Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 11, 2006
Masked dancers perform for Our Lady of Guadalupe
Dancing, the rosary, tribute to the empress, engage worshippers
Our Lady of Guadalupe – December 12
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
Dancers execute measured, synchroniaed steps and routines are formal and methodical, in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Tortugan Pueblo.
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Each December, throughout the Western Hemisphere, the faithful enthusiastically celebrate the feast day of their patron, Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Her dramatic appearances to Juan Diego at Mexico City in 1532 have been commemorated in many ways but perhaps nowhere as colourfully as in the pueblo of Tortugas in New Mexico.
Three day celebration
For three days, the entire community engages in a series of Masses, processions and dances to express their great devotion to the Mother of God.
Tortugas is an enclave of the city of Las Cruces, on the Rio Grande just 65 km north of the Texas border city of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The town or pueblo was established in the 1700s as a home for Tiwa Indians displaced during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt which saw the Spanish and their allies temporarily forced out of New Mexico.
The church of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe (the Sanctuary), an adobe structure with characteristic clean, smooth contours, dominates the open town plaza. It is a focal point for the mid-December events and is an active parish church with three Masses celebrated on Sundays, one in Spanish.
The fiesta is organized by La Corporacion de los Indegenes de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, Tortugas Pueblo, under the leadership of two Mayordomos couples, and with the co-operation of the parish priest.
Printed invitations and schedules are provided for outsiders who wish to respectfully observe this unique expression of the people's love for Our Lady.
Ceremonies begin on the evening of Dec. 10 with a candlelight procession, followed by the rosary, a traditional novena and dancing by the Danzantes, a Corporacion group, until dawn.
At 5 a.m. the following morning another candlelight procession travels to the parish church to begin the main festival event, a seven-km pilgrimage to the summit of Tortugas Mountain, 1,000 feet above Las Cruces.
Confessions on the mountain precede the culmination of the day's rituals at an outdoor Mass concelebrated by area clergy and the bishop of Las Cruces. An afternoon rosary leads to the lighting of a large mountaintop cross as darkness falls.
The Dec. 12 feast day of Our Lady begins with Mass at the church followed by dancing in the plaza by several groups. The open space becomes a kaleidoscope of colour, filled with costumed danzas (dancers), some masked, all in unusual headdresses, many with multicoloured ribbons, some wearing aprons bearing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Dance steps are measured, synchronized and routines are formal and methodical, performed in unison by long lines of danzas to melodies produced by a lone, wandering fiddler. Additional colour is provided by the banners of Our Lady that are carried in all fiesta rituals.
In addition to the Danzantes, dancers may be members of the Tiwas (the Indians) or two matachines groups, the Danza Azteca Chichimeca (the Reds) or the Danza Guadalupana (the Yellows).
Dance pattern changes are cued by the imperious discharge of a shotgun from the church doorway, the spent shell casings eagerly sought by young boys directly from the gunman.
Throughout the morning, observers, from town matrons to visiting clergy to scores of school children, seem to thoroughly enjoy the danzas as evidenced by the beaming smiles in all directions.
The remainder of the day is filled by a traditional meal, more dancing, a procession around the pueblo, the rosary, benediction at the church and an evening reception, a final tribute to the Empress of the Americas from her indigenous people.