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Roadside Virgins

Mexico's relationship with the Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Marian vision reported by a 16th century Aztec man and since turned into a cultural icon, is inescapable.  Homages to the Virgin are so abundant and diverse they share little in common beyond their ubiquity: candles, tattoos, coffee mugs, key chains, cellphone cases, and checks are just a few of the myriad manifestations of the beloved figure.  A peculiar instance of this adoration is found in various roadside shrines to her, which appear in the most random and remote locations along Mexico's backroads and highways.

These shrines are as unique and diverse as the landscapes they inhabit.  They can be as large as a bedroom or as small a shoebox.  They take the form of cabinets, doghouses, churches, rotundas, or simply holes chiseled out of the rock.  Some have locked gates to prevent vandalization, others openly gather offerings and personal baubles.  They often stand alone, but a few are part of elaborate constructions, complete with stairs or ornate entry ways, and usually designed with a heavy hand.  They are painted from a full palette of impressionist's colors that call out from the din of brush and rock.  They are rarely found near civilization, which serves their purpose: out on an empty road they are beacons of hope and protection for those far from home.  To an irreligious traveler, immune to their metaphysics, they are delightful surprises that break up the monotony of long days on the slab where even the most picturesque backdrops can pall through repetition.  They are drops of humanity scattered across Mexico's empty landscapes.


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