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About 7 kilometers (4 miles) northwest of downtown Guadalajara via Avenida Avila Camacho, the sprawling “suburb” of Zapopan (sah-POH-pahn) is the home of the Virgin of Zapopan—often referred to as La Zapopanita (“Little Zapopaner”) since her image, made of corn paste, stands a mere 10 inches tall.
Legend alleges that Chimalhuacano Indians, awed by the display of La Zapopanita by a Franciscan friar during the heat of battle against the Spanish, surrendered and were converted to Christianity. In 1734, at the height of an epidemic, she was taken to the towns and villages around Guadalajara. Wherever the virgin appeared, sickness reputedly ceased, and many miracles were subsequently attributed to her.
Each year at dawn on Oct. 12, the statue of the virgin is transported from Guadalajara's cathedral back to her home church, the Basilica of the Virgin of Zapopan. Piety and merrymaking are both in evidence on this occasion. In addition to solemn marchers holding banners, there are marching bands, cowboys on horseback, dancers in native costume and assorted revelers dressed up as if for a giant Halloween party.
Many pilgrims show their devotion by crawling the last kilometer or two on their knees, underscoring the importance of this annual event for the nation's devout Catholics. The homecoming procession from the cathedral to the basilica—a 5-mile route—often involves more than 1 million participants and spectators and is a highlight of Guadalajara's Fiestas de Octubre celebration in October.
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Current Location: Zapopan, Jalisco, Jalisco