La Virgen De Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas

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New special exhibition at The Houston Museum of Natural Science reveals the origins of the Empress of the Americas

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"Regardless of your personal take on this story, we invite visitors to the exhibition to consider the history and reality surrounding the apparition of The Virgin of Guadalupe,” said Dirk Van Tuerenhout, Curator of Anthropology

The Virgin of Guadalupe has been a symbol of hope, protection and comfort to her followers for almost 500 years, but why? What is it about her that has inspired millions throughout the Americas? Trace the story back to its origin in a special exhibition developed by the Houston Museum of Natural Science in collaboration with The Basilica de Guadalupe, La Virgin De Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas, opening Dec. 11.

For some, the Virgin’s appearance is the absolute, incontrovertible truth and a matter of faith. For others, her iconography is a powerful rallying point for a common cultural identity.

For still others, hers is an epic tale representing the apocalyptic clash of two worlds and the resulting germination and flourishing of a new civilization, like the rebirth of a forest after its cataclysmic destruction.

“Regardless of your personal take on this story, we invite visitors to the exhibition to consider the history and reality surrounding the apparition of The Virgin of Guadalupe,” said Dirk Van Tuerenhout, Curator of Anthropology at HMNS. “She is in both image and name the patroness of hundreds of millions of people who call her their mother, who call her their queen. She is The Virgin of Guadalupe, the Empress of the Americas.”

The exhibition begins in 8th-century Spain and ends in the Americas of the 21st-century. In between is a long, complex and fascinating story of deep faith, conquest and conversion, and the development of contemporary expressions of devotion to the Virgin.

The story starts in the Iberian Peninsula, at a time when Muslim forces have overrun most of the territory. Over the next eight centuries, Catholic kings ruling the northern edges of the Peninsula fight to reconquer these lost lands. During this epic struggle, in the early 14th century, a new empire rises in Central Mexico, that of the Mexica, better known as the Aztecs. In 1519, when conquistadors invade the New World, these two cultures meet and are forever changed.

According to deeply held beliefs, during the later years of Aztec history, a humble individual by the name of Juan Diego was born. In the year 1531, the Virgin of Guadalupe revealed herself to him. This meeting, and the subsequent decision to build a chapel on the spot where this event occurred, had far-ranging effects on the history of this part of the world. Over the next three centuries, the Virgin of Guadalupe grew ever more popular, gaining numbers of adherents as well as influence. At the dawn of the modern age, with independence looming on the horizon for many Latin American countries, the Virgin’s role transcended that of pure religion and extended into the political realm. The exhibition closes with a display of contemporary devotions to the Virgin and the story of the canonization of Juan Diego by Pope John Paul II.

Exhibition highlights include:

  • An authorized reproduction of the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, displayed in a contemplative setting. (The original tilma image never leaves the Basílica in Mexico City).
  • The original manuscript known as Nican Mopohua, an Aztec-language document in which the Guadalupan Apparition is recounted. Dating to the 16th century, this manuscript is part of the collections of the New York Public Library, and rarely travels.
  • One of the first books printed in Mexico. Pedro de Gante, Doctrina Christiana (1553). On Loan from the Benson Library at The University of Texas at Austin.
  • An interactive version of the oldest known map of Mexico City (1550).
  • An 18th-century painting of the Virgin, said to have touched the original image in the Basílica. (This made the later, man-made painting more important).
  • Expressions of modern devotion to the Virgin.

La Virgin De Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas opens Dec. 11, 2015 (the day before the Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe), and runs through Sept. 5, 2016. Translation services generously supported by Trini and O. C. Mendenhall Foundation. For tickets or more information, visit http://www.hmns.org or call (713) 639-4629.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science—one of the nation’s most heavily attended museums—is a centerpiece of the Houston Museum District. With four floors of permanent exhibit halls and the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre, Cockrell Butterfly Center, Burke Baker Planetarium and George Observatory, and as host to world-class and ever-changing touring exhibitions, the museum has something to delight every age group. With such diverse and extraordinary offerings, a trip to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, located at 5555 Hermann Park Drive in the heart of the Museum District, is always an adventure.

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