A Mother who nurtures, empathizes, and heals... a Warrior who defends, empowers, and resists oppression... the Virgin Mary plays many roles for the peoples of Spain and Spanish-speaking America. Devotion to the Virgin inspired and sustained medieval and Renaissance Spaniards as they liberated Spain from the Moors and set about the conquest of the New World. Devotion to the Virgin still inspires and sustains millions of believers today throughout the Americas.
This wide-ranging and highly readable book explores the veneration of the Virgin Mary in Spain and the Americas from the colonial period to the present. Linda Hall begins the story in Spain and follows it through the conquest and colonization of the New World, with a special focus on Mexico and the Andean highlands in Peru and Bolivia, where Marian devotion became combined with indigenous beliefs and rituals. Moving into the nineteenth century, Hall looks at national cults of the Virgin in Mexico, Bolivia, and Argentina, which were tied to independence movements. In the twentieth century, she examines how Eva Perón linked herself with Mary in the popular imagination; visits contemporary festivals with significant Marian content in Spain, Peru, and Mexico; and considers how Latinos/as in the United States draw on Marian devotion to maintain familial and cultural ties.
A Note on Translation and Orthography
Chapter I. Introduction
Chapter II. The Spanish Reverence
Chapter III. Discoverers, Conquerors, and Mary
Chapter IV. Our Lady in Mexico: Catechisms, Confessions, Dramas, and Visions
Chapter V. Mexico: Images, Fiestas, Miracles, and Apparitions
Chapter VI. The Andean Virgin
Chapter VII. The Virgin as National Symbol: The Cases of Bolivia, Mexico, and Argentina
Chapter VIII. Evita and María: Religious Reverence and Political Resonance in Argentina
Chapter IX. Marian Celebrations at the Turn of the Millennium
Chapter X. Mary Moves North: Aspects of National Identity and Cultural Dissemination
Chapter XI. Conclusion
Bibliography of Works Cited
I have wanted to write this book for years. During the seven years that I spent in Colombia, 1961-1968, I was fascinated with the enormous reverence for the Virgin Mary that pervaded that country. I was particularly intrigued that this reverence crossed gender lines, with men as fervent as women if not more so. In a country troubled terribly by violence, this feminine vision of unconditional love, peace, and forgiveness held a power like no other. In the years since my return, I have observed the same fervor in many other parts of Latin America and among Latino populations in the United States. My years of residence in San Antonio, Albuquerque, and Los Angeles have confirmed that reverence for María is strong on this side of the border as well. Sometimes this fervor is visible; sometimes it is interior, known to me only through conversations with the reverent and from the ubiquitous home altars to her throughout the southwestern United States, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America. What has become clear to me is that what I thought of as an image or symbol is, for many Latin Americans and Latinos, a palpable presence, an understanding and giving being to whom access is proximate and immediate. Where did that reverence come from, and why is it so powerful?
My interest has been further and most importantly stimulated by my students. In the past eighteen years of teaching about women in Latin America, I have used the Virgin as a theme of study and have received dozens of thoughtful and often emotional communications about her from my students at Trinity University, the University of New Mexico, and University of California at Los Angeles. I want to share several of those stories here.
The first was told to me by a Peruvian woman, about her grandmother. Her abuela, she said, in her eighties and after bearing six children, had begun to insist that she herself was virgin. At first the family worried that she was becoming senile and somehow simply didn't remember. After our discussions in class, the young woman said she believed that what her grandmother was saying was that as she approached death, she was both whole and clean. She also indicated that perhaps her abuela was dealing with the impossible task of living up to the example of Mary as both Virgin and Mother.
Another student, a native New Mexican, told me that her mother, fleeing an abusive marriage, took with her only her two daughters and her image of the Virgin. This story resonates with a woodcut from El Salvador in the 1980s of villagers fleeing in terror from the army carrying with them a statue of Mary. In disastrous circumstances, the precious images of Mary are saved. My New Mexican student went on to tell me on a later occasion that her weeping mother had told her not long before that she had decided to leave the statue not to her but to her sister. This decision had been made, she said, because it would mean more to the sister, a practicing Catholic. My student agreed that this choice was reasonable, but the mother was not consoled, still suffering from her judgment between her two children. Clearly, she believed that the Virgin's power inherent in the image would accrue to one child, relatively imperiling the other.
On two other occasions, after an introductory lecture on the subject of Mary, I have had students come to my office visibly shaken. On both occasions the students said their mothers had told them that they were products of virgin births. One woman was Hispanic Catholic; the other was Irish Catholic. Both of their mothers had been very young when they conceived—and both were unmarried. Quick marriages to boyfriends followed, and in neither case had the marriage worked well.
The stories are suggestive. First of all, they make clear that the Virgin Mary presents an impossible ideal for living women, a mother without sexuality, and that this ideal in turn fosters in some a sense of inadequacy and insecurity, sometimes even denial. At the same time, Mary presents a picture of wholeness and integrity, of nurturing and healing and power, which is comforting and validating. In fact, it is to this impossible model that women turn for comfort in their failings and sorrows and for help in their necessities. And this figure is always with them, a constant and familiar presence.
Given this constant sense of presence, it is less surprising that individuals, and sometimes groups, have believed that the Virgin has actually physically appeared to them. Most of these appearances, these face-to-face encounters with the sacred, I believe, never become public knowledge. They are kept, secret and personal, in the internal world of the beholder. Others come to public attention, sometimes provoking highly emotional devotion. When these sorts of experiences occur, I believe as William Christian writes, that these are "eminently social visions" and that "what people hear the saints say, or the way they see the saints, reveals their deepest preoccupations. The changing faces of divine figures over the last six hundred years lead us to changes in the societies that meet them." In the context of this study, it is not important to discern whether these visions were "real." What is important is that people believed that they were real and that they reacted to them as such. For our purposes it is how and why they did so that is important, and what happened as a result. Further, the legends that grow out of these appearances have real effects; these effects may be even more important, and frequently are, than they were in the original incident.
Apparitions are only one sort of appearance, of course. Far more often, the public manifestations involve the miraculous appearance of an image, on a window or mirror, inside a cloak, hidden down a mine shaft, buried under a mosque. The appearances of the images of the Virgin in Miami near and in the home of Elián González's Florida relatives were seen by those opposed to Castro's government as divine signs that the child should remain safely, as they saw it, in the United States.
Other stories of Mary's appearances and miracles, again with real effects, grow up as justifications for or illustrations of a devotion already in place. Still others are promoted actively by those with particular interests in channeling the fervor such belief and devotion engenders. Kings and queens and religious orders and politicians and soldiers, as we shall see, have engaged in such promotion, either out of devotion or cynically. What we are looking at here is the development of a spiritual complex, the history of a set of beliefs, focused around a female figure. This set of beliefs interacted with and helped shape cultural attitudes and behavioral patterns. These attitudes and patterns, in turn, crystallized into institutional forms, which then interacted with new cultural and historical settings in new ways. Out of these changes, the attitudes and patterns themselves are transformed. Still, there is continuity here. Over the centuries millions of human beings have believed that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of God, and millions continue to hold this conviction. Yet they have acted on these beliefs in ways that fit their own times and historical circumstances; these beliefs have had enormous human consequences. This book is about some of those actions and interactions in Spain, in Latin America, and among Latinos in the United States.
The sense of Mary's presence helps explain the intense reverence for her of those engaged in migration and resettlement, and many of the stories here involve just such situations. As they travel and sense that she is with them, the dangers, fears, and loneliness of new territory are assuaged. This reverence may even be intensified in those engaged in violent conquest. Confronted by violence and the need to commit it, they are comforted by the sense that they are doing it for her, with her approval, legitimized in her name. Throughout the Reconquest of Spain and the Conquest of the Spanish New World, the men engaged in those enterprises felt that she was with them, carried her banners, were animated by the thought of her, saw her appear above the fray, dedicated their actions to her, and believed that she aided their victories.
Throughout these endeavors, images of Mary, both painted and sculpted, were extremely important. The Spanish prayed to them before leaving the motherland, brought them on their campaigns and journeys, put them in conquered mosques and in native sacred spaces that they converted to Christian churches—often dedicated to the Virgin. Art historians have noted that among the many images with which humans interact, those of Mary have been particularly powerful. These sorts of phenomena will be a focus in the pages that follow.
These images of the Virgin were (and many still are) powerful. They significantly enhanced the sense of the Virgin's presence. People who believed in the Virgin's power felt her presence in the representation, not apart from it. Although theologically the idea that she is within the image is murky, nevertheless that is exactly what many believers felt and feel. One source tells us, "The theological view of such images is that they are windows into the eternal world of revelation and that they capture, albeit imperfectly, the realities of which the gospel speaks." The significance of images has been much contested in the Christian world, particularly in the period of iconoclasm in the eighth century and the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth. The Council of Trent (1545-1563), in reaction to the forces of the Reformation, reaffirmed the significance of such images, provided that superstitious usage be avoided, and at the same time approved the honoring of relics and the veneration of saints, the most important of whom has been Saint Mary. In discussing the iconoclastic heresy, Peter Brown notes the interactive process when he states, "The icon was a hole in the dyke separating the visible world from the divine." However, in the case of the Virgin, such an image, it seems to me, was more of a welcoming helper in attaining access to the divine than she was an absence, as the terms "hole" or "window" might imply. Marina Warner is closer to the sense of what I mean when she says, "A sacred image was not an illusion but the possessor of reality itself, and the beneficent forces that flow through icons and relics of a holy personage like the Virgin bring them to life." The Virgin, as a human and accessible person re-presented in an image, becomes a conduit between the human being and the divine. This same sense of liveliness and efficacy, it seems to me, persists today in interactions with the images of the Virgin.
These images need not be located exclusively in holy places. Small tokens that the devoted can keep in their pockets or wear around their necks convey a sense of her presence with the carrier. This feeling may also appear in regard to larger images of significance to a given community, some of which indeed may be the models for the smaller, personal ones. Recently, art historians have begun to study such phenomena. What I am describing is what Hans Belting has noted as the likeness considered as a person. He says:
The image, understood in this manner, not only represented a person but also was treated like a person, being worshipped, despised, or carried from place to place in ritual processions: in short, it served in the symbolic exchange of power and, finally, embodied the public claims of the community.
We shall return to this point frequently as we see the Spanish bringing the Virgin Mary as religious idea, psychological construct, and physical image to their New World. Europeans of the fifteenth century and forward believed that the efficacy of these images could "affect even (or perhaps especially) the youngest of viewers, and affect them not just emotionally but in ways that have long-term behavioral consequences." The idea and image of the Virgin appealed to indigenous populations as well, especially as a nurturer and healer. So in addition to being a comfort and a justification for those engaged in discovery and conquest, Mary became powerful in bringing indigenous peoples, at least in appearance, into the Roman Catholic faith. At the same time they were to some degree brought under Spanish control.
David Freedberg has emphasized the power of images, studying "the active, outwardly markable responses of beholders, as well as the beliefs (insofar as they are capable of being recorded) that motivate them to specific actions and behavior." But he goes on to say:
We must consider not only beholders' symptoms and behavior, but also the effectiveness, efficacy, and vitality of images themselves; not only what beholders do, but also what images appear to do; not only what people do as a result of their relationship with imaged form, but also what they expect imaged form to achieve, and why they have such expectations at all.
The relationship between human and image is interactive, and clearly so. The ways humans act toward images and the responses they believe that they get influence the way they and other observers respond in the future to these representations. Freedberg also discusses "the ways in which the god is in the image; in other words, how it becomes charged with presence." In Latin America, the evident belief of the Spanish in the power of the Virgin and the benefits springing from her favor were conveyed to indigenous peoples not only by preaching and catechizing but also by example. Further, Freedberg points out that images not only can mediate in the process of acquiring and giving thanks for supernatural help but also "can elevate beholders to the heights of empathy and participation." The Spanish used the figure of the Virgin in just this way, for indigenous peoples and for themselves.
It is important to understand and remember that according to Roman Catholic theology, Mary is not God but the Mother of God. She is fully human, the vehicle through which Christ became flesh, but not herself a deity. As the Constitution of 1964 emerging from Vatican II reminds us, "We have but one Mediator [Jesus Christ] . . . The maternal duty of Mary towards men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ . . . For all the saving influences of the Blessed Virgin originate, not from some inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. They flow forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rest on his mediation, depend entirely on it, and derive all their power from it." Still, Mary assumes a place above all other humans. While she may not be adored as a deity, she may be revered. This reverence is not as exalted as the adoration (latria) due to God, Father and Son, but it is nevertheless more intense and more reverent (hyperdulia) than that due the saints (dulia). Further, there are four dogmas that distinguish her from other humans: her divine motherhood; her virginity; her immaculate conception, which means that from the moment of conception she herself was freed from the stain of original sin; and her bodily assumption into heaven at her death. The first two dogmas had been recognized by the early Church and were well in place by the time of the Spanish arrival in the Americas. The Immaculate Conception, though its proclamation as dogma would not take place until 1854, was a doctrine strongly pushed by Spanish theologians and powerful political figures from the late thirteenth century forward. Many of the artistic representations of Mary in Spain and in the Americas reflected the iconography of the Immaculist vision of Mary. Associated with the Woman of the Apocalypse and conflated with the Virgin of the Assumption, she was pictured standing on the moon, either full or crescent, clothed with the sun, sometimes crushing the serpent of evil beneath her feet, usually pictured alone without the Christ Child. She is shown floating visibly above the ground, an indication of the association with the Assumption. This fourth dogma was not declared until 1950 but was also important to the Spanish of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, though not in such a defining way as the Immaculate Conception.
Reverence for the Virgin and entreaties to her, of course, are addressed to her properly as a mediator and intercessor with her Son. Her power flows from and with Christ. Though it is an efficacy that is dependent on her motherhood, it is deeply significant nonetheless. However, it is quite clear that many of those who petition her see Mary herself as powerful, numinous, and supernatural. Still, it seems to me that her resonance and power and particularly her accessibility are enhanced in the human psyche by precisely her own humanity. In 1979 the prominent Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff called for a reconsideration of the theological position on Mary in his work O rostro materno de Deus (The Maternal Face of God), but he moved both boldly and cautiously. He asserted on the one hand that
Mary Inkarnates the new creation that God is forging from the old. She likewise embodies what the Church ought to be as a community of the redeemed. Only in Mary does the Church actualize its archetype and its utopia . . . As the most eminent member of the Church, then, she occupies a corresponding place among the links of the salvific mediation binding all men and women: she is venerated as Mediatrix of All Graces, for in union with the Holy Spirit and her Son she is full of grace. Thus, Mary is associated with her Son, the Holy Spirit, and God himself in such wise that she is raised to the level of Co-Redemptrix.
But Boff was cautious, prefacing his discussion by subordinating himself and his ideas to the Church.
The task we set before ourselves is risky, and the theoretical and practical pitfalls numerous . . . We make no attempt to impose our position. We submit it to the better judgment of our critics and of the Church itself. The new knowledge that we use, and the change that society is undergoing where women are concerned, constitute an invitation to revitalize and recast traditional perspectives of faith on Mary. If theologians will not assume this task, who will?
And the issue is by no means settled. As we begin the twenty-first century, there are widespread petition drives to have her named co-redemptrix with Christ, yet it is extremely unlikely that Pope John Paul II will take any such step, despite his own strong reverence for Mary. The petitions have asked him to proclaim a new dogma, that Saint Mary is "Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix of All Graces, and Advocate for the People of God," in large part echoing Boff's language. Such a change would elevate her theological status significantly and approach a recognition of the feminine face of God. This change of status has long been rejected by the male hierarchy of the Church, including a group of Mariologists commissioned in 1997 by the Holy See to study the issue.
Yet the debate on Mary's significance continues inside and outside the Church. Popular reverence for Mary has often made Church leaders nervous. However, the very refusal over the centuries to elevate her status closer to that of a deity seems to have added to her power and appeal; as a real woman, however exceptional, believers see her as someone who shares their difficulties and can sympathize with their problems. She remains both accessible and understanding.
It is therefore not surprising that the Spanish would have taken her with them, in their minds and hearts as well as in physical images, during their struggle to expel the Muslims from the peninsula and later to conquer the indigenous peoples they encountered in the Americas. It is self-evident that she was seen as Mother, not only of God but of themselves, but perhaps not so self-evident that she was also seen as Warrior. Yet she appeared in their prayers before battle and on the banners that they carried into the fray. Her intervention was credited with Christian victories in Spain, Mexico, and the Andes. Although Saint James, Santiago, the apostle who is credited with evangelizing Spain, was the figure who most often appeared above the battle on a white horse with his sword raised, the Virgin frequently appeared as well and sometimes took an active part in defeating the enemy. It is important to recognize that she was and is recognized as a powerful aid in troubles of all kinds and that her role in conquest and colonization was often perceived as active and direct. She has led human beings to do violence on many occasions, among them the Reconquest and Conquest, the Latin American independence movements, and the repression of individuals and of social movements. She also has protected them, they believe, in their chosen endeavors.
Yet in her role as protector and nurturer, the version of Santa María emphasized by the evangelizing Christians in the wake of the Conquest, it is not too surprising that she would be an appealing figure for devastated native peoples. Probably some of them feigned reverence for her in order to protect or ingratiate themselves vis-à-vis the Iberians; others, according to reports, continued to revere their own gods, male and female, but to call on Mary as well. Nonetheless, it does not strain the imagination to consider that some of them may have found her initially appealing. Paintings and statues of her, especially those representations as a nurturer holding her Son, were beautiful and tranquil. Being assured that she was the Mother of All by Catholic priests, perhaps they believed. Perhaps such belief helped them maintain sanity in what Rolena Adorno has called "the swirling madness of the open contests between the old gods and the new." There must, at least initially, have been a strange edge to revering a figure so important to those who had wreaked so much havoc in their world. In any case, as the decades and the centuries passed, belief in her power and efficacy surely grew into more than a sham and a substitute. These various adaptations were different at different times and places, as community, family, and individual needs and beliefs determined. What was and remains widespread is a belief in her presence, power, and significance.
Another point should be made here. In Iberia and in Latin America, the Virgin took many forms. She was called by many names—Pilar, Monserrat, Guadalupe, Copacabana. Some of these advocations were extremely general and not associated with a particular place; they usually were tied to specific doctrines or devotions or particular attributes of Mary, such as the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of the Rosary, the Virgin of Remedies (Remedios), the Virgin of Sorrows (Dolores). These images were distinguished by special iconographies, which usually were recognizable but often became conflated. Other advocations, which may be representations of the wider designations above, are tied by legends of appearances or miracles to particular locations. These may significantly affect both the secular and sacred landscapes. In late medieval Spain, for example, Monserrat and Guadalupe "were the two poles of Iberian devotion." Networks of pilgrimage connected villages within the region, stimulating devotion and political and societal cohesion, not to mention economic activity. This pattern has continued in Latin America, with Guadalupe in Mexico as the pre-eminent pilgrimage destination now drawing more visitors yearly than any other Roman Catholic site except the Vatican. But there are many other Marian locations in Latin America—among them Copacabana in Bolivia, Chinquinquirá in Colombia, and Luján in Argentina—all with their Marys and all with significant national as well as religious content.
Other advocations are strictly local, often being the objects of particular devotion within a smaller community, even a neighborhood or a particular social or ethnic or economic group. The devotion to these advocations is often carried on through brotherhoods, sometimes including women or even dominated by them. The histories of many brotherhoods go back hundreds of years, and although the social and historical contexts have changed radically, habits and practices of devotion may significantly resemble those of earlier centuries. Throughout the layers of advocations, in which the Virgin may be dressed differently, may be perceived as performing different kinds of aids and services for her devout, may have changed her attributes and her actions over time, and may even have distinctive personality traits and favored followers, she is nevertheless only one person, the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Yet she is not exactly one person, although theologically it is clear that she is one and unique. Here we are back to the issue of her inherence in the image. She is at once universal, regional, local, and even personal, at least in the minds of her believers. Again, she is present, and the use of advocations makes it possible for human beings to tailor their relationships with her and their beliefs about her to current needs and cultural contexts.
The ways in which Mary became important and revered in Latin America varied enormously across the geographies and cultures of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Although the Iberian vision of the Virgin predominated, it should be emphasized that this vision was by no means uniform, varying from region to region and even from person to person. The indigenous cultures and visions of the sacred were even more varied. And yet another element must be considered. Among the migrants to this new region were African slaves, bringing along their own notions of the sacred and the sacred feminine. These ideas became part of the mix. While the Iberian view of Mary tended to reassure them and justify a position of dominance, the indigenous and African versions frequently denoted resistance. The interweaving that resulted has given rise to a huge number of cults of and personal devotions to Our Lady, far more than could be studied by one person or covered in one book. My purpose is only to open the discussion.
This book, therefore, is a series of essays, discrete but connected, which look at several stages in the development of Marian reverence in Latin America. These essays address both the cultural and political dimensions of that devotion and the ways in which that devotion carries over to the present. I intend Chapters II through VI as a synthesis of the developing cult of the Virgin in colonial Spanish America. I begin in Chapter II with Spain in its Mediterranean context up through 1492, that crucial year in which Christian forces finally conquered the Moors of Granada and Columbus encountered the Americas, to establish a baseline understanding of Marian reverence. In the next four chapters I explore the Conquest and colonial period in Spanish Latin America, especially in the areas that now are Mexico and the Andean highlands of Peru and Bolivia. Here I look at the devotion of the group of men involved in the Spanish discovery and Conquest and the ways in which Marian devotion became entangled and combined with the indigenous sacred in Mexico and the Andes.
Although a great deal of selection is involved in the preceding section, that process necessarily becomes even more stringent moving forward in time. The next essays are more specific but add other regions of Latin America to the two discussed above. In Chapter VII I examine the development of three national advocations of the Virgin in Latin America—the devotions to the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico, to the Virgin of Copacabana in Bolivia, and to the Virgin of Luján in Argentina. In the nineteenth century these phenomena became linked with the independence movements and then with the new nation-states. The themes of the perceptions of the Virgin's power and strength, combined with her political potential, continue here. All have roots in the colonial period, and those of Guadalupe and Copacabana are particularly strong and linked to the areas of focus in the previous four chapters. A consideration of the Virgin of Luján introduces an important region not considered in earlier chapters and a significantly different case, one less strongly rooted in the colonial past but powerful nonetheless.
In the last three chapters I look successively at the case of a powerful individual and at the significance of Marian devotion and the Marian model in her life and in her political success; at a group of late-twentieth-century Marian celebrations in the Hispanic world, including Spain, to search for continuing similarities and for significant differences; and at the reverence for the Virgin among Latino groups in the United States. The first of these, Chapter VIII, moves to twentieth-century Argentina, considering the ways in which Eva Perón, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, and the Argentine military of the 1970s and 1980s used Marian imagery and symbols to establish political resonance and their own political and personal legitimacy. Evita, a highly public figure, offers us an opportunity to see in the life of one woman the operation of Marian models in interactions between herself and the people of Argentina. This chapter argues that Marian symbols and behaviors, woven into the political activities of Evita, were important implicit and sometimes explicit factors in her political appeal. In fact, surprisingly, her strong identification with the Virgin and with ideals of motherhood so revered in Argentine society, and her framing of her activities in these terms, helped her break away from societal norms to achieve significant public power and even devotion despite her childlessness and her sexual past. I believe that Evita had completely internalized the Marian model, which she then carried out in her role as the wife of the president. Because she believed in this identification so thoroughly, it was effective during her lifetime, and she established a strong political resonance with the masses of Argentina. Yet when the Peronist movement tried to use this symbolic (and spiritual) connection cynically after her death, it failed. Later, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Argentine military, in their confrontations during the Dirty War in the 1970s and 1980s, both used Marian symbols to support their political positions. Again, the Virgin as model and symbol was lived out and ideologically positioned in ambivalent, conflicted ways.
In Chapter IX I consider recent reverence for the Virgin in Spain and Latin America by looking at several contemporary festivals with significant Marian content that I have been able to observe: Corpus Christi in Cuzco, Peru, in 1995 and 1998; Semana Santa in Seville, Spain, in 1999; and the pilgrimage to the shrine of Guadalupe in Mexico in December 1999. These celebrations show fascinating continuities and illuminating differences in relation to earlier rituals and with each other. They reflect present concerns including local and national issues along with strong links and associations to the past. The last main chapter of the work looks at Marian devotion among Latinos in the United States, again focusing on recent years but also noting continuities and changes.
A connection that has emerged throughout my research and teaching on the Virgin is the one between individuals and their own mothers. Repeatedly during the years that I have been working on this book, Latino/a and other friends and colleagues and students have asked me if the book was finally in print because they wanted to give it to their mothers. While this reaction reflects to some degree a generational falling-off of religious beliefs—even popular ones—among individuals further removed from the experience of migration and dislocation, I believe it also reflects the way in which the figure of Mary connects mothers and children on a powerful affective level. Another story illustrates the point, I think. The wealthy father of a Mexican friend is a follower of Gurumayi Chivilasananda, the female guru of the Siddha Yoga movement, and has pictures of her all over his San Diego apartment. He also has a striking and valuable collection of paintings of Guadalupe. His daughter believes that the basis for this extraordinary Guadalupan collection, exhibited side-by-side with images of a contemporary female spiritual leader, is his connection to the memory of his own mother, who was devoted to the Mexican Virgin.
Recent feminist theologians have been extremely critical of the theology of the Virgin Mary within the Roman Catholic Church, contending that it has reinforced women's institutional and personal inferiority. Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, for example, has argued that "The Mary myth" is rooted "in a male, clerical, and ascetic culture and theology . . . The myth is a theology of woman, preached by men to women, and one that serves to deter women from becoming fully independent and whole human persons." She questions whether "the myth can give to women a new vision of equality and wholeness, since the myth has almost never functioned as symbol or justification of women's equality and leadership in church and society, even though the myth contains elements which could have done so."
Though this view has merit as a theological argument and may well describe the effect on some women that is indicated, it does not ring entirely true for me as regards human experience of Latin Americans devoted to the Virgin. As I have worked on this volume, themes that have emerged to me most vividly are that of the Virgin's perceived power and that of the empowerment that reverence for the Virgin provides to her devotees, both male and female. Far from being the meek and mild figure depicted to me in my Protestant youth, she is often seen by them as active, effective, legitimizing. Her actions can invert or reinforce relations of dominance; the vision of her is ambiguous and ambivalent among members of the same cultural milieu and even within an individual; she can be challenging and transforming. Although she may be used in an attempt to reinforce gender ideologies of passivity and obedience for women and other subordinate peoples, she may certainly be used to empower them as well. I consider, in fact, that in Spain and Latin America and among Latino populations in the United States, belief in the Virgin has been empowering and that this empowerment has been more important than any sort of gender-related restrictions based on the model of Mary as Virgin. Of course, the effects have varied greatly depending on time and place. As Els Maeckelberghe has recognized, "It is a complete illusion to think that you have a clearly defined figure if you just pronounce the name 'Mary' . . . It is a very flexible name that can be adapted to the needs of the time when and the place where it is invoked." Indeed, for men and women, the belief in her presence and ubiquity make and have made her useful as model and helper in overcoming adversity and refashioning their own behavior within or in opposition to cultural norms. This story is a complicated one. What you find between these covers is, I hope, a beginning to discussions and understandings.
By Linda B. Hall
Linda B. Hall is Professor of History at the University of New Mexico.
"Linda Hall presents an outstanding comparative work on Spanish and American devotion to Mary. She skillfully handles a diversity of Marian imagery, moving with ease from one instance to the next, describing the theological, dogmatic, and even regional differences of each cult.... The book makes for a valuable and fascinating read."
"In a brief review it is difficult to do justice to the richness of this book and its insights. It is well researched, well written, and enhanced by illustrations that truly support the text."
"The book is an impressive and very welcome contribution to the history of Marian devotion and, more broadly, of religious culture in the Hispanic World."
—Journal of Latin American Studies
". . . a magnificent overview of the complex phenomenon of Marianism in the Hispanic World, from the Islamic frontier of medieval Spain to the teeming barrios of the American Southwest."
—Luis Martín, Kahn Professor Emeritus of History, Southern Methodist University