During the war for Independence from Spain the insurgents from San Miguel chose the image of a Mexican Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe (that Fr. Hidalgo plucked from the church in Atotonilco) to show how God’s mother was on their side.
Did you know the Spanish had their own Spanish version of Mary supporting them too?
She was the Virgin of Help (Virgen de los Remedios) a clothes pin-sized image of Mary brought to Mexico by the conquistadors. This image is strongly linked with the Noche Triste or “Sad Night”. According to legend, one of Cortés’ soldiers, Gonzalo Rodríguez de Villafuerte, was carrying a small image of the Virgin Mary and hid her under one of the maguey plants in order to retrieve, and pay homage to her later, if he survived. Hence, she is the Virgin normally depicted atop a maguey plant.
But really the Virgin of Help’s origins go deeper to the Mesoamerican goddess, Mayahuel. Mayahuel escaped the heavens to be with the feathered serpent god on Earth and as a punishment was killed by her grandmother and guardian. Where she was buried produced the maguey plant, making her the goddess of the maguey.
During a later battle in the same area, the Spanish reported seeing a young girl among the magueys throwing dirt into the eyes of the Aztecs to help the Spanish. As such this image of the Virgin is considered to be a patroness to the Spanish and to the indigenous who adopted Spanish ways.
Her pilgrimage is extremely well attended (folks walking 5 or 6 across for as far as I could see all day long in either direction). Honestly I wondered if anyone was left in town!
The first part of the tour is getting to the little village of Puente de Calderon on the mountain top separating San Miguel from Comonfort. The walk took us about 4 hours with Red Cross and police escorts along the highway running past La Comer. Eventually we crossed over to the other side (that reads oddly) of the highway that provided more shade and cooling breezes as the cars fly by going the opposite direction.
Plus we got to visit two hot spots for witchcraft that I led a Witches and Crosses tour on the day before. Suffice to say they weren’t around for such a huge pilgrimage!
Once in Calderon this one lane town was abuzz with vendors selling food, clothes and beer.
From there the path became more rural and pretty, meandering another 5.5 hours into Comonfort and Mary’s namesake church.
I was interested in learning who all these people were on the pilgrimage and had plenty of time to chat folks up. They seem to fall in following categories.
- Truly Religious – These are the folks following the intent of the pilgrimage, to honor Mary by singing hymns, carrying images of Mary and banners. Some carried a life sized cross while walking barefoot (one was even carrying a baby too!). Unlike other pilgrimages around town, these folks were the minority.
- Traditionalists – These are the folks that simply do the pilgrimage yearly to enjoy a walk in the countryside with family and friends, doing a bit of eating and clothes shopping along the way. This year it fell on a Saturday so there was quite the crowd and most landed in this category.
- Looking for Love – These are the men and women looking hither and yon for love while sweating profusely. I’m always surprised how many young, single men go on pilgrimages forever reminding me my daughter is a fool to be floating like flotsam with on-line dating up North. She should come here and attend some pilgrimages to have her pick of men that, at the very least, are healthy and have an inner life.
- On a Date – These folks are obviously on a date reminding me of teaching English and learning how a teen student didn’t hesitate to ask a girl on pilgrimage or to mass for date. It shows he has said inner life and there was no shortage of lovebirds.
- Booze Hounds – These lads stumble from beer seller to beer seller offering their potions for as little as 10 pesos a can. I was baffled anyone would want to consume alcohol while walking for hours!
The pilgrimage from San Miguel to a church in Mary’s honor in Comonfort starts several days of celebrations including a ferris wheel! Pilgrims normally leave around 7AM and arrive around 3PM so it is one of less strenuous pilgrimages from town. The church in Comonfort sits alongside the railroad and is built upon an ancient step pyramid featuring an ornate altar with the small Mary front and center.
My advice if you go on a daytime pilgrimage like this is to arrange a ride home as the buses and taxis were full as far as the eye could see into the future.
Also cover yourself up and dress like a Victorian woman with the vapors as the sun seeps in everywhere. Wear a hooded shirt, wide brim hat and take an umbrella because for at least for half the hike I was mentally kicking my ancestors. Why they never left the Irish village to look for love and only cottoned to fellow pasty folks with bad teeth baffles me still. Luckily (?) alcoholism seems to be the only disease that runs rampant among those from a long line of intermarrying Gaelic vampires!
by Joseph Toone
Joseph Toone is the Historical Society’s short-story award winning author of the SMA Secrets book series. All books in the series are Amazon bestsellers in Mexican Travel and Holidays. Toone is SMA’s expert and TripAdvisor’s top ranked historical tour guide telling the stories behind what we do in today’s SMA. Visit HistoryAndCultureWalkingTours.com, and JosephTooneTours.com.
DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed hereby are those of the author and not necessarily those of the San Miguel Times.