Religion in México (Past & Present)

México harbors the third largest population of Catholics in the world, which seems odd considering its MesoAmerican roots in polytheism. The Maya, Teotihuácanos, Aztec, and other indigenous groups had gods of the Sun, Moon, rain, and every other natural phenomenon. They believed each of these gods needed attention and nourishment or they would be tempted to end the world. This nourishment came in the form of ritual sacrifices, offering their most precious possessions: human lives.

Appeasing the gods was a constant task to regulate the cosmos and ensure the world lasted another day or year. That sounds to me like an exhausting routine. Since this aspect of life was so important, being selected as the sacrifice was often considered a huge honor, something for which people would occasionally volunteer. I can’t imagine raising my hand to offer myself for that job. I’d probably stand behind someone really tall.

In 1519, these practices were put to an end by Hernán Cortés and the Spanish with their infusion of Catholicism into the New World. This intense, and sometimes brutal, process of conversion to Catholicism began and didn’t cease for hundreds of years. The Spanish took on the incredibly difficult task of wiping these cultures clean of their thousand year-old traditions. Something tells me Cortés wasn’t a very open-minded person. Luckily, not every MesoAmerican forfeited their beliefs, which is why we can still observe and learn about these cultures today.

To get a sense of modern-day México’s religious foundation, I visited the Basilica de Guadalupe, which was built on the location of the Lady of Guadalupe’s miraculous appearance. Mass conversions to Catholicism occurred in the 16th century after she appeared to a native convert.

Even today, the Lady of Guadalupe holds the hearts of the Mexican majority, her basilicas attracting huge crowds as the second most-visited Catholic structure, following the Vatican.