We see images of Guadalupe all over San Miguel de Allende and indeed, all over Mexico: molded onto medallions, printed on post cards, airbrushed on pickup trucks, silkscreened on tee shirts... Two figures have been painted onto stucco walls less than a block from our home.
Today we go to see the original image that according to legend miraculously appeared on the cape of the peasant Juan Diego in 1531. It is housed in the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Mexico City.
The image was originally housed in this building. But the number of people who come to view the image of Guadalupe continues to increase. Today millions come every year. Only Vatican City receives more visitors. The old church can't handle them all.
Moreover, the building is sinking into the soft soil and currently is undergoing restoration. Creaky columns get new stones held together by steel braces while mortar sets.
We walk through the church to the sound of hammering. Burly workmen in hard hats grunt as they haul a new altar rail into place. It's all most un-churchlike.
In 1974 the Church commissioned architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez to design a larger basilica to handle the crowds of pilgrims and tourists. I think his design is brilliant.
In the photo above, the pilgrim wearing a red shirt walks to the basilica on his knees, a common practice among the devout. I marvel at the number of people who venerate Guadalupe and the depth of their devotion.
An arc of pews facing a high altar provides seating for about 10,000 people. For certain ceremonies, temporary seats increase the basilica's capacity to 40,000.
Juan Diego's original robe, the garment on which the famous image of Guadalupe appeared, now hangs above the altar, surrounded by a gilded sculpture.
Visitors get a close-up view of the her image by riding one of three people movers. The airport-style moving walkway seems to be a reasonable solution to handling the crowds, especially in December when more than two million people come to see her.
Visitors bring flowers for Guadalupe. An organized pilgrim group brought this large arrangement.
Individuals and families lay bouquets at the altar. They bring so many that an attendant has to haul them away every half hour or so.
The new basilica had been completed by the time Pope John Paul II stopped at the basilica during his tour of Mexico in 1979. No way he was going to miss it. A large brass statue commemorates the event. The metal for the sculpture came from many thousands of brass keys donated by the faithful and collected in parishes all over the country.
The popemobile was left behind, displayed for visitors to see. It looks like a modified Mexico City bus. The greenish windows in the sides of the vehicle are made of thick bulletproof glass. We live in violent times.
The circular building with an upward sweep of the conical roof draws all eyes to the sacred image. Everywhere lighting is dim except on the famous figure.
The design succeeds in creating space for bringing together the image of Guadalupe and the millions who visit her. Believers and nonbelievers alike cannot fail to be awed by the experience.