Sunday, 31 May 2009

What not to wear?

Last week, I walked past a shop selling dresses decorated with Our Lady of Guadalupe. Of course I went in to look but discovered that said dress was made for someone much shorter and slimmer than me and also, by chance, cost the entire current contents of my bank account. You may now be wondering whether Women's Guild, after not posting in three weeks, has degenerated into a blog devoted to shopping, fashion and crash dieting. Fear not.

There really is a serious point to this -I wondered, if I were to buy the dress, how would other people look at me wearing it? In church? In the pub? On the night bus home eating a bag of chips? Would they think it was disrespectful, or that I didn't know what the image was, or that I was another of those nutters (see previous post) ? Or would they view it as an act of Christian witness or ask me what it was all about?

Clothing is often so much more than a few pretty things to wear, as the iconography of Our Lady of Guadalupe shows. It is important to bear in mind her status as the most important Mexican religious and cultural symbol, from her apparition to an indigenous Mexican, Juan Diego, during a period of conversion to Christianity from the Aztec religion, to her role as a symbol of national unity during the War of Independence.

Sun and moon: as in Revelation 12:1, "arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars". However in this case the stars are on the cloak and there are far more than twelve. Another interpretation is of an image of triumph over the Aztec sun and moon deities -in fact the little squashed figure underneath may be a winged moon god.

Cloak: Blue and green were Aztec colours of divinity. I have seen detailed argument that the arrangement of stars is that which appeared in the night sky on the date of the apparition, although to my untrained eye they do seem quite regularly spaced.

Dress: Rose coloured, as one might expect given that the apparition story involves the production of Castilian roses from a Mexican hill. Interpretations of the pattern range from more roses, to a contour map of Mexico.

Belt: A black belt was an Aztec symbol of pregnancy.

Brooch: On the original icon, and some detailed reproductions, it is possible to see a cross shaped brooch at her neck. Despite the indigenous influences, she is definitely a Christian figure.

So, the clothing of one relatively simple and well known image of Our Lady can lead to many interesting discoveries -more of her political and social implications as a Mexican national symbol are discussed in this essay.

Here's an attempt at a representation. Some of the important features can be seen, but I know that constellations, contour outlines of Mexico and winged moon gods are certainly far beyond the skill of the embroiderer!


  1. speaking what to wear, i put out some optional mantillas at the back of church on sunday for the ladies to wear during Mass, but not a single person soon up the opportunity. how can I encourage headcovering in my church, or indeed should I even bother?

  2. Did any of the ladies comment on this pile of black lace?!

    Apparently, we've a post on headcovering in the pipeline so hopefully your questions will be answered soon

    Although, as covering in church is not something I do all the time, I may not be qualified to comment, it seems important that it is a woman's personal decision. Certainly, if when I first started going to church regularly, I'd been presented with a mantilla at the door or felt under pressure to wear one, I wouldn't have gone back. But I have gradually become more sympathetic to the idea and have even been known to wear one now and again and that's because I've never felt under any compulsion to do so, despite having several friends who wear them most of the time.

    Perhaps the solution is just letting people know that it is an option and something you're happy to talk about with them if they want information and then to let them come to their own decision

  3. Thanks for that, looking forward to the post!