The Virgin of Juquila,
In the state of Oaxaca, about 4 hours Southeast of Oaxaca City, 16th century, about 30 cm natural wood with burn marks from a fire.
There are several versions of the legend of this Dear Dark One. The most
common one claims that her first known owner was a Dominican priest called
Frey Juan Jordán de Santa Catarina. He was the first to bring Christianity
to the state of Oaxaca. Some say he brought this statue from the Philippines,
which would explain the oriental hair do under her wig. He kept this little
figure on his personal altar until he moved on to another area in 1558.
The monk had an indigenous house servant who was from Amialtepec and who
had a great love for this Morenita. Upon his departure the priest gave
the Madonna to his faithful, young servant. The humble peasant kept her
on an altar in his hut and that's where she first began to perform miracles.
With that her fame quickly spread.
Now every winter the locals would burn their fields in preparation for
spring sowing. One year a great wind suddenly whipped the fire out of
control and it consumed the whole village, including the church. The villagers
barely got away with their lives. When they returned to see if the fire
had spared anything, they found the only surviving object in the church
and the village was the Most Pure Virgin standing on her sculpted agave
plant, on which she still abides today. The fire stained her face dark,
owning her the title Morenita.
Because of the violent and stubborn way in which Jacinto Escudero had
handled the whole situation he was transferred to Guadalajara. Unfortunately,
after a while he forgot the powerful signs the Virgin had worked in order
to make her will known. In his conceit he pitted the Church against the
Queen of Heaven, asking the bishop of Oaxaca to move Our Lady back to
Juquila. And so in 1719 the bishop talked to the people of Amialtepec
until they finally gave into his insisting request. They expected their
Mother to miraculously return to them a fourth time and as often as was
needed, even if they allowed her to be brought to Juquila. In order to
show their good will they even participated in a great, solemn procession
escorting her with much pomp.
This is what they do to this day: For the thousands of pilgrims who come
to Juquila every week their visit starts in Amialtepec, 9 kilometers before
Juquila. There they go to the chapel of 'El Pedimento' (the request),
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 in various ways. Some rub their faces
with it, some eat it, but most use it to give shape to their requests.
As God created the earthling (Adam) out of clay so the children of God
co-create their dreams. They sculpt little clay houses, cars, farm animals,
food, husbands, body parts that need healing, anything they want…. Then
they attach a message addressed to the Virgin and lay their "request"
at the feet of a large ceramic copy of the Black Madonna. 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.
Having finished at El Pedimento, the pilgrims continue to Juquila. Many crawl the last two kilometers, from the entry area to the actual statue, on their knees. They make their way along a dirt road that leaves their knees bloody upon arrival. Once at the feet of their Mother, many pilgrims make a promise (a promesa), something like: "If you get me safely to the USA I will come back here to give you thanks when I return to Mexico." Or: "If you grant me a child I will make this pilgrimage three more times in my life."
Many stories testify to this Dark Mother's willingness to help her children. She is credited with curing the ill, raising dead babies back to life, granting sudden wealth, etc. But there is a price. You have to keep your promise and you have to observe chastity during the pilgrimage. One story tells of "a lusty, overeager couple who stopped by the roadside to engage in some hanky-panky and presto, were changed to stone. To this day, it is said, they are stuck there, somewhere off in the mountains, belly-to-belly."(1)
The feast day of the Morenita of Juquila is December 8th. On any given day "you'll pass hundreds of pilgrims on foot and bicycle, some camping out for days, even months. You'll wend among truckloads of the faithful packed under tarp-covered pickups, forming a kind of modern-day wagon train."(2) On her special day the roads become particularly jammed. The occasion is celebrated with a fair, fireworks, sporting events, indigenous and contemporary dances.