LOS REMEDIOS, Our Lady of the Remedies, Naucalpan, Mexico City
“In fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue—”
A chant familiar to every school-aged child in America. That famous date. It marked the year that Christopher Columbus, the Italian-born navigator, departed from Spain and discovered the continent of America. Over the next few decades more Spaniards would follow in his wake. One of these was Hernan Cortez, the Spanish conquistador, whose miniscule army would defeat the massive military might of the Aztec empire in 1521.
Cortez and his soldiers left Spain prepared for battle. Not only did they carry military weapons they carried spiritual weapons as well. Part of this spiritual cache was a selection of several wooden statues of the Virgin Mary. One of these would become the most revered of them all: the statue of Los Remedios (Our Lady of the Remedies).
Sculptured in the city of Tolosa, Spain, in the 14th century, she has the distinction of being one of the oldest statues of Mary on the American continent. Los Remedio was to play an important role in the Spanish conquest of Mexico: She accompanied Cortes and his soldiers in 1519 on their grueling march from Vera Cruz (on the coast) to the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan (site of present-day Mexico City), a journey of 400 miles (650 km) over two mountain ranges.
She also witnessed the triumphant entry of the Spanish soldiers into the capital and the dramatic initial encounter between Cortes and the Aztec leader, Montezuma ll. For a period of time she even replaced the “hideous” blood-thirsty idol of Huitzilopochtili, the god of war, which graced the emperor’s private apartment. She was also present when the first Mass was said on Mexican territory by Fr. Bartolome de Olmedo.
During the Noche Triste, the “Sorrowful Night” of July 8, 1520, she was “implored with tears” as the Spaniards fled from the Aztecs in terror, suffering terrible losses. During the flight, she was hidden underneath the leaves of a maguey plant, and remained lost for 20 years. She was eventually found, in 1540, by a newly converted Indian chief, Juan Cuautli and was venerated for several years in his private chapel.
In 1575 the shrine of Los Remedios was built in Nauacalpan, 8 miles (14 km) northwest of Mexico City. It was built on the site of a destroyed Aztec sacrificial temple, thus sanctifying a place which had been a scene of previous abominations (human sacrifice).
And even in the 1500’s the shrine was well-known and revered! Bernal Diaz, in his acclaimed first-hand account of the struggle for Mexico, The Conquest of New Spain, says about the shrine: “After the great city of Mexico was finally captured we built a church which is called Nuestra Senora de Los Remedios and is now much visited. Many citizens and ladies go there on pilgrimages to make novenas.” Diaz was a young soldier when he fought alongside Cortes in the battle for Mexico. He wrote his book while he was in his senior years.
In the dreadful years of plague which accosted Mexico in the years between 1567 and 1577 the statue of Los Remedios was taken by procession to the cathedral in Mexico City by the same route which the conquistadors had used when they fled from the Aztecs in June, 1520. Through the centuries she was carried in procession to the cathedral on 75 separate occasions in times of urgent need: droughts, epidemics, floods, wars, political crises of all kinds—none of these proved obstacles for Our Lady of the Remedies!
The diminutive statue—she is only 11” tall (28 cm)—arrived in Mexico ten years before the arrival of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She was the first. It was she who paved the way. Now she is the second most revered statue of Our Lady in the country, second only to the highly revered, and beloved Our Lady of Guadalupe.
P.S. Have you ever seen a more endearing image of Our Lady? So youthful and full of sweetness and goodness! The highlight of a visit to Los Remedios is a visit to the marble-walled dressing-room of the Virgin which is situated behind the main altar. After ascending a small staircase, one comes nearly face-to-face with the statue of Los Remedios. Here is an image of Our Lady which has lived through 500 years of Mexican history! And the expression on her lovely face is one which is hard to forget—a moving experience. Beyond words. The photo shown directly below is the actual statue of Our Lady which was brought from Spain over five centuries ago. It is the same statue which presides over the main altar of the church.