Religion in México (Past & Present)

Between 80% and 90% of the people living in México today are Catholic, which is astounding considering the early Mexican civilizations knew nothing of this religion before the Spanish. In fact, MesoAmerican cultures were polytheistic.

Before the Spanish arrived in MesoAmerica, native life centered around worshipping gods who were believed to control elements of nature. The Aztec worshipped over 1,000 gods, most importantly Huitzilopochtl, the God of the Sun, and Tlaloc, the God of rain and fertility. Many indigenous groups used human offerings to gain the favor of the gods. Without these rituals, MesoAmerican peoples believed the gods would go unnourished and bring the world to an end. Human sacrifice sounds terrifying to me, but because this aspect was so important within their religion, being selected as a sacrifice was often considered an honor.

In 1519, Hernán Cortés brought Catholicism to the New World. The Spanish quickly began converting the indigenous people. They destroyed native temples and culture, replacing them with their own schools, churches, and ways of life. Can you imagine forgetting all of your beliefs and traditions for a new way of life?

Today, Catholicism is an important part of every day life. To better understand its impact on the people of México, I visited Mexico City’s Basilica de Guadalupe, the second most visited Catholic shrine in the world after the Vatican. The Virgin of Guadalupe, an aspect of the Virgin Mary, is an incredibly significant figure in Mexican Catholicism. Each year, millions make a pilgrimage to this holy place to view the tilma and pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Her image is highly revered and can be seen all over México: in altars, key chains, lamp posts, and even in tattoos!