Evelyn Waugh and Our Lady of Guadalupe

An article posted in the Burkean Journal (produced by students of Trinity College Dublin) describes the importance of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Mexicans and to the history of Mexico. The article uses as its context the painting by Marxist artist Diego Rivera, The History of Mexico, in which the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appears near that of atheist Karl Marx. The article by James Bradshaw explains that the image has also taken on political implications because it is based on the appearance of the Virgin Mary to one of the indigenous Mexican peasants at a time when they were treated as less than human by some Spaniards who enslaved many of them. The miracle was taken by the Church as confirmation of the indigenous people’s innate humanity and provided a pretext for expansion of the Church’s conversion efforts among them. The spot of the appearance is marked by a Basilica in the northern parts of Mexico City:

While Our Lady of Guadalupe is enormously popular in Mexico, the image – being inextricably linked to Catholicism – is not universally loved. The struggle between the religious and the irreligious has been one of the key conflicts in Mexican history, one which Diego Rivera went to great lengths to illustrate.

During the 1920s, the Catholic Church was viciously persecuted by the leftist victors of the Mexican Revolution. Priests were shot, churches were burned and in some regions of the country the practice of Catholicism was outlawed completely. In this environment, many feared for the survival of the tilma. Indeed, in his book about Mexico of the 1930s, Evelyn Waugh writes of how during the fiercest persecutions, the Indians guarded the Basilica at Guadalupe day and night, for fear that anti-clerical forces would attempt to rid Mexico of the tilma once and for all.

The “tilma” was the cloth on which the image of the virgin was miraculously imprinted at the time of her appearance and seems to have become an object of religious veneration. Waugh’s descriptions of the history of Our Lady of Guadalupe are contained in his 1939 book Robbery Under Law.

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