The Linguistics of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe.Today it is common to find villages, towns, cities, and even districts in Mexico, Central and South America named “Guadalupe.”  But in the year 1531 there was no such place in Mexico. So, I have always wondered why the appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary is referred to as “Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

Guadalupe is the name of an area, a city, a river, and a Marian shrine in Spain. The word itself comes from a mixture of  Arabic and Latin roots. Remember that Spain was occupied in part and whole by an Islamic regime from 720 CE until 1492 CE, hence many words have Arabic origin. The Arabic wadi (seasonal river bed) became the Spanish “quadi” having the same meaning. “Quadi” seems to have been combined with the Latin lupus (wolf) to come up with Guadalupe.

For me it is a bit of a stretch to believe that Mary, appearing as a woman native to Mexico, would have used the word “Guadalupe” in her apparition to Aztec Indians unfamiliar with the word, but it is possible. For me, other explanations are more satisfying.

It should be noted that the Aztec Nahuatl language does not contain “d” or “g” sounds, raising the question concerning the use of  word “Guadalupe.” One theory is that when Juan Bernardino, the uncle of Juan Diego, was telling the Spanish authorities about the apparition and the identity of the woman, he recounted that she had identified herself as “Our Lady of Coatlaxopeuh.”  The last word is the transliterated spelling, but it would have been pronounced (heard) as quatlasupe – which is phonetically very similar to Guadalupe.

The Aztec word “coatlaxopeuh” can be broken down as follows,

  1. “coa” which means “serpent”
  2. “tla” the ending of the noun which means “the”
  3. “xopeuh” which means to “crush” or “stamp out”

That suggests therefore that Our Lady described herself, not as our lady of the season wolf river, but as the one “who crushes the serpent.”  It raises the interesting possibility that the image of the women crushing the head of the serpent with her heel (Gen 3:15) comes into play. It is possible that the reference is to the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl, one of several important gods in the Aztec pantheon. Quetzalcoatl was related to gods of the wind, of Venus, of the dawn, of merchants and of arts, crafts and knowledge. He was also the patron god of the Aztec priesthood, of learning and knowledge.

It is all speculation, but it is interesting speculation.

Happy Feast Day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.