Archive for the ‘Guadalupe’ Category

Back to Guadalupe – Miraculous Preservation?

July 2, 2009

Mr. Bellisario has started a new podcast, the “Catholic Champion Podcast” (link to episode 1). In this podcast he complains about a lot of things. He complains about me calling his idol “an idol.” He complains about me calling the worship of the idol “worship.” He complains about me “mocking” his idol and idolatry. His biggest complaint, though, seems to be that I pointed out how minor and honest the mistake was. He doesn’t like my suggestion that he deal with the main issues. So be it.

Let’s get back to a more significant issue: the superstition surrounding this idol. This superstition demonstrates the fact that the image allegedly of Mary is an idol. One example of the gross superstition surrounding this idol is seen in the following paragraph from an apparently popular website devoted to “Our Lady of Guadalupe”:

After complying to the Bishop’s request for a sign, She also left for us an image of herself imprinted miraculously on the native’s tilma, a poor quality cactus-cloth, which should have deteriorated in 20 years but shows no sign of decay 477 years later and still defies all scientific explanations of its origin.


If you look at the image provided on that web site, you might be impressed by the apparent high quality of the preservation (link to image). It looks great. The problem is, that’s not the actual image. The actual image has undergone deterioration over the years.

Here (at this link) is an attested faithful reproduction of the image (although one should note that the horizontal mid-line of the reproduction does not appear to have any correspondence in the original). As you can see from the reproduction, there is some real loss of quality in the image. First, there is the most noticeable deterioration along the center of the image. This is due to the fact that the image was painted on a medium made up of two parts, joined along that center line. That’s a very natural place for the image to undergo deterioration and damage, just as the edges would be if the image were painted to the edges.

Next, two significant horizontal lines are visible passing just under Mary’s hands, and then a second symmetrical pair of lines running approximately through where her knees would be. Given the symmetrical nature of the damage, one is inclined to attribute this to damage from folding the image at some point in the past.

Further, in the upper right corner there is a large stain that appears to be some kind of water damage. A more severe stain appears in the extreme bottom right of the image.

Moving from the blank space of the image inward, consider the outer edge of the corona that surrounds Mary, just beyond the rays that extend from her. The quality of this corona seems to be seriously degraded, particularly at the points where the horizontal fold lines pass through it, but also at other points along the edge of this ring.

Moving inward again, and considering the rays, we see that there is serious loss of paint in many of the rays. This is more pronounced on the right side of the image, although the the sixth ray above the mid-line of the image on the left side appears to have lost paint along about 60% of its length.

We similar asymmetrical loss of paint in the crescent moon under Mary’s feet. The right hand side of the moon is slightly more deteriorated.

Moving still further inward, consider Mary’s cloak. This cloak originally was covered with stars. These stars appear to have either oxidized or faded in an uneven way such that some of them are quite dark whereas others appear to have a brighter appearance.

Hopefully the above serve to illustrate the general point. Now, of course, some of those problems identified above may only be germane to the reproduction, so it is worthwhile pointing out another reproduction (link). This reproduction shows less deterioration, but some of the same major elements, including the stain in the upper right (less pronounced), the vertical line through the painting center, the horizontal lines (less pronounced), and the loss of paint in the rays and moon. The corona looks much better in this reproduction, but there is still deterioration visible.

High quality photos of the original at the present time seem to be hard to find. Many are from a bad angle (example) or seem to have some focus issues (example) or exposure issues (example). Still, these photographs confirm that the main areas of deterioration identified above are in the painting that is being displayed as the image of “Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

So, what is left of the claim of miraculous preservation? Well, someone might claim that this is pretty good preservation for a nearly 500 year old painting, especially considering what it has seen over the years (allegedly, a bomb was exploded nearby the image on November 14, 1921. However, since 1993, the image joined the pope in being protected by bullet-proof glass, presumably out of a concern for the idol’s safety just as the pope’s safety became a concern). Nevertheless, the plain fact is that while there is still a visible image, it has deteriorated over the years. The claims to the contrary are just superstition – superstition that is contradicted by the photographic evidence.


UPDATE: Let me anticipate a quibble. The quibble is that the paint may have decayed, but the medium on which it is painted has not. It should be obvious that the superstition is about the image as a whole, but in case the quotation above wasn’t clear enough:

“The colors have not faded and the cloth has not deteriorated.” (source)

“The tilma remains just as vibrant as ever, having never faded.” (source)

“The image of Mary emblazoned on Juan Diego’s tilma has not faded in nearly five hundred years, nor has the fragile ayate fabric deteriorated … .” (source)

“There were no signs of cracking or fading on the original image.” (claiming as well that “The face, robe, and mantle of the Virgin are declared inexplicable by science. The sunburst, tassels, cuff, moon, gold border of the mantle, stars, and brooch were touched up with paint by Fray Miguel Sanchez trying to enhance the image. Those overlays are showing significant cracking while the original is in perfect condition.”) (source)

“It is remarkable that after more than four centuries there is no fading or cracking of the original figure on any portion of the agave tilma, which—being unsized—should have deteriorated centuries ago.” (makes similar, though more nuanced, claim regarding human additions to the image) (source)

Thanks to Bellisario and a Suggestion or Two

July 1, 2009

Yesterday, Mr. Bellisario attempted to correct what he perceived to be a factual error in my previous post (link to Bellisario)(link to previous post). I appreciate the correction, and have updated my post.

There were a few main points to my post, but Mr. Bellisario happened to notice an issue with respect to a minor parenthetical remark regarding the idol whose worship played a prominent role in the article. Now, I appreciate that Mr. Bellisario carefully reads the articles presented here, just as I’m glad he listens carefully to Dr. White’s Sunday School lessons, but I’d like to encourage him to focus a little more on the main points. If, for example, Mr. Bellisario spent less time worrying about what images are supposed to represent (just as I should spend a bit more on that) and how many Roman Catholics served in the German army, and more time worrying about correctly interpreting Scripture and keeping himself from idols, he’d probably benefit spiritually.

This is not to take away from the importance of my getting the details and nuances correct too. Surely, it is wrong of me to distract attentive readers such as Mr. Bellisario from the main point by providing some minor, even trivial, error with respect to a very tangential point. I need to honor him by presenting him only with the most accurate information that I can.

Nevertheless, on this minor point, I’d like to encourage Mr. Bellisario to think a bit more deeply. I don’t say this to suggest that he change his mind, but simply so that he can perhaps get more out of this than he has already. So, a few thoughts:

1) How Does One Correctly Interpret This Idol?

a) Idol-Fashioner’s Intent

Usually, the best way to interpret a particular idol is to look to the intent of the maker. In the case of the more magnificent Renaissance-era idols, the artisan (whether painter or sculptor) left some clear indication of what was intended. Thus, in Raphael’s “Madonna and Child” we are informed by the painter (at least, that’s my recollection, I haven’t documented this) that the subject of the painting is supposed to Mary and Jesus as a child (link – warning, child appears to be naked). In this particular instance, if it were not for Raphael’s indication that this is supposed to be Mary and Jesus, we might think it could be any woman and her naked baby. The artist has informed us who he was painting and that helps us recognize his subject.

This is, by far, the most usual way to understand idols. But sometimes the one who fashioned the idols is unavailable. This is allegedly the case with respect to the “Our Lady of Guadalupe” idol, since the image is alleged to have miraculously appeared, much – one imagines – like the way that the golden calf came out of the fire – Exodus 32:24 And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.). How do we understand the image then?

b) Contextual

Sometimes the context can provide clues. For example, the following “woman and child” sculpture is of Roman origin (link to image). Could this be intended to be Mary and Jesus? That was probably not the sculptor’s intent, and we would want to look to contextual clues to ensure us that this is the case. Of course, if we’re very lucky, the sculptor places a legend on his work, or we find some other clues that lead us to his intent.

Here’s a more interesting example (link). This looks rather a lot like this image (link). If we had found the former statue in an appropriate context (late medieval Spain, for example) we might have thought it was supposed to be a statue of “Mary, Queen of Heaven” but instead, since this statue is dated to about 450 B.C., the statue is more likely to be that of a pagan goddess or queen.

Likewise, this idol of Isis breast-feeding Horus (link – Raphael-esque infant and breastfeeding) is similar in many ways to the collection of Renaissance-era paintings here (link – same warnings). However, the former is plainly too old to be intended as a sort of Egyptianized Madonna with child, while the latter collection can be contextually identified as idols of Mary and Jesus – and if we saw any other Renaissance-era paintings of a woman breast-feeding her child, given the cultural context, our first thought would probably be that the painting is intended to depict Mary and Jesus.

2) Application to the Guadalupean Idol

This idol allegedly appeared miraculously. Thus, there is no artist who could have told people what the painting was supposed to represent. Personally, I don’t believe this story, though. That doesn’t actually directly impact things, because whoever the artist was, he’s keeping silence about his work.

In theory, the woman in the picture could be any woman. But to view the woman as someone other than Mary requires us to ignore the context of to whom this idol allegedly came. It came to a Roman Catholic – someone in a religion filled with idols of Mary, including icons in which Mary looks something a bit like the woman in this idol.

If an idol of a woman were going to come to a Roman Catholic, it would almost certainly be an idol of Mary, not of some other woman. Additionally, this woman has a crown on (Thanks to Alex’s attention it’s worth pointing out that Mary’s crown is in many reproductions of the idol, but is not clearly visible in the idol as it presently stands. In fact, it looks like if there ever was a crown, it has been painted over. This nuance subtracts from our associating this with Mary, but still it seems likely to be intended to be her.), which is something most usually found of Mary (as opposed to other women) in Roman Catholic idolatry. Additionally, having a woman standing on a crescent moon seems to be a popular way to depict Mary either as Queen of Heaven (link) or during her Assumption (linklink). In fact, the assumption images have a lot of similarities to the Guadalupean one (some of them, of course, were painted later and so could have been influenced by that of Guadalupe).

So, despite the absence of any authorial clues, we can be pretty sure about the main subject of the idol. The main subject is supposed to be Mary. Quite possibly, the image was intended to be an image of the assumption and the little fellow at the bottom of the image is supposed to be an angel that is carrying Mary up into heaven. That’s sort of a best guess based on assuming (no pun intended) that the artist of the cloak modeled it after the European idolatry that is comparable.

When I first saw the Guadalupean image, I got the sense that the artist was trying to follow something along the lines of the following (link to image of Mary with crown and Jesus playing at her feet). If that were the case, the little fellow at Mary’s feet would more likely be some sort of representation of Jesus. If, however, the image is intended to fall in the Assumption or Queen of Heaven genre, then it would seem more likely that the little fellow is supposed to be an angel.

Another indication that this is supposed to be an angel are the wings. Although winged images of Jesus are not unheard-of (link to example), they seem to be fairly rare.

Another reason to suppose an angel is the location of the little guy. The guy is at the bottom of the image, directly under Mary’s feet. Although angels are in reality higher in dignity than any mere human (including Mary), in Roman Catholic idolatry they are very often depicted below her, both in several of the examples above as well as in this famous work (link). Here’s another example of a little cherub holding up the hem of Mary’s garment (link).

One of the facts that weigh against the person being an angel is that his back is towards Mary, whereas usually in Roman Catholic idolatry one expects to see angels looking adoringly at Mary. However, in some Roman Catholic idols, the representation of Jesus can back towards Mary (example of both aspects). Nevertheless, although angels tend to gaze adoringly at Mary, perhaps it would be an inappropriately-angled gaze from that particular position. Furthermore, such an illustration is not unprecedented (see this example of the “Mary Queen of All Saints” idol).

If this were an image of divine and not merely human origin, we would see no need to presume that the painter was building on pre-existing themes, and we would not assume that homologous design elements were intended to convey the same meanings or symbolism. Nevertheless, since this work is (fairly obviously, despite numerous pious papist protests to the contrary) a human composition and the composition of a Roman Catholic in particular (and not of a 5th century BC Egyptian or 2nd Century pagan Roman), we tend to use that context and presume that its visually similar themes are, in fact, derived from earlier European idols.

As such, my best guess at this point as to the derivation of the work is that it is a painting based on Albrecht Duhrer’s “Madonna in Heaven” (link) together with one or more similar portrayals (for example, the angel could be related to this one). If the “angel” at the bottom is not Jesus, then Jesus has been removed from the image. So, while I’m not claiming to have the final word on this, my best guess is that the little winged guy at the bottom of the image is really supposed to be some variety of angel and not, as I had originally suggested, Jesus. Instead, he’s entirely missing from the picture unless, of course, one sees Mary as pregnant in the picture, a hypothesis that seems popular on the Internet.


It would be handy to be more familiar with Rome’s idolatry in order to avoid distracting folks like Mr. Bellisario from the rather clear problem that this is, in fact, idolatry through making mistakes over a rather minor graphical element of the idol. One would hope that Mr. Bellisario would then not miss the parallels between Diana of the Ephesians and the Virgin of the Mexicans. I need to try to be careful as well that this post avoid similar minor errors lest it distract Mr. Bellisario (or folks like him) from the parallel between Aaron’s calf and this painting.


Catholicism in Mexico Survives Only as a Cult?

June 28, 2009

I should point out a caveat about articles on religion in the popular media. I’ve noticed, from time to time, that not every article on religion is highly accurate. The following article, to which I was somewhat recently directed, provides an example with the headline: “Catholicism in Mexico Survives Only as a Cult, Priest Claims.” This headline was, as far as I can tell, due to the failure of the editor to understand that the “cult of Mary” is the worship of Mary (hyper-dulia, to be specific in Roman Catholic terms) and not “a cult” in the sense that we use that term in English.

I understand how the editor might be confused. The worship of Mary in Catholicism in most English-speaking countries is downplayed significantly – seemingly to lure Protestants. The result is that some lay apologists seem unaware of the difference between worship (cultus or as we would tend to describe it, “religious veneration”) and the sort of everyday respect we have for one another (“secular veneration” might be a way to distinguish it from the religious veneration discussed above).

And I know – I know – Roman Catholics in English-speaking countries are quick to say, “We don’t worship Mary,” by which they mean that they don’t worship Mary as God. That’s all very nice, but check out the photo of the church that accompanied this horribly badly headlined article (link to articledirect link to photoanother view of idola third viewa fourth view).

The choice of idols for this particular church shows a distinct emphasis – and that emphasis is on Mary. Of course, one’s idols may be an inaccurate guide as to one’s interest, but the idols in this particular church suggest that the reverence for Mary is primary, despite her never being called “God.” One also sees the same thing in the shocked looks that were given when the American Secretary of State asked the absurd question, “Who painted this?” (link to photo of event)

Of course, this just showed Mrs. Clinton’s ignorance of the local superstitions:

In 1531 a “Lady from Heaven” appeared to a humble Native American at Tepeyac, a hill northwest of what is now Mexico City.
She identified herself as the ever virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of heaven and the earth.
She made a request for a church to be built on the site, and submitted her wish to the local Bishop. When the Bishop hesitated, and requested her for a sign, the Mother of God obeyed without delay or question to the Church’s local Bishop, and sent her native messenger to the top of the hill in mid-December to gather an assorment [sic – assortment, I think, is meant] of roses for the Bishop.
After complying to the Bishop’s request for a sign, She also left for us an image of herself imprinted miraculously on the native’s tilma, a poor quality cactus-cloth, which should have deteriorated in 20 years but shows no sign of decay 477 years later and still defies all scientific explanations of its origin.

(source – as you’ll see in the clearer image there, Jesus isn’t completely missing, he’s just hiding down at the bottom of the picture – direct link to picture – UPDATE: Someone complained to me that the guy at the bottom of the picture is not supposed to be Jesus but Juan Diego (technically he just complained that it wasn’t supposed to be Jesus). Although there is no heaven-fallen-down guidebook for the idol, that seems to be reasonable – and my comment was in error – Jesus is entirely left out of the picture – although some have argued that Mary is supposed to be pregnant in the picture, in which case Jesus is sort of present as a baby bulge. FURTHER UPDATE – see below)

If this reminds you of Scripture – it should:

Acts 19:23-41

And the same time there arose no small stir about that way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana, brought no small gain unto the craftsmen; whom he called together with the workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth. Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands: so that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth. [Note that Paul was not preaching that instead of Diana, statues of Mary should be made – a natural response if the Apostolic church were idolatrous.]
And when they heard these sayings, they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians. And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul’s companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre.
And when Paul would have entered in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not. And certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto him, desiring him that he would not adventure himself into the theatre.
Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together. And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would have made his defence unto the people.
But when they knew that he was a Jew [this was significant, because people knew that Jews did not have idols], all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.
And when the townclerk had appeased the people, he said, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter? [Note that the Ephesians distinguished between Diana and Jupiter.] Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against, ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly. For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess. Wherefore if Demetrius, and the craftsmen which are with him, have a matter against any man, the law is open, and there are deputies: let them implead one another. But if ye enquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly. For we are in danger to be called in question for this day’s uproar, there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse. And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly.

So, yes – Catholicism survives in Mexico as (to a large extent) the cult of Mary – as the veneration of an image that (like the image of Diana) is alleged to be of miraculous origin. It would be unfair to suggest that there is nothing more to it than that, but it is a significant aspect – despite the journalistic confusion such comments can create.


FURTHER UPDATE: Mr. Bellisario, seemingly unaware of the first update above (or perhaps he posted it before the update? Who knows!) has also complained that according to the divinely inspired legend that he obtained (from a Geocities web page that was so scholarly that it wasn’t sure of the correct spelling of Mayan) the dude at the bottom of the idols is an angel (though no mention is made that this is supposed to be an angelic representation Juan Diego).

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