A Crown for the Empress of the Americas

By RosAngelica Moreno
The symbol of Puerto Vallarta recognized the world over is the Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe that proudly wears her crown as she presides over the Plaza de Armas and looks out to Bahia de Banderas.

Her crowned tower dominates the historic center of Puerto Vallarta as the peal of her bells calls the faithful to mass on Sundays or the saying of the rosary on weekend nights. The history of that parish is as old as Puerto Vallarta or perhaps older and is intrinsically tied to its historical heritage.

Las Peñas (Rocky Cliffs), as Puerto Vallarta was first known, was no more than a gathering of thatched dwellings for fishermen along the Rio Cuale, where there were more crocodiles than people and the river met the sea. In contrast to the small gathering of fishermen’s shacks, deep in the Sierra Madre mountains in the towns of Cuale, Mascota, and San Sebastián, a gold rush was going on.

On April 15, 1883, Padre Sabino Virute, a priest from Tepic, built a small chapel on the original site to honor the Virgin de Guadalupe. In 1885, Don Guadalupe Sanchez Torres moved there from San Blas, Nayarit, with his family to establish the business of providing salt to the mining towns to refine gold and silver. The salt was shipped in from the Islas Marias (directly west of the Marietas), which today houses the museum of a former penal colony. The inmates of this dreaded tropical prison provided the labor and salt for the mines the rich Spaniards exploited in the Sierra Madre.

On December 12, 1885, the same day on which Our Lady of Guadalupe had appeared to Juan Diego in 1531, they named it Las Peñas de Santa María de Guadalupe. It grew and prospered, but it wasn’t until May 31, 1918, that the name officially changed to Puerto Vallarta, honoring a jurist and former governor of Jalisco, Lic. Luis Ignacio Vallarta.

Puerto Vallarta’s natural bay had become a safe harbor for the ships taking on water and supplies and Mismaloya had provided shipbuilding for the exploration and settlement of Baja California by the Spanish explorers. However, the ever present English pirates often attacked the gold shipments, taking the gold that was brought down the mountains by mules and leaving the beach littered with the dead… ergo, Playa de los Muertos.

The present Church was begun in 1915 and was designed and executed by Father Francisco Ayala. However, the cruel and bloody Cristero War, waged against the Catholic Church by the disastrous presidency of Plutarco Elías Calles, brought its construction to a halt, and it wasn’t until 1930 that it resumed.

By 1952, the tower was completed, and the sculptor Jose R. Guareño executed the crown designed by Father Castillo in iron and cement. The crown was completed in 1963 and was NOT a replica of Carlota de Habsburgo’s crown, as rumored, for she only donned a tiara.

Besides, Pope Pius X having declared Our Lady of Guadalupe “Empress of all the Americas” in 1910, there would be no need to copy any other fake crown.

The original cement crown naturally deteriorated and was replaced by a fiberglass copy in 1981, but on October 9, 1995, the Colima earthquake shook the tower and tumbled the crown to its destruction. A renowned artist, Carlos Terres, from Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, sculpted the present crown (faithful to the original design) from a more durable ground stone and resin composite and named the crown, “Tecuntlanupeuh” that in the Náhuatl tongue means “She that originated in Las Peñas.”

The 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish was celebrated on October 12, 2021, and it is quite fitting, for on that “Día de la Raza,” (not Columbus Day, please!) or the day of the new race, where we acknowledge the blending of Spanish and indigenous blood into “La Raza de Bronce…..The Bronze Race” we Mexicans are today.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is the very iconic symbol of Puerto Vallarta and the image of her beautiful crown high over the city will remain embedded in the memory of all that visit and reside here. No pictorial recount of Puerto Vallarta is complete without a photograph of our Crowned Church tower silhouetted against the Vallarta sunset as she travels the world and will remain in every visitor’s heart!



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