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Pilgrimage Site
Most Popular Pilgrimage Site in the Western Hemisphere
the dress makes the woman

by Joseph Toone

SMA has numerous women with fascinating lives in the realms of politics, revolutions, clergy, business and alike, but two are especially noted for their frocks. One such gal is the Virgin of Good Health.

World-wide the Virgin of Good Health is an image of Mary that appeared to a young boy in 1600s India delivering milk. Normally she is seen in a sari, looking appropriately Indian in skin tone and facial features, but not here. Her temple off Plaza Civica features a pale, blue eyed blonde Mary in what is best described as a mid-1980s Emmy dress.

Here in SMA the Virgin of Good Health is based on the image of the Virgin of Good Help. Good Help Mary is a Nordic image of Mary (hence the blue eyes and blonde hair.) Change her dress and she is SMA’s Virgin of Good Health who sits in her temple alongside a toddler image of Jesus specifically for parents of sick kids, St. Nicholas as patron of children’s health and St. Jude, the patron of lost causes, which health issues often are. Also, there is St. Lucy for eye problems. Truly, all your healthcare related needs are met at the chapel of Our Lady of Good Health.

The chapel dates back to the eighteenth century when it served as a church for the adjacent San Francisco de Sales College. The college is where Mexico’s founding fathers went to school and learned the notion of a country separated from Spain. Today it is a law school, part of the University of Leon.

The other well-styled clotheshorse is the Virgin of St. John of the Lakes.

She was originally a Barbie sized statue of the Immaculate Conception located in a tiny town south of Guadalajara called St. John of the Lakes. From the 1500s and continuing in today’s more indigenous communities, it is a common practice to place a statue of Mary in indigenous garb as an act of respect, and to make Mary more relatable to locals.

This is what the statue of the Virgin of St. John of the Lakes, in her indigenous finery, was wearing when she gained fame in 1623 when a family of circus acrobats blew into town. To make the act more suspenseful the parents placed swords and daggers on the ground with the blades pointing upwards towards the performances of their young children ("and the Bad Parent Award goes to…"). Ar 6-year-old girl fell and was mortally wounded by a blade. Her parents prepared her body for burial at the local chapel where they met seventy-eight-year-old Ana Lucia Antes, the church’s custodian. She grabbed the Virgin’s statue, placed it on the girl and she was healed and brought back to life.

This was the first miracle attributed to the statue that is today’s most popular pilgrimage site in the Western Hemisphere drawing more than three million pilgrims yearly. To walk from here to there takes nine days beginning January 24 with over twenty percent of our population joining pilgrims that left from Querétaro the day before. For those nine days the town of SMA is in a lull as so many join the walk each year. Traditionally, on the first night the SMA pilgrims go to bed, it rains. For years, I’ve noticed around 9PM on the 24th of January it rains, at least a little.

Devotion to Our Lady of St. John of the Lakes has spread to become the second most honored image of Mary in Mexico (first is Our Lady of Guadalupe). Her image adorns buses, buildings and jewelry all around town.

Originally Fr. Hidalgo, Ignacio Allende and the other founding fathers in San Miguel for Mexico’s independence from Spain planned on starting the revolution during the Virgin of St. John of the Lakes’ celebrations. Once the Spanish discovered the plans the start was moved up to September 15 with the Virgin of Guadalupe becoming the symbol of Mexico’s freedom instead of the Virgin of St. John of the Lakes.

Coco Chanel is infamous for her little black dress. However, she could have very well had thoughts about the Virgins of Good Health and St. John of the Lakes when she uttered “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”

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Joseph Toone is Amazon's bestselling author of the San Miguel de Allende Secrets series of books and TripAdvisor's best rated historical walking tour guide. For more information contact toone.joseph@yahoo.com or visit History and Culture Walking Tours, also on FaceBook.

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