Published on November 22, 2010 by John
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In Aztec mythology and among present-day Nahuas, Tonantzin ‘Our Revered Mother’ is a general title bestowed upon female deities. Informants of Sahagún, for example, called a frightening goddess of war and childbirth, Cihuacoatl, by this title. The title is particularly believed to refer to Mother Earth, and, among Catholics, nowadays denotes the Virgin Mary.
Goddesses such as “Mother Earth”, the “Goddess of Sustenance”, “Honored Grandmother”, “Snake”, “Bringer of Maize” and “Mother of Corn” can all be called Tonantzin. Other indigenous names include Chicomexochitl (“Seven Flowers”) and Chalchiuhcihuatl (“Woman of Precious Stone”). A Tonantzin was honored during the movable feast of Xochilhuitl.
Some anthropologists believe that Our Lady of Guadalupe (an indigenous manifestation of Christ’s mother Mary and patroness of Roman Catholic Mexico) is a syncretic and “Christianized” Tonantzin. Mexico City’s 17th-century Basilica of Guadalupe–built in honor of the virgin and perhaps Mexico’s most important religious building—was constructed at the base of the hill of Tepeyac, believed to be a site used for pre-Columbian worship of Tonantzin.
According to one theory, the creation of the Virgin of Guadalupe as a “Christianized” Tonantzin was used by clergymen to convert the Aztecs to their religion. In support of this viewpoint, Jacques Lafaye wrote in Quetzalcoatl and Guadalupe that “…as the Christians built their first churches with the rubble and the columns of the ancient pagan temples, so they often borrowed pagan customs for their own cult purposes.”
Tonantzin is sometimes used as a female given name; actress Tonantzin Carmelo is an example. Tona, Tonzi, Toni, Nantzin, Toto-Nanan and Totes are possible nicknames.