Nuestra Señora de Luján

I finally made it to Luján last Sunday, taking the Lujanera bus with Ulrika. Luján has been a site of Marian devotion since 1630 when a wooden statue of Mary miraculously stopped by the river Luján, en route from Brazil. Since then various miracles have been associated with the statue (the picture is of an 'accessible' replica at the back of the church).

The Virgin of Luján is patroness of both Argentina and Uruguay. The first Saturday in October and 8th December are both days of pilgrimage to Luján, with devotees setting out from the chapel of San Cayetano in the barrio of Liniers.

I've been reading about the numerous appearances of Mary across Latin America, many - such as Guadalupe - appeared at existing sites of devotion to goddesses or other divine figures. The Virgin of Luján is not linked to any pre-Columbian goddess figure, sadly. Moreover, her dark identity was soon lost, as the simple wooden statue was covered over in the European blue and white robes of Mary, and ‘whitened’ through silver overlay (Trillini et al. 2004: 135).

Unlike other Latin American Marías, it's difficult to find stories of resistance or challenge associated with Luján; rather the opposite. The Argentine dictatorship aggressively promoted devotion to the Virgin of Luján as a method of maintaining traditional Catholic morality and devotion (Althaus-Reid 2000: 59). And Pope John Paul II visited the Luján during his 1982 visit - praying at the shrine and calling for peace but failing to challenge with any conviction either the military Junta or the Falklands/ Malvinas conflict.

Nevertheless, the Virgin of Luján opened up space for justice in one specific moment – it was in October 1976 on pilgrimage to Luján that the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo chose to wear white headscarves (actually cloth nappies once used by their children) as a way of identifying each other. Lost in the crowds of pilgrims, they were able to meet, talk and be found by others also looking for their missing children. In the plaza outside the church at Luján, the Madres petitioned for their children.

So much for Luján. After a quick peep inside the church, and an interesting lunch experience, I ventured into one of the many Santerías around the plaza. Inspired by Marcella Althaus-Reid (and who isn't?!) I was looking for a couple of more risqué characters.

Like a child collecting football stickers, I gave a little whoop of joy when the helpful staff deciphered my mispronounced request and, out of a back room, produced a devotional card of Santa Librada, a crucified female saint (or a crucified Mary, or even a cross-dressing Jesus, see Althaus-Reid 2000: 80). Santa Librada, also known as Wilgefortis or Uncumber, to whom women pray for delivery from abusive husbands or unwanted suitors. I'm sure I'll have more to say about her in some later post...

Buoyant with success, but failing to remember the name of the second santa, I resorted to dramatic interpretation: "She's a woman, in the desert... one of her breasts is exposed.. she has a baby..." Holy charades and - hurrah! - a card of La Difunta Correa was mine for 75 centavos. La Difunta Correa is connected to women who work as roadside prostitutes (Althaus-Reid 2000: 85), and is another marginal figure, caught between scandal and sanctification.

Accompanied by Santa Librada and La Difunta Correa, we left the banks of Luján and headed home.

Althaus-Reid, Marcella (2000) Indecent Theology Theological Perversions in Sex, Gender and Politics London/ New York: Routledge

Trillini, Coca; Andant, María Teresa; y Bani, Claudia (2004) “La Virgen de Luján y la fuerza de los arquetipos” en Verónica Cordero, Graciela Pujol, Mary Judith Rees & Coca Trillini (2004) Vírgenes y diosas en América Latina. La resignificación de lo sagrado Santiago: Con-spirando; Buenos Aires: Red Latinoamericana de Católicas por el Derecho de Decidir, pp.117-38.