Sunday, March 29, 2009


The most important story in the blogosphere right now, according to Memeorandum, is this, from the Catholic News Agency:

Hillary Clinton leaves flowers for Our Lady of Guadalupe, asks 'Who painted it?'

During her recent visit to Mexico, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an unexpected stop at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and left a bouquet of white flowers "on behalf of the American people," after asking who painted the famous image.

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was miraculously imprinted by Mary on the tilma, or cloak, of St. Juan Diego in 1531....

Msgr. Monroy took Mrs. Clinton to the famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which had been previously lowered from its usual altar for the occasion.

After observing it for a while, Mrs. Clinton asked "who painted it?" to which Msgr. Monroy responded "God!" ...

Yeah, I guess that's still the official Catholic answer -- that the image was miraculously imprinted on the cloak of a peasant named Juan Diego in 1531 (and that's just one more reminder of how embarrassingly superstitious my former church is). Sure, the secretary of state should be briefed better about the lore before doing one of these photo ops. But no one's going to tell me that all the righty bloggers snarking off about this knew the first thing about the painting 24 hours ago, or had even heard of it. (I had, but that only because my in-laws live in New Mexico, and the image is reproduced everywhere Mexicans have migrated, from sacred spots to, near my in-laws' place, the side of a liquor store. It's a popular tattoo as well.)

But, you know, there is an answer to Clinton's question that apparently isn't the Church's:

... recent studies of the image are feeding centuries-old uncertainty over its origin, says Leoncio Garza-Valdes, 61, who in 1999 was part of a team that evaluated the cloth.

"The cloak of Our Lady of Guadalupe is not one painting but three paintings, and one is signed and dated. So this is not a miraculous image; it was created by man," Garza-Valdes said.

... In the earliest painting, Garza-Valdes says, the female figure was quite different, and one can see the shadowy presence of a naked baby Jesus, reclining in the Virgin's left arm.

He believes this original image was borrowed from a well-known statue in a basilica in Extremadura, Spain, which he recently inspected. And he says the initials of the artist, M.A. for Marcos Aquino, a historical figure, can be seen in the corner of the painting, next to the date: 1556.

... In photos of what the scientist calls the second and third Virgins, distinct changes to the figure's facial features are easily seen. In the final image, the eyes of the Virgin have become smaller, and her features are less Indian. And, Garza-Valdes says, her face has been moved roughly 6 inches on the canvas.

... This conclusion corresponds with those of a church-commissioned study by Jose Sol Rosales. The Mexican expert in art restoration concluded the painting was the work of human artists, using identifiable 17th-century materials and techniques, and was not the result of a supernatural event....

But if you're a Catholic, watch what you say:

Many historians and some clerics, including the U.S. priest-historian Fr. Stafford Poole and former abbot of the Basilica of Guadalupe, Guillermo Schulenburg, have rejected the historicity of the apparition accounts. Schulenburg in particular caused a stir with his 1996 interview with the Catholic magazine Ixthus, when he said that Juan Diego was "a symbol, not a reality." Schulenburg was not the first to disbelieve the traditional account nor the first Catholic prelate to resign his post after questioning the Guadalupe story. In 1897, Eduardo Sanchez Camacho, the Bishop of Tamaulipas was forced to leave his post after expressing similar disbelief.

I assume Clinton just didn't know any of this and hadn't been properly briefed, but maybe she naively thought that the folklore had, in the church's official story, given way to a less ridiculous account, and wanted to talk about that.

Oh well -- at least she didn't ask how condoms cause AIDS.

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