The old man was praying to a poster worth six-hundred pesos. The price was written in a thick, obvious hand, on a piece of cardboard stuck hastily to the upper left-hand corner of the framed reproduction. But the man prayed as though indifferent to this, his arm outstretched, his palm inches away from the face of the Virgin Mary, his head bowed, his eyes closed, his lips moving furiously and silently. The image the man was praying to, the Virgin of Guadalupe, apparently appeared on the cloak of Juan Diego, an indigenous peasant, on December 12, 1531. The cloak now hangs above the altar at Mexico City’s Basilica of Guadalupe, while the image hangs almost everywhere else in a three-mile radius: photocopied and hand-coloured in run-down market stalls, on the walls of official church souvenir-and-icon shops, in pendants around the necks of the faithful who make their way to basilica every week to have holy water splashed onto the crucifix they own, or onto their babies, or onto their faces. Many carry their own reproductions of the Virgin of Guadalupe, framed behind glass lest the holy water hit her directly and cause her ink to run.
Words by Matthew Clayfield / Photos by Austin Andrews