National Geographic : 2015 Dec
54 national geographic • december 2015 sign that she’s pregnant. Around her neck is a brooch—not the green stone Aztec deities often displayed but a cross. Her downcast eyes show that she isn’t a goddess. Similarly, her hands, clasped in prayer, also communicate that she isn’t divine. One of her legs is bent, suggesting that she could be dancing in prayer. The tur- quoise of her cloak signifies divinity and sky to the Aztec. The glyph of a four-petaled flower in the center of her rose-colored tunic supposedly means that she is the god bearer. Sometime between 1531 and 1570 the original image on Juan Diego’s tilma was embellished. Gold stars were added to the Virgin’s mantle, aligned, according to a Mexican study published in 1983, in their configuration at dawn on De- cember 12, 1531, the day the image allegedly ap- peared on the tilma. The Aztec greatly revered the sun god, and glowing rays added behind Mary signify that she comes from heaven and that her god has divine power. One theory holds that in Nahuatl, the word “Mexico” comes from three words that mean “in the center of the moon”—and Mary is standing in the center of a black crescent moon. Borne on the shoulders of an angel who, some say, has native features, she dominates both light and darkness. Remarkably, the image hasn’t deteriorated, according to the church, even though the cloth hung in the basilica for more than a century with- out protection, vulnerable to dirt and smoke. “She’s imprinted like a photo,” says Nydia Mirna Rodríguez Alatorre, director of the basilica muse- um, who explains that in 1785 a worker cleaning the silver frame accidentally spilled nitric acid on the image. It remained intact. An affidavit from several decades later says that the spill left only a vague mark like a water stain. In 1921 Luciano Pérez Carpio, who worked in an office of Mexi- co’s president tasked with weakening the grip of religion, placed a bomb in a bouquet of flowers below the image. The blast destroyed the altar and bent its bronze crucifix and the candelabra nearby. The image of the Virgin was untouched. “ When the devotion to the Virgin of Guada- lupe disappears,” Rodríguez Alatorre says, “the identity of Mexico will disappear.” As the only woman to have her own sura, or chapter, in the Koran, Mary was chosen by God “above all other women of the world,” for her chastity and obedience. As in the Bible, an angel announces her pregnancy to her in the Mus- lim holy book. But unlike in the Bible, Mary— Maryam—gives birth alone. There’s no Joseph. “Mary is the purest and most virtuous of all women in the universe,” says Bakr Zaki Awad, dean of the theology faculty at Al Azhar Univer- sity, Cairo’s leading theological university. In Egypt I talked with devout Muslims who, because of their reverence for the Virgin Mary, had no qualms about visiting Christian churches and praying to her in church as well as mosque. One day in Cairo I encountered two young Muslim women in head scarves stand- ing in front of the old Coptic Abu Serga church, built over a cave that is said to have been used by the Holy Family. It was the eve of Coptic Easter, and inside, the congregants chanted and prayed for hours. Outside, the women said they loved Mary from studying her in the Koran. “Her story tells us a lot of things,” Youra, 21, said. “She is able to face lots of hardships in her life because of her faith, her belief in God.” LOURDES IS THE VIRGIN’S MIRACLE FACTORY, WITH MORE THAN 7,000 MIRACULOUS CURES CLAIMED SINCE THE MID-1800S. ONLY 69 HAVE BEEN RECOGNIZED BY CHURCH AUTHORITIES.