Light a candle for Mexico’s Lady
**By Kathy Antioniotti
**KNIGHT RIDDER NEWS SERVICE
One day, a Mexican Indian named Juan Diego set out to find water for his uncle, searching on a hillside near his home just north of Mexico City. Help came unexpectedly in the form of a beautiful woman who suddenly appeared, directing him to a spring of cool, fresh water.
Mesmerized by the vision of the lady, Diego returned a few days later to find her once again at the same spot. This time, the lady directed Diego to go tell the high church officials in Mexico City to build a church in her name at the site. The lady told Diego they should do this because she was the Holy Mary of Guadalupe.
Well, you can guess what the church leaders thought. Why would the Virgin Mary, whom they assumed the lady to be, appear to a poor, lowly Indian? They sent Diego away and told him to bring back proof of his preposterous claims.
Diego went back for a third time to the hillside and asked the lady for a sign as proof to satisfy the church leaders that she was real. Suddenly, beautiful red roses appeared, growing from the hillside. The lady instructed Diego to gather them in his Indian tilma, (cloak or blanket) and take them to them to Mexico City.
The roses were not really extraordinary, even though roses don’t normally grow in Mexico during December. But having faith in the lady, Diego carried them back to church officials. When he let the roses fall to the ground, the important church leaders fell to their knees, for on Diego’s rough blanket was the imprint of the Lady of Guadalupe. It is said the image is so perfect that you can see the reflection of Juan Diego in the pupil of the Virgin Mary’s eye.
The story of Juan Diego and the Lady of Guadalupe occurred in 1531, just 12 years after Spanish explorers landed on Mexican soil, bringing the Catholic faith with them. This miracle is said to be key to the acceptance of the Catholic religion by the indigenous peoples of Mexico. Today, Guadalupe Day, celebrated on Dec. 12 each year, is the most important religious holiday in Mexico. More than 85 percent of Mexico’s people belong to the Roman Catholic Church.
Each year, thousands of devout Catholics make the pilgrimage to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City to view the image of the Virgin Mary on Juan Diego’s tilma. Some also travel to pray at a small shrine erected at a remote spot on a Mexican hillside where it is said the mother of God appeared to a humble Indian more than 470 years ago.
A Tree of Life is an elaborately decorated candleholder that is displayed in Mexican homes on every religious holiday. Traditionally, the candlesticks contain decorations depicting Biblical stories and can vary in size from 6 inches to 6 feet high. They are sculpted from clay and are painted in bright colors. Seen as a true Mexican folk craft, some are quite complex and detailed.
I found directions in various books featuring Mexican folk art and combined them for our use. You will need the help of an adult if using oven-bake clay. Also, follow the instructions provided with the clay for safe handling.
Supplies you will need:
Clay, oven-baked or self-hardening, in bright colors.
Work on a hard surface covered with plastic wrap for easy handling.
Make a base for your tree by rolling clay into a 2-inch ball. Press the clay ball onto the plastic wrap to flatten.
Make your tree trunk by rolling clay on the plastic into a sausage roll about ¾-inch thick and 4 inches long. Press the trunk into the base. Use toothpicks to keep it firmly attached until it hardens.
Make two branches of clay ½-inch thick and 4 inches long. Bend them into half circles and attach them to the trunk at the top and bottom.
Roll a piece of clay into a 1-inch ball. Use a toothpick to make a hole on the top, large enough to hold a candle.
Decorate your candleholder with brightly colored, small pieces of clay. Lightly press the pieces into the form to hold.
Bake following instructions or set aside until dry.