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Tonatzin: Triumph over Religious Syncretism


Our Lady of Guadalupe is recognized as a symbol of all Catholic Mexicans. Her feast is celebrated on December 12 and is the most important national holiday in Mexico. Some historians believe that the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe is a representation of religious syncretism, combining the cult of the Virgin Mary with the Aztec goddess Tonatzin. My intention is to provide a brief narrative of the story from the Indian perspective.

The Indian goddess Tonatzin, also known as ‘Mother Earth’ or ‘Our Revered Mother’, was worshipped since prehispanic times at the hill of Tepeyac, considered a sacred and magical site by the Aztecs, near what is now Mexico City

Like many other Aztec temples, the sanctuary dedicated to Tonatzin was destroyed during the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, led by Hernan Cortes, in 1521.

In 1531, ten years after the fall of the Aztecs, Tonatzin returned to reclaim her place at the Tepeyac. She talks to Lord Singing Eagle, an Aztec prince and former army commander to communicate her desire to have her temple rebuilt. The goddess comes to her people during the eve of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the birth of the sun, when darkness turns to light.

Tonatzin asks Lord Singing Eagle to cut flowers and bring her message to Juan de Zumarraga, Bishop of Mexico. When presented, the flowers magically transform into her image which is printed in the cloth that was used to carry them.

Guadalupe, “she that steps on the serpent”, talks to her people through the flowers that transform in the cloth that Lord Singing Eagle carries. The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe shows the stars positioned as they would appear in the sky on December 12, 1531 in Mexico at dawn. The moon under her feet represents the people of Mexico; this name can be translated as “navel of the moon”.

Tonatzin reaffirms her place and connection to her people. The cult of Tonatzin lives on and represents our connection to the sun, the rain and mother earth as a manifestation of life.

To learn more about the miracle of Tonatzin:

Raul (Boabom North)