Since the early 1980s we have witnessed a profusion of publications that commemorate the 450th anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin Mary to Juan Diego on the hill at Tepeyac in December 1531. This significant treatise is the latest, and a most worthwhile contribution to the already voluminous literature on the acontecimiento guadalupano.
Richard Nebel’s goal is to examine critically the Guadalupe event; its transcultural relation and value; its multiple and adverse effects on church, theology, and society; and its continuity and transformation over time as observed in the religious history of Mexico. He accomplishes his objective through an analysis of the Guadalupe event in three settings: historical, in both Spain and Mexico and as a factor in the missionization of New Spain; literary, particularly its treatment in the Nican Mopohua; and theological, both for its impact on the church and its meaning to greater Mexican society. The historical section contains little that earlier studies have not already included, but it is comprehensive. The literature section includes a credible and valuable line-by-line German translation of the Nican Mopohua (Br. Luis Lasso de la Vega, 1649 edition). Both a facsimile of the Nahuatl edition (1649) and a modern rendering of the text of this edition by Mario Rojas Sánchez (1978) are included in the appendixes. Another useful appendix contains a list, dates, and derivations of the numerous copies and translations of the Nican Mopohua. The book’s theological section examines the meaning of the event for the church and society in today’s Mexico. Portions of the theological presentation themselves require a leap of faith that some readers will view with considerable skepticism, but those with an interest in present-day Mexican religion will find much to stimulate their thinking.
While readers might not always agree with Nebel’s own interpretation of the Guadalupe event as a means to examine religious continuity and change in Mexico, his thoroughness and attention to detail are admirable. His book provides an excellent overview of the literature on the Virgen de Guadalupe, and he presents a sensitive analysis of this timeless, polysemous Mexican symbol.