Walking up to the Basilica on the night of the 12th December a chill cut through the air. A family who had travelled from afar to pay homage to the Virgin or to plead for a miracle, now pleaded to the passing worshipers to help them pay for their journey home. Their children looked cold and tired, the parents looked desperate.
A large line of people waited for something outside the shrine. I looked to see what they were queueing for. A woman was ladling out free hot punch to grateful pilgrims and just next to her, men handed out free bread, sustenance for the tired and hungry.
Captured by the sound of bells, we made our way through the entrance to find Aztec dancers, dressed in large plumed headdresses, their ankles swathed in bells, dancing to the beat of a deep pounding drum. In the background the beautiful stained glass of the church’s art deco style windows, lit the scene with a beautiful green hue. The dancers danced as a baby, wrapped up warm, slept at their feet.
The hum of the Aztec drum was drowned out by the sound of a brass band headed our way. We looked up to see men with pink scarves tied around their heads and bandanas covering their faces, dancing towards us. Amongst them were women in beautifully embroidered dresses. Their passion was so strong we could feel it in our own chests, bringing tears close to the surface.
As they moved away from the Basilica, a new sound met out ears, one of slate hitting the floor. A group danced with shoes that made the most beautiful sound, like large tap shoes as a tiny clown gyrated around in the middle of them and a man dressed in black wearing a white mask with the most haunting red eyes, taunted the crowd. Amongst them a solitary man played a melancholy flute.
The hue of the church lights pulled us in to find the entire place full of worshipers and mass about to begin. Many knelt before the Virgin is silent contemplation. The young, the old, the sick and the healthy, the hopeful and the desperate, the elated and the exhausted all together in honour of the mother of Mexico. The priest cried as he expressed his love for Guadalupe, claiming her the reason for his priesthood. The energy was dense, powerful, captivating, intense.
Outside again I watched people walk towards the Basilica on their knees. I saw the pain in their eyes as their bodies faltered. I witnessed a mum and dad, with a sick son, make the painful expression of honour, the father collapsing at the door of the church, before regaining his strength to pick up his child and plead with the Virgin for a miracle.
The tears welled inside me, the suffering all around was too much to bare. The hopeful, hopelessness of needing a miracle because you have nothing else made the scene around almost unbearable. Such an intense mixture of love, elation and faith with so much anguish, grief, desperation and sorrow. We left quietly, each in our own thoughts, trying to make sense of what we had witnessed and our own role within it.
Susannah Rigg is a freelance writer and Mexico specialist. Her work has been featured in BBC Travel, CNN Travel, Conde Nast Traveler, AFAR and The Independent among others. Check out her portfolio here. Contact Susannah by email, info [at] mexicoretold [dot] com and join her on Instagram and Twitter.