A recent article in America magazine by Deirdre Cornell, "Our Mother, Our Advocate" (5/18/2009) caught my attention. Deirdre talks about the Marian apparitions in Mexico, in particular the well-known Virgin of Guadalupe (La Número Uno), but also one I had never heard of: Our Lady of Juquila (For the record, Número Dos in popularity is Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos)
Our Lady of Juquila is not as easy to get to as La Guadalupana. Her sanctuary is in the mountains in a small town in the state of Oaxaca, Santa Catarina Juquila, that is only accessible by travelling a long distance over dangerous roads.
The diminutive Virgin (30 cm tall) came from Spain in the 16th century with a Dominican priest, Frey Juan Jordán de Santa Catarina, who was the first person to bring Christianity to the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca. He kept Her on his personal altar until he moved away in 1558. When he left, he gave Her to his indigenous house servant, a Christian convert from Amialtepec who had a great devotion to the Virgin. The servant kept Her on an altar in his hut and that's where She first began to perform miracles.
In 1633, the Church authorities took notice of this Virgin so well loved among the indigenous people and decided to build a church for Her so that they could they ensure that the image would be surrounded by a truly Christian cult and that the offerings people had been leaving to her would be used appropriately. The servant was at first opposed to this idea, but somehow he was persuaded to let the Virgin move out of his hut and into a formal sanctuary.
A few years later, a fire destroyed the village of Amialtepec including the church. The Virgin, however, was unharmed and the villagers found Her standing on Her sculpted agave plant, as She is still represented today. The fire stained her face dark as the color of the indigenous people.
Her miraculous survival made Her even more famous and a priest in the nearby town of Juquila, Fr. Jacinto Escudero, decided that the Virgin should be moved to his church. However, it seems that Our Lady wanted to stay with Her people in the mountains and so, the night after She had been brought to Juquila, She moved back to Amialtepec. The indigenous people were punished for stealing Her, She was brought back to Juquila and guarded day and night. Still, She escaped again and returned home. Even guards, chains and locks could not keep Her in Juquila. After the third escape, Escudero gave up...temporarily.
Escudero did not abandon his quest completely and appealed to the bishop of Oaxaca, who, in 1719 arranged once again for the Virgin's transfer from Amialtepec to Juquila. This time the image remained and gradually people accepted their Mother's new home. She appeased Her people by continuing to work miracles in both places.
To this day, pilgrims start at Amialtepec, which is 9 kilometers from Juquila. The next stop is the chapel of El Pedimento, a shrine high on a hill near the original site. The ground around El Pedimento is dense clay, which is considered sacred and is said to have healing properties. People use this clay to give shape to their requests, sculpting little clay houses, cars, body parts that need healing, whatever they are seeking. Then they lay their "request" at the feet of a large ceramic copy of the Virgin. On their return the following year they bring a cross with some type of sign on which they give thanks for the granting of last year's favor.
After El Pedimento, the pilgrims continue to Juquila. Many crawl the last two kilometers on rough stony roads, from the entry area to the actual statue, on their knees. Once at the foot of their Mother, many pilgrims make a promise, such as: "If you get me safely to the USA, I will come back here to give you thanks when I return to Mexico."
A final dimension to this popular devotion is that pilgrims must maintain chastity during the pilgrimage. A legend has it that one couple couldn't wait and stopped to make out in their car and were instantly turned to stone.
Finally, Our Lady of Juquila could be said to be the patron of economic justice. Part of the best known prayer to her reads: "care for the poor who have nothing and return the bread that has been taken from them".
ORACION A LA VIRGEN DE JUQUILA
Madre querida, Virgen de Juquila, virgen de nuestra esperanza, te pido perdón por mis pecados porque son muchas, tuya es nuestra vida, cuídanos de todo mal, si en este mundo de injusticias, de miseria y pecado ves que nuestra vida se turba, no nos abandones.
Madre querida, protege a los peregrinos, acompáñalos por todos los caminos, vela por los pobres sin sustento y el pan que les quitan retribúyeselos.
Acompáñenos en toda nuestra vida de pecado y libéranos de todo tipo de pecado. Amén
PRAYER TO THE VIRGIN OF JUQUILA
Beloved Mother, Virgin of Juquila, virgin of our hope, please forgive me my sins for they are many, yours is our life, deliver us from all evil, and if in this world of injustice, sin, and misery, you see that our life is disturbed, do not abandon us.
Beloved Mother, protect the pilgrims, be with them along every road, care for the poor who have nothing and return the bread that has been taken from them.
Accompany us throughout our sinful life and free us of all type of sin. Amen.