When one thinks of pilgrimage to Mexico, one pictures the sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The hill of Tepeyac was once upon a time in the countryside, but it was long ago swallowed up by the immense urban sprawl that Mexicans today call the Federal District.
This means, essentially, that a trip to the sanctuary is a matter of taking a fast and efficient underground train. You emerge from the station onto a large esplanade at the end of which stands the conglomeration of buildings that is the sanctuary: the Old Basilica on the Hill where Our Lady appeared, and the vast New Basilica at its foot, where the miraculous image imprinted on St Juan Diego’s tilma, or cloak, is housed today.
As you stand on the esplanade, you may notice a few people advancing towards Guadalupe on their knees. Sometimes you see middle-class ladies of a certain age attended by solicitous younger people who lay cushions on the pavement to make their abuela’s pilgrimage that little bit easier. And you realise that this is the way pilgrimage is done – on one’s knees. And your mind turns to that other shrine of which most people outside Mexico have never heard – Plateros.
Plateros (the name means “silversmiths”) is not exactly in the middle of nowhere. It lies in central Mexico about an hour’s drive north of Zacatecas, in the state of the same name. Zacatecas is one of the most beautiful of Mexico’s many historical colonial cities, and an excellent base for a week’s stay. A former silver mining town, it is rich in architecture, and has some excellent museums.
The town of Plateros, by contrast, is small, and rather untidy looking. But you are there for one reason, and one reason only, and that is the sanctuary, which is a not very big colonial church with an adjoining building, the plaza in front of it accessible through a neo-Gothic stone gateway carved out of lovely pink Zacatecas stone.
The church contains the tiny statue (no more than about six inches high) of El Sacro Niño de Atocha, an image of Our Blessed Lord in pilgrim’s costume, sometimes known as El Niño Azul, the Blue Child, because of the colour of his clothing. He wears a sombrero and carries a pilgrim’s staff. This is, of course, a Spanish devotion, brought to the New World at some point soon after the settlement of Mexico by the Spanish, though the earliest evidence of devotion to the Holy Child of Plateros dates to 1829. The church itself had been completed in its present form in 1790.
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