"The Virgin Mary and Cross-Cultural Encounter in the
Pre-Modern Spanish World "
Amy G. Remensnyder, Brown University
the soul-searching and celebration that accompanied the 500th
anniversary of Columbus's voyage, a heated controversy erupted in Santa
Fe, New Mexico. At stake was the interpretation of Santa Fe's past of
Spanish conquest and Native American subjugation, all embodied by one
the city's saintly patrons, a statue of the Virgin Mary. La
Conquistadora, "the Conqueress", is the startlingly martial
title by which Santa Fe inhabitants have known this image since at least
1693. In that year the conquistador Diego de Vargas triumphantly brought
the statue to Santa Fe, thanking the Virgin for victory over the revolt
of the Pueblo Indians. It is no wonder that the Columbus quincentennial
provoked Native Americans to protest against La Conquistadora's title.
Angered by these protests, Hispanics retorted that La Conquistadora's
name had nothing to do with military conquest: it meant "Our Lady
of Conquering Love" and referred to Mary's winning of souls for
Christianity. Trying to pacify everyone, the Archbishop of Santa Fe
announced that the statue would now bear the bilingual (and illogical)
title of La Conquistadora, "Our Lady of Peace".
no accident that a statue of the Virgin was at the heart of this clash
over the evaluation of the colonial past. The Virgin Mary was involved
with the Spanish colonization of the Americas in exactly the ways both
parties in the Santa Fe controversy believed: military conquest and
religious conversion. The conquistadors and missionaries brought the
Virgin's role in these twinned enterprises with them from home. During
centuries of contact with the large numbers of Muslims and Jews who
inhabited the Iberian peninsula in the Middle Ages, Spanish Christians
had developed an understanding of Mary as an agent of the conquest and
conversion of non-Christians.
this paper, I explore the
implications that this notion of Mary as a symbol of conquest and
conversion has for our understanding of the complex multi-cultural and
colonial situations of medieval Iberia and early Spanish America.
© 2002 Fordham University