The Business of Mary

Whether visiting or living in San Miguel de Allende it is important to know the basics of Mary, Jesus’ Mom, the most popular Jewish woman in town that stares down at you from nearly every street corner.

Plus being a graduate of Mary 101 will make your time in town more enjoyable by better understanding our art, your pals’ names and why the town has a distinctive feminine nature to our history and culture.

I’m not trying to convince you of anything, I’m just trying to explain what 96% of folks in town do believe as it impact daily what you see and experience.

When the Spanish conquered to take the silver and convert the indigenous to this new religion they quickly realized that had to incorporate versions of Mary.  The indigenous were used to women being in power in terms of faith.  For example, the goddess of death was a skeleton that lived underground in her skeleton castle we know today all over town in a long dress and floppy hat, as the Catrina.

Hence why there are so many Marys all over town and each means something different.

Basically Mary appears in two forms.  One is at a time in her life.  Mary as a baby as the patroness of difficult births.  Mary at 3 when her parents, Anna and Joaquin, turned her life over to God.  That’s why going to a 3 year old’s birthday party is such a big deal, on par with a quinceañera.

There is Mary as a pregnant bride, a young wife and mother, a widow, outliving her child and, eventually, ready to enter Heaven.  All the stages often encountered in a typical woman’s life.

Also, in art, Mary looks like as a woman from where ever she appears.  For instance, Mary of Good Health appeared in India so she wears a sari and has Indian facial features.  Mary of Good Help is from Norway, so she is a pale, blue-eyed blonde.

Guadalupe, the version of Mary as the mother of Mexico, is the most reproduced Marian image in the world and since she appeared in Mexico City she looks very Mexican as a mixture of the Europeans and Indigenous.  One hand is large and white while the other is small in brown getting ready to clap and dance as that is how the indigenous prayed.

One day on a cemetery tour I had an elderly woman from Manhattan who, when I finished explaining three popular versions of Mary, including Guadalupe, exclaimed “That was interesting but I’ll never remember as I was raised to be a good, Jewish girl.”  I responded “Well, so was she.” which made her laugh!

Who doesn’t laugh is my brother, the Baptist minister.  These Marian images drive him crazy as they aren’t spelled out in the bible.  However, they do help tie some bible stories together.

For instance, Anna, Mary’s Mom was believed to have two previous marriages prior to Joaquin and two other baby girls whom she all named Mary.  Anna wasn’t very clever on the baby naming front.

These Marys became the multiple Marys in the bible’s Crucifixion story as they were Jesus’ aunts or Mary’s half-sisters.

To this day most Mexican women have Mary as their first name, or one of the versions of Mary.  Hence why most names begin with an Ma.  I originally thought it was in recognition of being a mother, but no, it is an abbreviation for Maria.

Know someone named Marisol?  That is the nickname for Maria de la Soledad, or Mary All Alone, the version of Mary left behind on this plane following Jesus’ death.  She’s the Mary in mourning.

It isn’t just women’s names – I’ve an amigo named Luz for Maria de la Luz, or Mary of the Light.  The patroness of electricians and for whom the crepe paper stars in local processions are in honor of (star = light).

Often, for the nine days prior to a Marian festival, the bells will ring at 5am to remind you to say a rosary before heading off to 6am mass!

Even the rag dolls for sale all over town are called Marias in honor of Mary.  Her male counterpart is, of course, Jose for St. Joseph.

My personal favorite Mary is Mary Untier of  Knots.  You’ll see her around town with a piece of rope.  One side has knots she unties returning the knot to straight rope.  The idea being if you simply hand your problems over to Mary she’ll unknot them for you!  One of the most comforting images of Mary and another reason why every Mexican man has to do what his mother tells him!

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