When I walk from the subway station towards the north on the Calzada de Guadalupe, I see an old church at the top of the hill ahead, while I walk the purple jacaranda-lined street. Assuming that the old church is the Basilica of Guadalupe, I am surprised to see a modern temple on my left when I reach the Marian Square of the Americas. I have reached the area where in 1531 the Virgin appeared four times before the eyes of Juan Diego, who had turned to Christianity before. Her image was impressed upon his dress as a proof of the apparition, and a chapel was erected. Over the centuries, the Villa de Guadalupe developed into the most visited pilgrimage site of Roman Catholics worldwide. Since the apparitions took place on December 12, the days around that date flood this pilgrimage spot. Now, on a March afternoon, it is relatively quiet.
When I walk around the modern Basilica, I notice a group of people holding statues, with a priest blessing them and their items. Walking alongside the Basilica, I come to a corner where I find a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and several spaces in which people are constantly lighting candles - most with an image of the Virgin. People are selling all sorts of religious artefacts, and there are shops doing the same. I leave a visit to the Basilica for last, and head up the Tepeyac hill, past the Baptistery. The Virgin promised Juan Diego that he could find roses on top of the hill, a flower that did not exist here back then, and so he did. A family have their picture taken at the image of the Virgin, surrounded by fake flowers and a portrait of Pope John Paul II, who canonized Juan Diego in 2002 and who is represented by a big statue next to the old church. The reward for walking up the hill is a nice view over the main buildings in the Villa de Guadalupe, and further away, the skyline of central Mexico City. The Iglesia del Cerrito on top of the hill was erected mid-17th century to commemorate the miracle of the fresh flowers indicated by the Virgin.
Further down the hill, I find the Ofrenda, a representation of the scene of the apparition of the Virgin, surrounded by waterfalls and a small pool. On my way back to the main square, I enter the attractive baroque Capilla del Pocito, which was built where a water well was found. Close by, I find the Indians Chapel, before I find myself back on the Marian Square, on the other side. From here, it is obvious that the old Basilica is tilting badly. I walk past the Capuchinas Parish and enter the old Basilica which, apart from tilting, is also too small to hold the many pilgrims coming here. After a chat with a local who offers me a small booklet with the history of the Virgin written in Nahuatl, the Aztec language and translated into Spanish, I enter the modern Basilica just when rain starts to fall. The modern interior is a stark contrast with the architecture of the other buildings. I walk down, under the altar, where I step on a moving walkway. High above me, is the original tilma, or cloak, with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. In the museum, apart from many paintings and statues, I find the most impressive items are the man-made signs in which people recount the miracles (often, healings and recoveries) that people attribute to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Once outside again, rain is coming down and the temperature has dropped considerably, and when the sun starts shining again, a rainbow appears above the clocktower on the square.
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