The Miracles of Izamal

The streets of Izamal, a small town about 70 kilometers south of the capital Mérida on the Yucatán Peninsula, are filled with tourists and natives alike to see a tradition that dates back decades. The statue of Our Lady of Izamal is processed throughout the yellow town, beginning at the Convent of San Antonio de Padua, signifying the start of the weeklong celebration of the Immaculate Conception in early December. Flowers, songs, and worship are visible as the Blessed Virgin Mother makes her way throughout the town, which will lead to a Catholic mass. A sight different from the Maya celebrations documented by Franciscan Friar Diego de Landa (1524-1579) in the sixteenth century. [1]

Two thousand years before the arrival of the Spanish, Izamal was created as a religious center for the Maya named after the ancient Maya god Itzamna, where Mayas pilgrimed every year to partake in their festivities and celebrations. [2] Religion played an essential role in life for the native Maya. In Izamal, the Maya culture was represented by five grand religious structures and monuments associated with local deities; Kinich Ahau (Sun God), whose image is on the side of one of the temples. These celebrations and festivals date back to the completion of Uxmal and Chichén Itzá (550-800 AD). [3] This is seen in the Mayas' celebrations, dedicating time and effort to the dead in vast cemeteries dedicated to the deities for some specific quality. Artwork around Izamal that shows celebrations occurring; can also be seen hidden in some murals of the Convent of San Antonio de Padua, showing the Maya culture did not die with their conversion.[4] Pilgrimages happened to this area for the five structures, resulting in festivals and dedications to the gods they stand for, such as Kinich Ahau through tribunal war dances. These festivals were known throughout the calendar year and included sacrifices of animals and dedication with various precious stones like gold and silver to please their deities. [5] This was done to stop droughts, cure illness or appease demons noted by Landa in his writings. Other reports of these sacrifices are said to have been destroyed by Landa in destroying the Maya codices.

The entire Yucatán Peninsula, not just Izamal, saw a religious revival with the Spanish Catholic priests of the Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and Jesuits orders.[6] Throughout the region, native labor was used to build churches and parishes to become a staple in their culture. The Blessed Virgin Mother, or, what Catholics call the Immaculate Conception, was the driving force behind Bishop Diego de Landa’s obligation they had as a Franciscan priest [7] to evangelize the native population. This devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mother would prove its importance by introducing the statue and image of Our Lady of Izamal. The Convent of San Antonio de Padua was shown with significant importance when Friar Landa completed construction in his book Yucatán Before and After Conquest, which took away from the other religious structures in Izamal. Friar Landa was then sent to Guatemala after repenting for the destruction of the Maya codices to construct two statues of the Blessed Mother. One for Izamal and the other for Mérida. These statues became the area's centerpiece and are officially known for helping the region more than once. The friar’s statue is in the monumental yellow building seen today in Izamal. It was moved back and forth across the peninsula, where stories of incredible miracles took place. Recorded in engraved stone, these miracles remedied epidemics, grasshopper plagues, and other natural disasters in the area. [8] However, in 1829, a fire destroyed the original statue of Our Lady. In due and just service to the crown, the second statue in Mérida was gifted to the Izamal, signifying the Blessed Virgin's sheer importance in this area.

These festivals for Our Lady of Izamal began in the colonial era with the Spanish and have lasted into the twenty-first century, which has grown vastly. These celebrations are always practiced on the week of December 8th, the feast day of the Immaculate Conception. Dedication to Our Lady in recent years has shown up in more research, and we see an increase in pilgrimages to Izamal every year. In Ilia Alvarado-Sizzos's study, she shows that between December 8th to December 12th, around 8,000 pilgrims make their way to Izamal to celebrate the festivities. These festivities are documented in prayers such as novenas, chaplets, and the most holy rosary, worship with music, and devotion in food and markets to Our Lady in search of miracles or thanksgiving. They offered a different picture than the Maya festivities Landa noted before Our Lady's introduction. However, the main message portrayed by Our Lady has remained the same since Friar Landa dedicated it to Izamal: that she is the divine protector of the town, and the people are worthy of divine intervention. [9] Various festivities happen, including a fair that offers vendors throughout Izamal where food, alcoholic beverages, clothes, religious souvenirs, and other items can be bought in Our Lady’s honor. Other festivities provide a more spiritual tone, such as mass, singing birthday hymns, and offering flowers to the images. There is also a holy relic dedication that individuals believe in holding divine power that will protect them throughout the year. The celebration is done by both natives and foreigners from across the globe to show their dedication to the true power Our Lady offers and is still present to this day. A few things have changed since the Spanish Colonial era, but the devotion to Our Lady of Izamal has remained constant since her introduction in the 16th century.

The old Maya religious center, now home to La Ciudad Amarilla (The Yellow City), offers a sense of magical powers in healing, grace, and vast miracles that date back to the mid-sixteenth century. In December, pilgrims trek to this small town on the Yucatán Peninsula to show gratitude and witness one of the Catholic Church’s key figures: Our Lady of Izamal. In a culture that once celebrated various deities, there now stands an image and statue of the Blessed Virgin where thousands come every year to pray and worship in Marian tradition. [10]