An unusual travel book of affecting yet wryly entertaining essays about the many, many pilgrims to Mexico’s revered shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Hanut takes us back to 1531 with the tale of Juan Diego, a poor Mexican to whom the “Lady from Heaven” appeared at Tepeyac, a hill northwest of Mexico City. She identified herself as the Mother of the True God, instructed Diego to have the bishop build a temple on the site, and left behind an image of herself imprinted on a piece of cloth. Then we’re brought up to 1988 and a second journey, this one made by our author himself, to the same site, now known as Mary’s Basilica, or the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the most visited Catholic church in the world after the Vatican—with the mysterious cloth still there, showing no visible signs of wear or decay. Hanut, the Danish-born, Paris-raised photographer and author of I Wish You Love: Conversations with Marlene Dietrich (1995), effortlessly alternates chapters in telling Diego’s ancient story alongside his own in a kind of double odyssey. Made by many millions—believers and nonbelievers, rich and robust, the poor and the plagued—the famous pilgrimage offers Hanut a vehicle for his own comments and observations, often wry, about the widely diverse Mexican culture—its religious history, corrupt political scene, deep poverty, compassionate people, and delightful uniqueness.
Irreverent and lighthearted on the one hand, serious and upsetting on the other, Hanut’s essays will hold equal appeal for the devout and the skeptical—and certainly for those interested in things Mexican.