While the rest of the country celebrates Dia de la Raza (Columbus Day) on Thursday, October 12, here in Guadalajara the Italian sailor who stumbled across a continent and its people 525 years ago gets trumped by Tapatios’ very own miracle worker.
Known as the Romeria, Latin America’s largest religious procession honors the revered Virgin of Zapopan (a tiny corn husk statue of t
he Virgin Mary), who is preceded by hundreds of groups, including charros, honor guards from numerous Roman Catholic organizations, native dancers in native costume, choirs and marching bands. All will lead the iconic figure with dance and music to its ancestral home in the Basilica of Zapopan.
Throughout most of the year, the statue occupies a place of honor above the altar of the Zapopan Basilica. But in June she begins a four-month sojourn throughout the parish headquarter churches of Jalisco, offering the devout a chance to directly display their faith to the Virgin, pray in her presence and ask her for favors.
Legend has it that in the 17th century, Padre Antonio de Segovia carried a cornhusk doll representation of the Virgin Mary in a case hung around his neck. Local Indians came to believe the doll had metaphysical powers, which perhaps explains why historical accounts tell us that they surrendered to the Spaniards during a critical battle when they saw Father Segovia atop a hill with the image around his neck. Since then, the lore of miracles surrounding the Virgin of Zapopan has grown to include saving lives during a plague in 1734, keeping blood from being shed during the war of Independence in 1821 (after which the Virgin also took on the name “La Generala”), saving Guadalajara from floods in 1909, and raising the water level of Lake Chapala in 1956 after ten years of drought.
Thursday’s four-hour procession starts outside the city Cathedral around 7 a.m., after a 5 a.m. mass. Due to ongoing work on the third Tren Ligero line, this year’s route runs via Hidalgo, Liceo and Juarez-Vallarta to Avenida Americas for the long stretch up to the Zapopan Basilica. Huge crowds will swamp the Andador 20 de Noviembre and the Plaza de las Americas facing the Basilica as the diminutive Virgin decked out in a splashy bejeweled coat makes her final push to her ancestral home. Many of the dancers will continue their exertions in the plaza for several more hours.
Although it means getting up at the crack of dawn, this is truly one of the most memorable religious processions that you will ever experience, regardless of your beliefs.