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Believe it or not

30 September 2017

When Pope John-Paul II  placed a crown atop the statue of the Virgin of the Assumption (Virgen de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de María) in the 18th century parish church of the Nahuatl community of Copilco, Comacalco, Tabasco, he was hardly the first, nor by any means the last, to pay particular homage to the legendary image.

According to oral tradition, in 1638, a wooden boat washed up on the shore in Paraiso. On board was an image of the Virgin, which pious fishermen carried up to the local church.  The Virgin, apparently knowing her own mind, was found the next morning, heading north.  The fishermen, concluding the Virgin knew her own mind, helped her along, carrying her to the next church north.  Which was not her intended destination, and Virgin again moved on overnight.  Carrying her from church to church, she finally decided to stay in Copilco.

The original church was rebuilt in the late 18th century to house the image, and is considered an outstanding example of tropical baroque.  Particularly colorful, the church as been decorated over the years by local artists, and is, in itself, a tourist destination, apart from the religious pilgrims who have come for the Virgin’s blessings since the mid 17th century.

It’s not that she’s necessarily nice.  In 1800, blood stains in the shapes of soldiers and weapons appeared at the foot of the statue.  Then, snakes were seen writhing around the base.  Along with, of all things, a big cake.  The snakes (six of the seven… a detail always mentioned in the stories, the significance of which is never said) were captured, killed and soaked in alcohol to create what was literally a miracle cure.  Soldiers from the local barracks… who had been in the community to harass the locals… confiscated the cake.  Ate it.  And died.

Her fame as protector of the Nahautls only grew, although she has eventually become seen as the “Queen of Tabasco” (the rationale for the Pope’s ceremonial coronation).  During the radical anti-clerical governorship of Tomás Garrido Canibal, who one year celebrated Mexican Independence Day with a particularly impressive display of pyrotecnics, blowing up Villahermosa Cathedral, the church (and the Virgin) were left alone.  It may have had as much to do with the nascent tourism industry as anything.  Tabasco, being a swampy, oil-producing state, had little enough to recommend it to tourists, and the church was a “must see” site in all the tourist literature.  That the local economy by this time also depended heavily on the pilgrim trade may have had something to do with it too.  Or… maybe even Garrido Canibal didn’t want to mess with those snakes and cakes.

As to the Virgin herself.  Having expressed her opinion of militarism once before, she began to weep when Mexico entered the Second World War and didn’t stop until the war ended.  Or that’s the story.

She began weeping again this last week.  Sadness over the earthquake is the popular explanation.  Maybe, though, she’s mad at Donald Trump… or about NAFTA negotiations… or the likelihood of our next president being from Tabasco… or…?


Santuario de Cupilco

Museo Comunitario de la Virgin de Cupilco


2 Comments leave one →
  1. 30 September 2017 7:41 pm

    Thank you, Richard. This is wonderful.

  2. 1 October 2017 9:16 pm

    muy lindo todo

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