Our Lady of Light

Nuestra Señora de la Luz

Feast Day: February 27

Patron Saint of: Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico 

Invoked for protection against storms, plagues, and other natural disasters. 

Essay by Yael Cano 

In Italy, during the eighteenth century, a Jesuit named Father John Genovesi decided that he would take to each of the missions he visited the painted representation of the Virgin Mary. Not knowing which one to pick, he decided to talk to a devout woman who had the reputation throughout town of being frequently visited by the Virgin. After being asked, the woman prayed for days until one day, while praying, she finally had a vision of the Virgin. In the vision, the Virgin had so much light radiating from her that it seemed to cover the sun, yet it did not hurt when it was looked at, rather it filled the heart. The Virgin, herself, was beautiful and was dressed in a white flowing robe, a girdle covered in precious stones, and a blue mantle which hung around her shoulders. In her left arm, she carried a Child Jesus, whom was taking hearts from a basket an angel held on his side and inflating them one by one with love. In her right hand, she lifts a sinful soul by the hand, away from the mouth of hell. Above her, a group of angels were hovering over as they held a crown over her head. The Virgin tells the woman that she wanted to be represented just as she looked right then, with the title of Our Lady of Light. The woman agreeing with this, goes and tells Father Genovesi about her vision. He then hires an artist to depict the image of Our Lady of Light, though neither he nor the woman stay to supervise the work, which resulted in an incorrect depiction of the vision. The woman, having already gone back to her family in the next city, was asked by Father Genovesi to return to Palermo to oversee the depiction of Our Lady, but the woman declined as she was busy with her family.

The next day, the woman had a vision once again and in this one, Our Lady of Light came to her, asking her to return to Palermo to oversee the work. The woman protesting the task told Our Lady that she was too busy with family matters and questioned why she would ask her with all the resources in the world. Our Lady then told the woman that she was going to go to Palermo whether she wanted to or not. A couple days later after the vision, the woman began getting a pain in her chest and, suddenly, lost her voice. The doctors told her that there was no cure for what she had and that she should go to Palermo for some fresh air. After traveling back to Palermo, the woman almost instantly began to feel better, and again had another vision of Our Lady of Light. In this vision, Our Lady asked the woman, once again, to supervise the painting while she aided in guiding the painter’s brush. The woman, glad that she was cured of her sudden illness, agreed, and the painting was redone correctly. Once done, Our Lady of Light appeared over the painting and blessed it with the sign of the cross.

The painting was later taken to León, Guanajuato, Mexico in 1732. There, Our Lady of Light became so loved and devoted that the people of León decided to make her their patroness in 1849 under the authorities of Popes Pius IX and Leo XIII, the patronage was officialized in 1902. All three retablos from the NMSU Art Gallery collection have the same artistic representation: Our Lady of light is depicted as a beautiful woman dressed in a flowing white robe, a girdle around her waist, and a blue mantle hanging around her shoulders. Her white robe and blue mantle both symbolize her Immaculate Conception, as well as her purity (figs. 1-3). In her left arm she carries Jesus as a Child, whom is depicted as taking flowers (fig. 2) or hearts (figs.1, 3) from a basket an angel is holding on His side and inflating them one by one with love.

The basket of flowers or flaming hearts not only represents the souls saved by Mary, but it also symbolizes the eternal love and charity of Jesus. Virgin Mary lifts a sinful soul by the hand away from the mouth of hell with Her right hand. The entrance of hell is depicted as being the gaping jaws of the monster Leviathan, who was censored by the Catholic Church in 1760 and was replaced by other figures such as fire or dark clouds. However, the retablos from nineteenth-century Mexico continue representing hell as a monster with wide-open jaws. Above her head, two angels hover over her as they hold a crown over her head. The crowning of Our Lady of Light symbolizes her status as the Queen of Heaven.

Figure 1. Our Lady of Light / Nuestra Señora de la Luz

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. 14 x 10”. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1967.1.96.

Donor: Mr. Fran E. Tolland.

Figure 2. Our Lady of Light / Nuestra Señora de la Luz

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. 14 x 10”. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1966.6.39.

Donor: Mr. Fran E. Tolland.

Figure 3. Our Lady of Light / Nuestra Señora de la Luz

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. 10 x 7”. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1965.2.58.

Donor: Mr. Fran E. Tolland.

References

Granziera, Patrizia. “Iconographic Variants of an Armed Virgin: Our Lady of Socorro.” Revistas

de Humanidades. 2011. http://www.revistadehumanidades.com/articulos/19-variantes

iconograficas-de-una-virgen-armada-nuestra-senora-del-socorro.

Hall, James. Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. New York: Harper & Row Publishers Inc.,1974.

Roman Catholic Saints. “Our Lady of Light. Roman Catholic Saints.” 2011. https://www.roman-

catholicsaints.com/our-lady-of-light.html.

Santopedia. “Nuestra Señora de la Luz.” Santopedia. 2019.

https://www.santopedia.com/santos/nuestra-senora-de-la-luz

University of Dayton. “All About Mary: Our Lady of Light, Madre Santissima Del Lume.”

University of Dayton, 2018. https://udayton.edu/imri/mary/o/our-lady-of-light.php

Zarur, Elizabeth Netto Calil and Charles Muir Lovell. Art and Faith in Mexico: The Nineteenth-Century Retablo Tradition. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press. 2001.