Photos Reveal Mexico’s Colorful Virgin Mary Festival

Millions of pilgrims walk for days to celebrate the Feast of Guadalupe.

For two millennia, the Virgin Mary has been one of the world’s most venerated women. She is particularly revered in Mexico; the country's patron saint is Our Lady of Guadalupe, a form of the Virgin that is said to have appeared to an indigenous man in what is now Mexico City in 1531. That storied event is commemorated across the country every year on and around December 12, during the Feast of Guadalupe.

Millions of Catholics share their devotion to the Virgin on that day. Some of them walk for weeks to the central shrine at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. National Geographic photographer Diana Markosiandocumented this festival last year, as part of the magazine feature on the Virgin Mary. Markosian photographed worshippers at the basilica and pilgrims en route.

“What struck me was the depth of their devotion,” says Markosian, an Armenian-American photographer. “Many people there embrace Mary as a part of their own culture and identity.”

One pilgrim had walked for about two weeks with a heavy sculpture of the Virgin, in order to deliver prayers that his sick infant son might recover.

“Everyone has to visit their mother,” another pilgrim told National Geographic magazine writer Maureen Orth.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is a ubiquitous symbol across Mexico and is thought to stand for hope, strength, and faith. Treks in her honor are among the most popular pilgrimages in the world, drawing an estimated six million visitors to the central basilica alone.

“Their sense of sacrifice was really moving to see,” Markosian says.