed him by name. 

Surprised, Juan Diego listened to her charge that he ask the Bish­op to build a church on the site where she stood. Dutifully, Juan Diego related the mes­sage to the skeptical Bish­op who explained that he need­ed a sign of some sort from the lady in blue in order to carry out her request. Upon hearing Juan Die­go’s ac­count of his conversation with the Bishop, la Virgin de Guadalu­pe (as she has come to be call­ed) in­structed Juan Diego to gath­er some roses from near­by which he did, placi­ng them in the fold of his til­ma.

Carrying the roses to the Bishop, Juan Diego is greet­ed by Bish­op Zumarraga with words of incredu­lity, “Roses, roses in December–this is the sign?” The Bish­op was expecting something more ethereal, failing to realize that roses do not bloom in the moun­tain heights of Mexico in December. 

Taken aback, Juan Diego dropped the hold on his tilma and the roses fell to the floor where­upon the Bish­op and those attending him dropped to their knees. Startled­ by the actions of the clerics, Juan Diego could not see the image of the Virgin of Guadalu­pe which had embedded itself on the surface of his til­ma. That was the sign. The Bish­op promp­tly built a cathedral to honor the lady in blue, and from that time on the madonna of Tepe­yac has become the national religious sym­bol of Mex­ico. The tilma is on display at the Basilica in Tepe­yac.

xicans of all faiths acknowledge Guadalu­pe as the patron saint of Mexico. In our house when I was grow­ing up in San Antonio, Texas, my moth­er kept a home altar for la Vir­gin de Guadalu­pe. That altar kept us reverential when we were in its presence. Her picture hung prom­inently on the wall above the alter, next to the picture of Pres­i­dent Fran­klin D. Roo­sevelt who with the help of Guadalu­pe got us through the hard times of the Depression.

As a Marine during World War II, the picture of Guadalu­pe in my wallet kept me confident that she would keep me from harms way. Even later, as a grown man ­I clung to that child­hood belief in Guadalu­pe. For years my wife and I have kept a statuette of the Virgin in our home.

wever, what has sustained my spiritual bond with Guadalu­pe is the play I wrote about her in 1981at the request of Arch-Bish­op Patrick Flo­res of San Antonio to com­memorate the 450th anniver­sary of her appearance to Juan Diego. The title of the play is Madre de Sol / Moth­er of the Sun, set within the first dozen years of Spanish rule in Mexico starting with the encounter of Moctezuma and Cortez in 1519. 

The play premiered at Assumption Seminary in San Antonio in September of 1981 and ran until De­cember 12th of that year. At the direction of the Arch-Bishop, Osval­do “Ozzie” Rodri­guez, from the La Mama Theater in New York, was invited by Father Virgi­lio Elizon­do to direct the play. Henry Cisneros’ brother George wrote the music for the play. Jo­hn Igo, drama cri­tic for the San Antonio Ligh­t, gave the show a rave review. After his role in Madre del Sol, Jesse Borrego went on to star in the tv production of Fame and then a success-ful movie career.

In February of 1982, the Arch-Bishop of Mex­ico City invited us to mount the play at the Teatro Anto­nio Casso in Tlatelol­co. Mrs. ­Portillo, wife of the presi­dent of Mexico, introduced the play to the first audi­ence of its Mexican run. ­The following year, in 1983, with the help of the Mea­dows Foun­dation and the Con­ference of Chris­tians and Jews, Madre del Sol was sta­ged in Dal-las. The last produc­tion of Madre del Sol was mount­ed by Ozzie Rodriguez at the La Mama in 1984.
For me, the challenge of Madre del Sol was crea­ting it as a trilingual play – English, Spanish, and Nahu­atl–engendering comments from both English-lan­guage and Spanish-language audiences that despite its linguis-tic structure, they understood every word in the play. 

As we approach the 500th anniversary of Guadalu­pe’s appearance to Juan Diego on that felicitous day of 1531, one won­ders about the celebratory ho­mage of the 500th Anniversary.­ Perhaps roses will bloom where least ex­pected–and in December.

Copyright © 2007 by the author. All rights re­served.

We hope you enjoyed Ortego's article. As today is also Gaudete Sunday, here's the musical piece from the Piae Cantiones

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