As painted by a young Los Angeles (male) artist Paz Winshtein, the Virgin of Guadalupe is a rather ordinary girl, looking a little awkward in her diaphanous robe and long necklace of skulls.
But she has caused an outcry here in Santa Fe.
This devoutly progressive town is also home to a devoutly conventional branch of the Roman Catholic church, home to many of our Spanish-speaking earliest inhabitants.
The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe is especially prized here because of her Mexican antecedents, and yet, even though she represents a beleaguered minority, she must still be seen only in the terms set by the church, terms that have constricted the image, and confused women followers, for hundreds of years.
Virgin, yet a mother. White, although the original picture, on the tilma of a Mexican peasant, is slightly tan.
Compliant: “Here I am, Lord” to the impregnating spirit, yet able at certain moments in the Gospels to assert herself, as when she told her son at the Wedding Feast at Cana that the guests needed more wine; to which he rudely replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with me?”
And long before that, although the Bible doesn’t give the details, able to hold her own in the face of Joseph’s original disapproval and his intention to “put her away.”
Perhaps the church’s secret definition of “virgin” is “deprived of sexual pleasure.” Certainly the god who impregnated Mary was not concerned about that.
Is that, really, what certain priests of the Catholic Church want enforced in images? And sometimes, over the centuries, the poor little virgin does look wan.
The doctrine of celibacy, and the concomitant valuing of virginity, has had a vexed history. Most priests have been married through the centuries, and although the Council of Nicea in 325 forbad marriage (without mentioning other possibilities), it was only when Pope Siricius rejected his wife, in 385, in order to become pope that the doctrine began to harden. Over time, it has been questioned again and again, reinforced again and again, and held up as the reason many qualified people (women included) do not go into the priesthood.
All this is speculation since those of us who are not members of that church can only know that someone saw this rendition of Mary and went all to pieces. Our local newspaper, the New Mexican, devoted a front page story to the outrage.
Yet this little gallery, Eye on the Mountain Art Gallery, and its stalwart owner were not intimidated; she never considered taking the painting down. And many of us now know that there has been a great deal of validating writing, both in academe and in feminist studies, of a more whole, and holistic, view of Mary.
I wonder if removing the requirement of celibacy from the priesthood might cause a change in attitude. Human beings tend to want everyone to share their sacrifice.
In the little gallery, I looked again at the painting, liked it, liked what owning it represents, and will soon hang it beside my bed.
We do what we can to pierce the ignorance and superstition that so becloud the history of the church—as the Pope, himself, is now doing.
It matters. A full, vibrant, complex view of the feminine is what Mary deserves, and what all women deserve, in order to love our lives.
[Paz Winshtein, the artist, released this statement in response to the controversy: “Just like the original Virgin of Guadalupe was inspired by the Virgin Mary and the Aztec goddess Tonantzin, I have recombined her with other ancient goddesses. This shows a universal root of the divine feminine. Anyone who sees this piece as offensive does not understand that art and culture always combine in different ways to create the traditions we have today.”]