“The Archbishop and the Virgin: Alonso de Montúfar and the Early Cult of Our Lady of Guadalupe”

Magnus Lundberg 

Article published online in 2015 (but based on a chapter of my doctoral dissertation, defended in 2002).

In this article, I critically assess a number of documents related to the cult of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Tepeyac in the mid-sixteenth century. It seeks to counteract the many bad scholarly contributions on Guadalupe, published in both theologically “conservative” and “radical”/”contextual” circles.

It is, of course, interesting to study how Guadalupe has been interpreted throughout the ages and what role she plays today. Still, to establish facts about the origin of a cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe requires a very close assessment of the existing sources. There are so many farfetched interpretations of documents (and “silences”) that have been made into truths and there are even fabricated sources that support certain ideological views. Thus, a source critical study of a very traditional kind can do much good.

In the documents that without a doubt can be dated to Alonso de Montúfar’s time as archbishop of Mexico (1554-1572), I have not found any foundation for the story about Juan Diego and Bishop Zumárraga that, at least since the 1640s, has been associated with the cult. Still, there are indications that at least an outline of story of about the miraculous origin of the image and the direct imprint of the Virgin on an indigenous man’s cloak, was known by the 1610s or 1620s (but that will be the subject of another article)

Still, at least from the mid-1550s, there was a cult devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Tepeyac. In 1556, various witnesses stated that the cult existed and that it had been founded recently, and wholeheartedly supported by Archbishop Montúfar. None of the witnesses mentioned that the image of the Virgin in the ermita had a supernatural origin. Nevertheless, several indigenous sources, written in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries briefly mention that Our Lady of Guadalupe “manifested herself” at Tepeyac in 1555 or 1556. In 1570, the priest Antonio Freire stated that Archbishop Montúfar founded the ermita fourteen years earlier. Moreover, one of the witnesses in the 1562 legal proceeding against Montúfar, Antonio de Oliver, explicitly stated that Archbishop Montúfar who dedicated the ermita to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

At least from the mid-1550s onwards, the ermita became an important site for pilgrimages. Hispanics and Indians from the city of Mexico and its environs went there to pay devotion to Our Lady, to do penitence and to be cured of illnesses that afflicted them. Just as in the case of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Extremadura, the Virgin of Tepeyac was celebrated specifically on the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady in September. At that time, the Archbishop and the cathedral chapter took part in a solemn procession to Tepeyac; and this procession is a clear testimony of the importance of the cult towards the end of Montúfar’s archiepiscopacy.

There is thus ample evidence to claim that the cult of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Tepeyac was founded by Archbishop Montúfar in the first years of his episcopal administration, that an image was put there, and that the place soon became a popular pilgrimage, as people claimed that the image had miraculous effects.

The report is available here

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