Tuesday, February 10, 2009


December 8, crowds gather inside and outside of the Basilica in anticipation of the appearance of the Virgin of Salud, the Virgin unique to Patzcuaro, Michoacan and responsible for a great deal of religious tourism The celebration coincides with the annual appearance of the fair, a collection of about 20 midway rides, games of chance, auctioneers flogging mounds of plastic household goods, and the aroma of many food stalls lining the streets. All of this is within a few yards of the Basilica, the site of the appearance. (In 2009 the feria was moved close to the edge of town.)

As the time passes those on the outside of the building stand on tiptoes, straining to see inside to determine if the Virgin has begun her slow walk among the crowds inside. Lovers press against the side of the Basilica, young granddaughter guide their grandmothers unaccustomed to the life of the city, fathers hoist their children to their shoulders, the screams of young girls and boys rise from the nearby rides and the relentless sound of explosions from the fireworks announcing the impending appearance of the Virgin fill the ears. The patience of the old mix with the exuberance of the young to create an atmosphere of anticipation. With some frequency eruptions of gunpowder drown out the noise from the secular fiesta surrounding the church. As if there is not entertainment enough, a twenty piece brass band plays in the corner of the courtyard and those so moved dance a few steps while their children run noisily and climb the bell tower of the church, shouting down their progress.

A sudden explosion of noisy fireworks rising over our heads signals that perhaps the time is near. Then, as if on cue, candles float from the Basilica followed by the Virgin being held aloft by ten believers and followed by a small coterie of priests in white. She makes her way slowly, the crowds gradually giving way to her movement and those close enough touch her garments; those gathered do not shout her name, but clap softly as she passes. The Virgin is about 500 hundred years old, made of cane paste with a technique used by the Tarascan peoples for many more years. She stands about 5 feet tall, a luxurious blue robe covering a long white dress; a crown depicts her status of Queen, an honour bestowed by the Pope about 100 years ago.

If you are lucky enough to be in Patzcuaro on the occasional year when the Virgin actually takes to the street, going much beyond the courtyard, you will experience two or three hours of religious fervour. Major streets are decorated in pine needles, rows of candles and then gladiolas are placed down the centre. The Virgin is preceded by constant fireworks and the procession is led by religious leaders, a small group of musicians. and a growing group of pilgrims. As She appears the gathered crowd cheers and shouts “long live the Queen of Mexico”, long live our heritage” and then some join the procession picking up the candles as they proceed. The procession visits the 5 or 6 churches in the historical centre where a series of prayers are made and a new group of believers takes on the task of carrying the prize. The procession returns to the Basilica making its way through the secular crowd and arriving to a great display of firework exploding over the church.

After this excitement one can just catch their breath before the festival of Guadalupe (that’s the other Virgin) on December 12.

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