The History of the Conquest of Mexico and the
Virgin of Good Remedy
In the conquest of Mexico, Hernan Cortes suffered one major setback. When the Aztecas realized that their emperor, Moctezuma, was effectively being duped by the Spaniards and was under house arrest, they became furious.
A bust of Hernán Cortes in the Hospital de Jesús alongside Estela, my wife.
After his historic first encounter with Hernan Cortes on November 8th, 1519, Moctezuma invited the Spaniards to his palace in the Grand Tenochtitlan as house guests. During the following days, Cortes and his fellow Spaniards were appalled when they witnessed the human sacrifices in the Templo Mayor or Major Temple of Tenochtitlan. Cortes proposed to Moctezuma to show him and his court how Christians celebrated their liturgy, and Moctezuma acceded. Cortes set up an altar with a crucifix and had his Indian servants clean up one of the chambers of the Templo Mayor, scrubbing away the bloodstains and he asked one of his Captains, Juan Rodriguez de Villafuerte for his personal statue of Our Blessed Mother. Juan Rodriguez had received this statue from his brother, an Augustinian Monk in Spain, who recommended that he always take it with him and to ask the Blessed Virgin for her protection. The statue was that of Our Lady of Good Remedy or Nuestra Señora de los Remedios in Spanish. Spanish soldiers had invoked the protection of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios for centures, so that they would not be captured by the Muslims in their constant skirmishes with the Moors that occupied the Southern half of the Spanish Peninsula for centuries.
The issue of the human sacrifices soon became the sore spot of the dialogues between Cortes and Moctezuma. Moctezuma told Cortes that the Aztecs would not tolerate the distruction of their idols that Cortes was proposing, and exhausted after a long argument with Cortes, Moctezuma warned him: "Do what you want! If somethings goes wrong, don't complain, because all the Spaniards would die, as the Aztecs would deprive them of food and would attack and kill them." Cortes supposedly replied that nothing would happen to him, because God had sent him on this mission and God and His Virgin Mother would guide and protect him.
My source for this dialogue is "Mexico Pinturesco, Artistico y Monumental", by Manuel Rivera Cambas, 1880, Volume II. Rivera Cambas based his findings on the history of the Virgin of Good Remedy on the research done in the XVIII Century by the famous university professor Fray Luis de Cisneros, as well as the works of Father Florencia and Don Ignacio Carillo y Perez, who worked at the Mint. (When I say, "my source...", I don't necessarily mean that the source is trustworthy, but simply where I collect my information.) Were Moctezuma's words a prophecy or was he already privy to his brother, Cuauhtemoc's rejection of the new Spanish religion? Or was Moctezuma in agreement with his brother? Later on, gold became the central issue of the conquest. But was it at that point? Was gold the goal or merely a sine qua non condition. What type of alliance did Cortes have in mind between the Aztecs and Spain? Something similar to what Juana and Carlos V were trying to bring together between the nobles of Flanders, Germany and Spain?
You might realize that my interpretation of the historical facts differ from the official or popular versions. Some people accuse me when they listen to me of wanting to glorify Hernán Cortes. That may be true. I do not have a degree in history and I do not have the academic qualifications to question any official account of history. Having said this, the more I read, the more I study, the more I believe that I begin to grasp the complexity of the political and ideological issues at stake upon Cortes' arrival to Tenochtitlan and I believe that we should shrink away from simplistic concepts of heroes and villains. Moctezuma was not the bewildered mystic and cowardly traitor of the harmonious and joyously happy natives of Mexico he is made out to be in so many books, and Cortes is far more than a simple ambitious opportunist, only interested in finding gold mines.
After the celebration of Christian services at the Templo Mayor, the political situation became increasingly unstable. To worsen things even more, Cortes became distracted at this critical moment, as his former superior, Diego de Velazquez, infuriated by Cortes having taken troops from Cuba without his permission and jealous of all of Cortes success, came to declare battle on him in Veracruz. During this absence, some believe that Cortes captain Alvarado started to melt down idols without consulting Moctezuma. At some point, Captain Alvarado may have become physically aggressive with Moctezuma. By the time Cortes came back, the situation was about to explode. Cortes pleaded with Moctezuma to intercede with the mutinous crowds outside his royal palace and to calm their spirits. The response was unexpected. The furious mob turned not on the Spanish troops, but on their own emperor, Moctezuma, and they started throwing stones at him. One stone hit his arm, another his leg, and a last stone, gave Moctezuma a fatal blow. So what was happening here? Was this the beginning of Cortes conquest or was it the beginning of a struggle for power between conservative and liberal powers, specifically between Moctezuma and Cuauhtémoc, a struggle no doubt that Cortes would know how to capitalize?
The causeways, the long low bridges across the lake surrounding Tenochtitlan, were the only way for escape. Cortes knew that the causeway to Iztapalapa was completely disabled, as well as the one on the South towards Tlalpan. So the Spaniards grabbed what gold they could, and headed west! The causeways had not been designed by the Aztecs with horseback traffic in mind (as they did not know before Cortes that horses existed), and so the attacking Aztecs made the most of the ensuing bottleneck created by the fleeing Spanish troops, throwing stones at them and showering them with arrows. Many of Cortes' troops were captured and tortured, others fell off their horses and sank in the wáter and mud of the moats, drowning helplessly under the weight of the heavy armor and booty, while others were wounded but managed to escape . Cortes was constantly moving back and forth along his retreat, assisting when possible his heavily battered rearguard.
When Cortes managed to regroup his soldiers outside of Mexico City, he sat down under a tree, and wept. That tree still exists in the Popotla neighborhood of Mexico City, and is called: "El árbol de la Noche Triste" or "The Tree of the Sad Night". When Cortes wrote his account of the battle in his "Las Cartas de Relación" to his monarchs, the Queen Mother, Juana (also known as Juana la Loca or the Insane Queen Juana) and Charles V, he made no mention of the weeping, but he did make a point about how "... one hundrend and fifty Spaniards had lost their lives, as well as forty five mares and horses, and over two thousand indians that were in our service, as well as Mutezuma's son and his daughters that we had brought along as hostages."
The Cript of Hernán Cortes, under the window at the main altar of Jesús Nazareno Church
As you all know, Cortes would reconquer the grand Tenochtitlan as Mexico City was called by the Aztecs in less than a year. Cortes laid siege on Tenochtitlan and hunger and disease paid their toll. But coming back to that dreadful night for the Spanish, la noche triste, when they lost their battle, Juan Rodríguez de Villafuerte ran back to the Templo Mayor, picked up his statue of Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin, called Nuestra Señora de los Remedios or Our Lady of Good Remedy, as he did not wish to leave the Virgin unprotected against the probable profanation by the furious Aztecs, and besides he wanted to continue to count on her protection is the ensuing battle.
Basilica of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, Naucalpan, Mexico
Inner courtyard of the Cloister at Our Lady of Remedies Basilica
Juan Rodríguez de Villafuerte buried his statue of the Virgin under a maguey plant during their stay there at Teocalhuican, on the hills of Los Remedios Park, with the idea of later coming back for it. Rodriguez later became one of the captains commanding the thirteen brigantines Cortes built for the lakes surrounding Tenochtitlan, setting siege on it. However, after the final victory over the Aztecs, Juan Rodriguez did not come back for his beloved Virgin of the Good Remedy. Maybe Rodriguez felt that he was invincible. He began soon afterwards his own series of conquests, usually without asking Hernan Cortes for permission. His campaign to subdue the natives on the Western coast, near what is now the state of Colima, met in defeat. He then turned south, discovering a beautiful bay, which he name after himself and his hometown, Villafuerte. In his careless way of conducting his campaigns, Rodriguez was eventually captured by the Indians and butchered alive. Yet the town he had discovered grew, and became an important seaport, yet as time went on, people no longer called it Villafuerte. You might have heard of it by its original native name...Acapulco.
A half century past by, and the Spanish had a firm control over not only Tenochtitlan, but the rest of the Nueva España. Back at the sleepy village of Teocalhuican, the chief made an important discovery when harvesting some maguey for their honey. He took a strange doll-like figure to the local Franciscan Friars so that they could tell him what it was he had discovered. The Chief's name was Cequautli, which means Eagle in the Nahuatl language. When he was baptized they named him Juan, or John, just like the patron saint of their village. The Franciscan Friars knew exactly what this figure was and where it had come from: it was Juan Rodrigue de Villafuerte's longlost Virgin of Good Remedy. At this point, it was decided that a Basilica should be built on the hilltop of Naucalpan, overlooking Mexico City.
Inside the church of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios
240 years later, Jose Maria Morelos organized an army to free Mexico from Spain, and used the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe on his standard, a sort of banner. Jose Morelos was such a brilliant commander, that Napoleon said of him: "...with three such men like Jose Morelos, I could conquer the world". The Spanish retaliated, adopting the Virgin of Good Remedy on their standard. The Virgin was removed from Her Basilica, and was sent to the Cathedral of Mexico for the length of the war. This war between the "Virgins" reached a point during the war, that "loyalists" spies were supposedly sent to watch people going to the Cathedral and praying, and at which altar they prayed, so as to ascertain their loyalty to the "Crown". After Mexico's Independence, the Virgin came back to this Basilica, in a huge procession from the Church of the True Veracruz, a church personally funded by Cortes, where we can still find a relic of the Cross of Christ that the King Charles V gave him as a reward.
A relic of the True Cross in the Chapel of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the Church of the Veracruz
Thousands of pilgrims visit the Virgin every day: most of them are possibly not aware of all the history surrounding her. For them, she is simply "their Virgin".
The Virgin of the Remedies is in a glass incasement behind the main altar.
Shrine of Our Lady of Good Remedy,
a place for pilgrims and prayers.
The neighborhood of Naucalpan is part of the metropolitan area of Mexico City, and has every bit of the noise and traffic that you can expect in the most congested areas of the city. Yet the hill of Los Remedios, and especially the Shrine, provide a shelter from the dinge, with a comforting afternoon breeze during these spring months of high temperatures and even higher pollution levels.
A stunningly beautiful purple flowered Jacaranda tree at the entrance of the Atrium,
gives a welcome greeting to the weary pilgrim at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Remedy.
The shrine is a complex that includes an atrium, a church, a bell tower, a baptismal fountain, a seminary, a huge outdoor garden with the stations of the Via Crucis and a cloister. The Shrine was elevated to the category of Minor Basilica by His Holiness Pope John Paul II, in 1999.
When you drive up the road, you can park your car outside the gate of the atrium. The atrium was possibly the most important architectural element of the first XVI century missions. The atrium had a cross, called an Atrium Cross. The stone crosses in these atriums many times contained a series of carved symbols, such as the nails used in the crucifixion, the ladder, the crown of thorns, and even the Crown of the King of Spain. The atrium was used for giving catechism and general religious instruction. The atrium was very handy for acts in which a large number of the faithful would take part, as well as for catechumenal work.
If you don't mind crowds, come to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Remedy on a Sunday. Many locals come here for Sunday Mass. If you enjoy the peace and quiet a church can provide, come during the week.
General Information our Our Lady of Good Remedy Shrine in Naucalpan, Mexico
Calzada de los Remedios,
Colonia Los Remedios,
Naucalpan de Juarez, Estado de Mexico
Phone: 55 5363 0432
Monday to Friday: 8:00am to 7:30 pm
Saturday: 8:00am to 7:30 pm
Sunday: 5:45am to 8:00 pm