Mary in Latin America and the Caribbean by Elsa Támez

At a popular level, religious experience in Latin America and the Caribbean is often characterized by a strong devotion to Mary. The figure of Mary arrived with the Spanish conquest, when indigenous peoples were evangelized or converted to Roman Catholicism. However, conquered peoples later embraced her not as the patron of their conquerors but as the “mother of God,” who stands with those suffering oppression and discrimination. Leaders of popular rebellions and wars of independence often used images of Mary to help legitimize their revolutionary actions.

The figure of Mary was rapidly acculturated, taking on different names and indigenous colors—brown or black, depending on the region. In Brazil, Our Lady of Aparecida (Portuguese, Nossa Senhora Aparecida) has black skin; in Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe (Spanish, Virgen de Guadalupe) has brown skin, a mix of indigenous and European; in Cuba, Our Lady of Charity (Spanish, Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre) has brown skin, a mix of African and European; in Costa Rica Our Lady of the Angels (Spanish, Virgen de los Ángeles) has black skin. Each country also has its own accounts of apparitions of the Virgin, who typically bestows dignity on the suffering and the poor.

Anthropologists also see traces of indigenous and African-descended groups’ ancestral religions in the different representations of Mary. The best-known case is the Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico, who is believed to represent the goddess Tonanzin, a Nahuatl deity called “mother of the gods.”

Some strains of Latin American Protestantism and Pentecostalism have rejected Mary’s image and criticized her veneration. This has contributed to a scarcity of biblical studies about Mary among Evangelicals.

In the last few decades, female theologians and biblical scholars have developed a critical discourse against ecclesiastical circles’ uses of Mary. As a virgin and a mother, she has been presented as an unreachable ideal. These ideals legitimate the patriarchal stereotypes of female virginity and maternity.

Some biblical scholars, both Catholic and Protestant, now read Gospel texts about Mary from a different perspective, recovering her human character and her role as a leader. Mary’s daily life as a Mediterranean Jewish woman is analyzed using Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 1:18-24, Matt 2:1-23, Matt 12:46-50, Matt 13:55), and her role as a female leader and disciple is foregrounded in John (John 2:1-12, John 19:25-27). The Gospel of Luke reveals her humble condition and determined character (Luke 1:26-56, Luke 2:1-20, Luke 2:34-35, Luke 2:38), with special attention to the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). In this popular passage, Mary is seen as full of grace, a strong woman who knows her story and stands beside the poor and oppressed, claiming their rights. The only Gospel that has not received much attention is Mark, where the scarcity of references to Mary is striking. Here, the texts that do mention her (Mark 3:21, Mark 3:30-34, Mark 6:3) are regarded as having little relevance or even as negative in their portrayal of Mary.

Non-Catholic female theologians and biblical scholars acknowledge the symbolic lack of feminine metaphors within the evangelical and Protestant theological sphere. They recognize that recovering the biblical figure of Mary could be valuable. Nevertheless, both Catholic and Protestant women agree that appreciating Mary does not guarantee a change in how the church values women—for despite Catholics’ strong popular and official veneration of Mary, the recognition of women’s roles in the church and in theology has not shifted significantly.

Translated from Spanish by Samuel Auler.

Elsa Támez, "Mary in Latin America and the Caribbean", n.p. [cited 1 Oct 2022]. Online:


Elsa Támez

Elsa Támez
Professor emerita, Latin American Biblical University

Elsa Támez is a Mexican-Costarrican living in Colombia. She is professor emerita of biblical studies at the Latin American Biblical University. She is the author of Amnesty of Grace: Justification by Faith from a Latin American Perspective (1993), Jesus and Courageous Women (2001), and Struggles for Power in Early Christianity: A Study of the First Letter of Timothy (2006).

one who studies human cultures and their development

Evaluating its subject carefully, rigorously, and with minimal preconceptions. "Critical" religious scholarship contrasts with popular and sectarian studies.

Related to the church.

Advocating zealously for Christianity.

A gospel is an account that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

A social hierarchy based on men and paternity.

Relating to thought about the nature and behavior of God.

Writing, speech, or thought about the nature and behavior of God.

Matt 1:18-24

The Birth of Jesus the Messiah
18Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they liv ... View more

Matt 2:1-23

The Visit of the Wise Men
1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,2asking, “Where is th ... View more

Matt 12:46-50

The True Kindred of Jesus
46While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him.47Someone told ... View more

Matt 13:55

55Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?

John 2:1-12

The Wedding at Cana
1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited t ... View more

John 19:25-27

25And that is what the soldiers did.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Mag ... View more

Luke 1:26-56

The Birth of Jesus Foretold
26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,27to a virgin engaged to a man whose nam ... View more

Luke 2:1-20

The Birth of Jesus
1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.2This was the first registration and was taken ... View more

Luke 2:34-35

34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be ... View more

Luke 2:38

38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 1:46-55

Mary's Song of Praise
46And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of ... View more

Mark 3:21

21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”

Mark 3:30-34

30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”The True Kindred of Jesus
31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and ca ... View more

Mark 6:3

3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at ... View more

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