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"The Virgin Mary and Cross-Cultural Encounter in the Pre-Modern Spanish World "

Amy G. Remensnyder, Brown University

During 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". 

It is 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.

In 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.





Copyright 2002 Fordham University
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