Lovers Set in StoneWe have our local holy virgin. She lives up in the Sierras. She's the Virgin of Juquila. The story is that she arrived from Spain some two hundred years ago in the form of a statue, about two feet tall.
She was installed in the chapel near Juquila, and many years later, there was a fire. The entire building was destroyed, except for the Virgin. They moved her into the town of Juquila --- but when, after reconstructing the chapel, she was taken back to her original home, she would have none of it: she disappeared and reappeared in the church in the town. After she did this three times, they figured that was where she wanted to be and, of course, she was attributed with deep magic powers.
The only thing that happened to her in all these adventures was that, after the fire, her skin turned dark --- what they call morena --- like most of the people who live here. She is no longer one of those light-skinned güero virgins out of the Iberian culture but --- like the more famous Virgin of Guadelupe --- has become a dark beauty. Her skin is the color of the rich brown earth that surrounds the town of Juquila.
People come from all over for una promesa. They promise to make a certain number of visits over the next few years. In return, they ask a miracle: that a sickness be cured, that a broken limb be repaired, that a dying relative be brought to life again, that a child be made well. They also ask for prosperity: a bounty of sheep, or goats, or maiz.
The visitors come sometimes by car or truck or bus, but, as often, on bicycle or on foot. Since Juquila is an isolated place in the mountains, it is no mean trick to get there from the Pacific coast, or from central Mexico, no matter how you do it. Supplicants often crawl the last two kilometers --- from the entry area to the actual statue --- and since the path is one of stones, many arrive with bloody knees.
The chapel is almost always filled with pentinents, and on weekends, a thousand or so may arrive. Before, during and after the holy day of the Virgin --- December 8th --- there is a terrible crush. They say that people come from as far away as Vera Cruz on the east coast, or Puebla, near Mexico City. It will often take them a week or more to arrive, and if they are on foot, more than a month.
There are stories of miracles that occur to those who have stuck to their promesa --- sicknesses have been cured, sudden wealth appears, babies have been brought back to life. There are also tales of those who have thought or spoken badly of the Virgin, or doubted her powers. They have been involved in choques --- wrecks --- either coming to the holy site, or after leaving.
Even worse is what happens to those who violate the vow of chastity that one must make for the excursion. One lusty, overeager couple, it is said, stopped by the roadside to engage in some hanky-panky and presto, were changed to stone. To this day, it is said, they are stuck there, somewhere off in the mountains, belly-to-belly.
Once you pay homage to the Virgin, you buy a picture of her from one of the little shops around the chapel. If you've come by bike, this picture is mounted under the handlebars, surrounded by pine branches. If you came by bus or car, it will leave with a picture of her, with greenery, mounted just over the front bumper.
There are smaller keepsakes, key rings, jewelry, decals. I myself have many images of her around the house, presents that my workers have brought back for me. My favorite is a small, somewhat fuzzy picture of her, depicted with the letters STMA. VIRGEN DE JUQUILA around the image.
Her face is tiny, and pale, and she is dressed in an elaborate gold and red and white robe, opening up in a high triangle. It came attached to a beer opener, which I have kept --- even though my beer-drinking days are long gone. I have hung it on a chain, along with the keys to my car, and my Swiss Army knife. Thus the good Virgin of Juquila goes everywhere with me, keeping me healthy, or at least, keeping me from turning to stone.- - - From The Blob That Ate Oaxaca
©1994, C. A. AmanteaThis article appeared previously at salon.com