For faithful Roman Catholics in Merida and the rest of Yucatan, Saturday Dec. 12 is one of the holiest days of the year: the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint.
Preparations for the celebration are already in full swing, and devout pilgrims have begun arriving, particularly in the neighborhood surrounding the church of San Cristobal, just south of downtown Merida. The church bears a large and elaborate image of the Virgin.
Hundreds of pilgrims flock to the church every year to pay tribute to and thank the Virgin for the blessings that have been given to their families. Others, such as the torchbearers, arrive to fulfill the promise they make each year as penance for their sins.
With the feast only four days off, hotels, motels and other accommodations near the church of San Cristobal, are reporting regular occupancy.
However, based on experience of previous years, the owners of hosting centers in the neighborhood expect a significant increase in demand for rooms. These are rented from $200 to $400 pesos a night (USD$11.75 to $23.45), depending on the category of the establishment.
Also, establishments around the church are selling images of “La Morenita” and other saints as well as bandanas, paintings, costumes of San Juan Diego, rosaries and other similar items.
Many people who visit the church to celebrate the Virgin of Tepeyac come from other parts of the country, so they are looking to stay in nearby hotels or inns.
According to several managers of these establishments, for now the flow of customers is regular, but it is expected to increase until Saturday Dec. 12, day of the festivities.
The receptionist at the Hotel del Prado, Calle 50 at Cale 67 (a few meters from the church of San Cristobal) said that at this time guests are coming from all over Southeast Mexico to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe. Some are from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Chiapas, and Tabasco. Others from central Mexico.
“At the moment there are not many people, but it may be that Wednesday they will start arriving; Friday is when most activity will be seen,” said the employee.
“It’s already a tradition that the Barrio de San Cristobal is full of faithful believers in La Guadalupana,” he added.
An employee of a nearby motel said that there are many people who come to celebrate the Virgin with a devotion that leads them to travel long distances, some even by walking.
Many more pilgrims also visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world, and the world’s third most-visited sacred site.
According to Catholic teachings and popular legend, the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, an indigenous farmer, at this site in 1531 and asked him to build a church in her honor there.
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