The Virgin’s Blue Balls
Our Lady of the Pueblito (little town) is one of numerous manifestations of Mary found in town but no other has traveled so far (time and distance) to be embraced locally with such enthusiasm in the spiritual conquest of Mexico.
The image we see today started off as an image of the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception is an image of Mary focusing on her conception free of sin so she could later become Jesus’ mother. The Immaculate Conception is what the cloistered nuns in town are dedicated to at their namesake temple.
The image was a 17th century oil sketch by Peter Paul Rubens featuring St. Francis as Atlas with three blue balls representing globes to signify Spain was in charge in the past, New World and heavenly world. Beside him are Franciscan friars and Spanish royals, both living and dead. One part has the demon of Heresy being pushed into the mouth of Hell. Another area features a chariot carrying the four virtues – Justice, Prudence, Fortitude and Temperance. You may recognize them from many a church dome here in town. Combined with Faith, Hope and Love they form the seven virtues, or the counterparts to the seven deadly sins.
Soon the image traveled over to the New World colony of Mexico with some alterations. The royals, chariots, virtues and alike were all dropped. Added in their place was an image of child Jesus, featured beside St. Francis.
Local veneration for this figure arose in 1632 after Franciscan missionaries set a carved image of the Virgin inside a pyramid’s temple used by the indigenous of Querétaro. Over time, the image inspired numerous conversions and the sanctuary became a popular pilgrimage site as shown in this 1763 map.
By the onset of the War of Independence the image had a resurgence as Otomies, indigenous farmers, were congregating at a nearby pre-Hispanic temple offering flowers, dancing and incense to their idols. Franciscans installed the Virgin’s image there to re-convert lapsed Catholics and terminate their ancient indigenous rites.
Considered a Virgin on the Spanish side the Querétaro Virgin was mentioned in sermons against the “perverse insurgents” with “profane sacred images” in regards to Allende, Fr. Hidalgo and Guadalupe, another Marian image.
The Virgin of the Pueblito then traveled north and spread into Texas, New Mexico and Southern California in the Franciscan efforts to keep those areas Catholic. She is considered a celestial doctor aiding with childbirth, plagues and physical suffering.
The image has survived wars, convent living and relocation on numerous occasions.
By 1977, she returned to the Pyramid of El Cerrito, for the first time since 1736, celebrated with a solemn wake in the Mesoamerican style.
In 1946 the Virgin’s image had a coronation and was soon recognized by the Pope as the patroness of Querétaro. This year is the 75th anniversary with celebrations planned for October. In the meantime, you’ll see her image has moved in the temple of St. Francis from beside the altar to front and center. Here and in all Franciscan churches in the area.
The process of appropriation and transformation of this Marian image is fascinating. From a European image stressing heavenly support of the royals she traveled to Querétaro to aid Franciscans with converting the indigenous. She was later reintroduced in Querétaro to reconvert lapsed Catholics and resilient natives. Franciscan friars also took her to what is now the American southwest extending her popularity and visual fame.