El Cerrito de Tepeyac
El Cerrito de Tepeyac is a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe and is located in Des Plaines, IL. Our Lady of Guadalupe is a very significant and powerful symbol within the Mexican faith and culture. Joaquin Martinez brought back a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Chicago from the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. Martinez and a group of Catholics started a mission to foster the veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe in their community. Father John Smyth, Father David Ryan and Father Rafael Orozco were notable figures in the commencement of construction of the shrine. The shrine, modeled after the hill of Tepeyac in Mexico City, was built in 1995 on the campus of Maryville Academy. In 1997, Monsignor Esteban Martinez blessed the site and gave it the official name of "El Cerrito de Tepeyac." Today, it is currently the most visited shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the United States and the second most visited in the world. Thousands of people, the majority being Latinx, make an annual pilgrimage to this site each December for the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Backstory and Context
On a trip to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe of Mexico, Joaquin Martinez acquired a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe and brought it back to his home of Chicago. The statue found a home at Maryville Academy in Des Plaines, IL. Founded in 1833, Maryville Academy, previously an orphanage, is a Roman Catholic institution for abused children. After his trip, Martinez began a mission to promote devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe. With the help of other Catholics in his area, this mission was brought to fruition in 1995 with the construction of the shrine, unofficially called El Cerrito. Father John Smyth, the former president of Maryville Academy, Father David Ryan and Father Rafael Orozco spearheaded the construction process. This shrine became the main center for worship of the Virgin of Guadalupe at this site. In 1997, Monsignor Esteban Martinez blessed the site and the shrine was given the official name of Cerrito del Tepeyac de Chicago. Monsignor Martinez came from the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. This blessings solidified the relationship between these two sites. In 2001, the sculpture known as The Offering was blessed and added to the shrine. The sculpture was created by AGD Mendoza. In 2008, another sculpture was blessed and added to the shrine and is known as The Apostle's Cross. The shrine is not just a place for short visits and to leave offerings. Often, if the weather permits, congregation is held in El Cerrito instead of the chapel.
The shrine is modeled after the hill of Tepeyac in Mexico City. It depicts the scene in which an indigenous man, Saint Juan Diego, is visited by the Virgin of Guadalupe. In December of 1531, the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Saint Juan Diego. The story goes that she asked him to build a church at the top of the hill in her honor. Saint Diego was hesitant and wasn't convinced that what he saw was real. The Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Saint Diego four times between December 9th and December 12th. Each time she appeared and made the same request: a shrine to honor her. On the fourth visit, she left her image in his “tilma” or cloak. This act is what finally affirms to him that her presence is real. Saint Diego's tilma is currently held in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. The Basilica in Mexico is the most visited Our Lady of Guadalupe site in the world. El Cerrito de Tepeyac has direct affiliations with the Basilica in Mexico, after the blessing of the site by the Monsignor from this Basilica. El Cerrito having ties to such an influential place such as the Basilica in Mexico shows the importance of this site to not just the people in the community, but its affect internationally.
The late twentieth century brought a movement of Latinx communities from the urban areas of Chicago to the suburbs of the city. Previously, Latinx were moving more to the south and western suburbs of Chicago towards where there were jobs in the industrial sector. In the 80s and 90s, there was a shift and Latinx were moving more often to the north suburbs. Between 1990 and 2007, there has been a 142% change in the Latinx population in Des Plaines. This trend is consistent within the towns surrounding Des Plaines as well, some even experiencing as much as a 261% change. These communities brought their culture with them. Catholicism carries a great amount of importance in Latinx culuture. Religion is a large part of the Mexican identity and culture for many people. There is also a very special reverence for Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexican and other cultures. Those who express deep devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe are known as guadalupanos. The construction and importance of this shrine demonstrates this fact.
This shrine is not only a place for worship, but it also provides a unifying force for the community and a safe space for the Latinx immigrant community. On the outside, the shrine is just a place of worship and, but there are other things happening that only those deeply involved with this community know. Shrine coordinators have put together programs and offer aid for the immigrant community such as legal services. Immigrants are given access to things such as free legal consultations and workstations that help immigrants through the naturalization process.
The strong success of this site was a direct result of its immense Latinx support. Each year on December 12th, hundreds of thousands of people make the pilgrimage to the shrine. December 12th is the feast day for Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the past few years, there has been between 200,000 to over 300,000 people that have made this pilgrimage. The main group in attendance at these pilgrimages are Latinx Catholics. This demonstrates the impact of Latinx communities on the areas in which they settle. This site is an attraction for the Latinx communities across the nation. Being able to make the pilgrimage is seen as a grand act of faith for these people. This site is both a central part of Latinx religiosity and also community. It is a place for people to connect with their faith and also other Latinx people.
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