Saturday, November 14, 2015

New World Mary vs. Old World Mary

            One difference between the “Old World” Marian apparition stories found in the William Christian reading and the “New Word” Marian apparition story recounted by Carl Anderson and Eduardo Chavez is that the “New World” Mary seems to be gentler and more interested in making a personal connection with the people she appears to. This may be an accident of the versions of the stories we were assigned to read, or it may be evidence that Mary in the New World took on a more personal and motherly role to her devotees. I hesitate to jump to the later conclusion based on a small sample of stories, but the difference I noticed is interesting nonetheless. The New World Mary seems more gentle and personable than the Old World Mary based on how she interacts with her witnesses, the witnesses’ reaction to the visions, and the signs she produces as proof of the apparition.

            In the Santa Gadea story, Mary first appears to the witnesses as part of a procession. The witnesses, two boys, were frightened by what they saw and heard and “fled” the scene. (Christian 29). It was not until the second appearance that Mary finally spoke to the boys, and in telling them what she wanted, she said, “I order you to explain” and, “I order you to keep declaring this publicly.” (Christian 31). When one boy did not do as he was ordered, Mary had him beaten. It was not until the entire town “saw the welts and injuries” that the boy did as he was told. Several details of this story stand out to me: Mary first appeared from a distance, her initial request was characterized as an order, and the signs she produced for the town were the welts and bruises resulting from the boy’s beating. In this story, Mary does not seem very gentle or very interested in forming a personal connection with her witnesses.

            In the Jaen story, Mary did not interact with her witnesses at all. She only ever appeared at a distance as part of a procession. Additionally, the vision was not initially pleasant to the witnesses. The witness Juan’s reaction was lukewarm at best, as he states that he experienced “neither pleasure nor fear.” (Christian 43). The witness Pedro first experienced pleasure, but seeing soldiers in the procession with Mary made him frightened. (Christian 46). The witness Maria Sanchez “suddenly took fright” upon seeing Mary. (Christian 47). Lastly, the witness Juana Fernandez, immediately “fell down, paralyzed with fright, and began to tremble all over” when she saw the vision. Like the previous story, Mary here is impersonal, and the vision is on the whole, unpleasant to the witnesses.

            In the Cubas story, Mary is much more personal, addressing the witness Ines as “Daughter,” (Christian 61) but several aspects of the story still stand out as suggesting the difference between Old World and New World apparitions. Regarding Mary’s interaction with Ines, Mary’s requests are initially and frequently referred to as “orders.” (Christian 61). Ines also notes that in their interactions, Mary never calls Ines by her first name. (Christian 69). In several points in the story, Ines is reported as being afraid because of the visions. (Christian 62, 67, 68, 69). Finally, in order to get the townspeople to believe Ines, Mary makes a sign out of Ines’s hand, forcing Ines’s fingers into the shape of a cross. Ines states that this hurt her, but not much, and that it caused her arm to feel paralyzed and numb; the pain did not go away until her hand was restored days later. (Christian 71). Notably, as in the other stories, the apparition of Mary is frightening to the witness, and the sign Mary sends causes the witness pain.

            The final story in the William Christian reading does not contain many details, but it does state that the witness experienced “great fear.” (Christian 90). Furthermore, it characterizes Mary’s request as an “order.” (Christian 91).

            An additional detail that each of these Old World stories share is that the church officials required notarized affidavits and investigation into the witnesses’ accounts before accepting the stories as true. In class we discussed several possible reasons for this, but perhaps something about how Mary presented herself in these apparitions explains why the church officials sought legal verification.

            The one New World apparition story we read differed in the details discussed above. Mary does not appear to the witness, Juan Diego, from a distance, but instead calls out to him personally using his name. (Anderson and Chavez 173). She goes even further, and calls Juan Diego, “dearest” and “Juanito” which implies some affection toward the witness. In none of the Old World apparitions does Mary call to the witness by name.

While in the Old World apparition stories, Mary is described as “ordering” her witnesses, in this story, Mary is said to “reveal[] her precious will,” and she tells Juan Diego that she “want[s] very much” for the town to build a church. (Anderson and Chavez 173). She does eventually say “I strictly order you,” but that is after the first request, and after she says “I beg you.” (Anderson and Chavez 173). This may be a small difference, but it paints Mary as acting more gently toward her witness.

 When the bishop does not believe Juan Diego, Mary sends Juan Diego back with a sign, like she did in the Santa Gadea and Cubas stories. However, unlike in those stories, the sign did not cause the witness any pain. Instead the sign was meant to be beautiful; it consisted of flowers and a miraculous image of her on Juan Diego’s tilma.

Finally, perhaps because of Mary’s more gentle and personal presentation of herself, the Bishop did not require any sort of legal verification in order to believe Juan Diego. Instead he was deeply moved and immediately believed and asked Mary forgiveness for ever having doubted.

            In conclusion, unlike Old World Mary, New World Mary reached out to her witness in a more personal manner, and even showed affection toward her witness. Additionally, New World Mary did not scare her witness by her appearance or hurt the witnesses to provide a sign. Perhaps because of these details, the Bishop in the New World story did not require a signed affidavit in order to accept the truth of the vision. These details suggest to me that the New World Marian apparition stories depict Mary as kind and amiable, unlike how she was depicted in the Old World apparition stories.



  1. One other element from the story of Juan Diego ought to be considered in trying to distinguish between Old and New World Mary. As the author highlighted, when one of the little boys hesitated to obey Mary she had him beaten and made it so that the whole town would see. However, when Juan Diego avoids promptly doing Mary’s bidding he is treated kindly. On the day he is supposed to deliver the sign to the Bishop, Juan Diego delays and tries to avoid Mary because he must take care of his uncle and fetch the priest to minister to him. While on his way to get the priest Mary comes to Juan Diego and wants to know what is happening that is keeping him from serving her. Here we see two different reactions than what we would have seen in the Old World. First, Juan Diego is pained to tell Mary of his uncle’s illness because he knows it will upset her. He is convinced of how much she loves and cares for her servants. Mary then responds restoring Juan Diego’s faith in her assuring him that nothing bad could happen if he had faith in her and then assuring Juan Diego that his uncle will be well. Unlike the Old World stories Mary then doesn’t order or demand Juan Diego to go show the sign, it is he that begs to be able to.

  2. These are some very interesting observations here. The question that naturally comes to mind is, of course, why? Why might the Old World visions be so terrifying in comparison to the New? Perhaps this speaks to a distinction between an already converted land, where the reality of God (and therefore Mary's) power is evident in the material wealth and power of the Church, and a new frontier, where the Church's presence is tenuous and not yet pervasive? It would be interesting to look to see if stories of Marian apparitions in the New World and the Old changed as time went on.

    Interesting also was your suggestion that it was the how of the Old World Marian appearances that may have motivated the authorities to seek notarized affidavits, what do you specifically think about the how would have motivated this?

  3. Like dyingst, I am intrigued by the comparison you draw between the Old and New World stories and wonder about why?! Ironically, of course, one of the things that we are often told about the New World situation is that it was horribly violent (see Las Casas), and yet, here we have Mary portrayed as acting much more gently towards Juan Diego than towards any of the seers in the Castilian stories. I confess, I am not sure what to make of this, although it does seem to speak well of the missionaries and the way in which they seem to have portrayed Mary in their preaching to the people like Juan Diego. RLFB

  4. I believe that the differing depictions of Mary in the Old and New World have something to do with the attended audience, but I am not sure how to interpret it. So although it appears to make sense to present Mary as a more loving power in a newly converted land, was this to create a more attractive alternative to other forms of worship, or a way of being closer to indigenous religions. I do not know how unified religion was across the New World, but considering the popular stories of human sacrifice during the conquests of the New World; indigenous religions appear to have been familiar with ideas of a vengeful or strict God. However, could Mary have been filling in as a replacement to a more loving aspect of indigenous religion? The stricter version of Old World Mary would have been a potentially harmful conversion tool. I am not sure people would have considered foreign religions in this way, and thought of how to best provide alternatives though. I am curious to know what depictions of Mary were like in English, and French New World colonies. I assume that discussions of Mary were limited in the more Protestant English colonies, but what about in Catholic New France?


  5. While I share your hesitancy regarding the small sample size here, you do a good job of summing up all of the stories and pointing out the pattern that emerges. The Spanish apparitions that we read about do seem to have a harsh edge, more in line with some of the miracle stories we read than earlier discussions or visions of the Virgin (or later apparitions, for that matter!). The Virgin in the Guadalupe story seems to fall in line with the standard sort of Marian vocabulary we've seen all quarter and yet is remarkably gentle. She is, even today, a very appealing figure. It may be worth looking at the Spanish apparitions to see if the violence and perception of terror there serves any particular role. Visitations from angels and other holy figures traditionally inspires an awe or fear in those who receive the visitations. The boy's beating from the monks does function to further the Virgin's agenda, but it's definitely not the image of mater misericordiae. I think that this sort of analysis with a large enough sample size may help us unpack some of the trends in these tales and figure out what exactly is going on. -ZSR

  6. Though I hesitate to place these Marian stories in this light, one thought that comes to mind, when considering why the depictions of Mary in the new and old world differ so much, is that perhaps it has to do with the larger context of the place and time. There are many differences between Spain and the New World at the time, but one key difference is that, in the New World, conversion was more the goal – rather than in Spain which was perched precariously between the end of the Inquisition and the beginning of the religious wars following the Protestant-Catholic schism. After all, they say one catches more flies with honey rather than vinegar, so a gentle Virgin Mary may have been found to be a more effective image. To me, this feels too much like the kind of “social-realist” thinking against which we were warned at the beginning of the term, but thinking about these contexts may also help to clarify why these differences exist. - LDD

  7. What I find interesting in the comparison talk between “Old World” and “New World” Mary is to think about these versions of Mary in relation to the Mary of the miracles. What are the similarities between Mary who performs miracles compared to an apparition of Mary? For one, we see a lot of the same light imagery playing forth in both the miracle and apparition stories. In the “Old World” stories she “shines brighter than the sun” (Christian 28), and in the “New World” texts Mary is said to have a pure face, from which very great light emerges (Burkhart 103). We see this light imagery in the miracle stories, as well, where Mary is repeatedly referred to as star of the sea in the series from Rocamadour. Beyond simply appearance though, I think it is interesting that in a lot of ways, the Mary from the “new World” behaves much more like the Mary we see in the miracle stories, as someone who is a protector, who is merciful, compassionate, and motherly. My curiosity is peaked at why we see this common behavior between the “Old World” miracle stories and the “New World” apparitions, rather than the “Old World” apparitions. Is the time span between the miracle accounts and the Marian apparitions enough time to already be showing a shift in the way Mary is perceived among Europeans? Are we already seeing the shift to modern era skepticism that wasn’t present in an earlier period? Perhaps then, the “New World” apparition stories are more in line with Mary from the miracles because of the newness of Mary and the lack of skepticism and warmth in character that comes with it.