If you live here in Mexico and don’t study the culture or experience first-hand this ancient and mysterious country, you are missing the richness that surrounds you daily. It is one thing to go on an air-conditioned bus with a guide, yet quite another to accompany a Mexican friend, willing to share information about his life, family and childhood experiences. I am blessed with a whole group of Mexican amigos who love to teach and learn.
Yesterday was a Good Friday I will never forget. José, affectionately known to us as “Chicken Joe”, invited me to join him in a pilgrimage to the town of Talpa to visit the Virgin. The bad news was the town was 3 hours away through the mountains, which meant we would be leaving at 6am. The good news was that we would be in a car, instead of hiking as is the custom. “Some even walk there with cactus needles in their bodies, bleeding!” Joe said. Suddenly, getting up at 5:00 am seemed like a breeze.
Off we went. Joe later told me that some people also travel there by bus and sing songs of praise to and from the church. He says that this is most uplifting and just plain fun.
The closer we got to the town, increasing numbers of walking believers appeared on the road, some alone, others in groups. Along the way, there were many makeshift restaurants covered with leaves for shade, where pilgrims could eat and drink. We northerners think we invented free enterprise. All a Mexican needs to be in business is a creative imagination, something to sell and 5 minutes to set it up. I hope the day never comes when their government, like ours, steps in and starts regulating and taxing these family businesses to death. Somehow, I don’t think the Mexican spirit would allow it.
In Talpa de Allende, thousands milled in the square, merchants forming what seemed like the entire town into one huge market. Two local offerings predominated, a special soft candy and sundry artifacts like tiny equipale furniture and baby sandals made out of bubble gum. Everyone carried a walking-stick crafted of bamboo with handles hand carved into the head of some unidentifiable animal.
The highlight of the day was standing in the long line of devotees waiting to catch a glimpse of the Virgin “Rosario of Talpa”, who had been placed with reverence in a sanctuary off the main church. Her usual resting place is on the alter of the basilica, but seeing this was the “festival,” she was located where the pilgrims could be closer to her, although there were iron bars protecting the display. What overwhelmed me was the great belief and devotion shown the Virgin. Some approached on their knees, all prayed to her. An older women, standing beside me serenaded her in the sweetest singing voice. She sounded like an angel. The festivities begin every year on March 24th to commemorate the day the Virgin was unearthed. The fiesta continues for 3 months, till May. Thousands, upon thousands of religious souls make this pilgrimage annually; sometimes it involves saving pennies all year long.
Joe told me the story of the legend of Rosario. It goes something like this:
The statue of the Virgin was discovered underground in a small chapel (we also visited here and saw the actual hole in the floor and the room where she was reassembled and decorated). The date was March 24th, 1644. At that time, she was restored and taken to the church of a distant town. The next morning, the Virgin was back in Talpa. The people were awed; it was humanly impossible that someone could have taken her that far overnight. The faithful saw this as a miracle and claimed she must be alive. The priest took a hot object and put it to her face and there appeared a human-like scar. Still the burn mark is on her face. In appearance, Rosario is dressed somewhat like the Virgin of Zapopan, but she is dressed in blue and carries an infant in her arms.
Over the years, there have been many miraculous healings that have taken place on and about these pilgrimages. Letters and cards bearing witness and giving thanks to the Virgin are left in a room set aside for that purpose. Sure wish I could read Spanish, but I could make out one paper that said “gracias por mis ojos” Thank you for my eyes. I paid my respects, feeling quite guilty about taking the Virgin’s photo, but I wanted to share this experience with you. When I arrived home and opened my camera, it was empty, no film. Luckily Joe and I bought the postcards you see on this page.
If ever you have an opportunity to go to an event such as this, or any other Mexican traditional happening, don’t miss it … you will be richer for the experience, I promise.
This article appears courtesy of the Chapala Review, a monthly Newspaper published in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico. The focus is the Lake Chapala area. The goal is to provide quality information about the area, its stories, events, history, culture and people.