Nativity of the Virgin Mary

September 8

Happy Birthday Madonna!

No, not that one.

On September 8, the Catholic world celebrates the birth of the Virgin Mary.

Nativity of Mary

Little is know of Mary’s birth from the Bible. The Gospel of James (which didn’t make the final cut) list her folks as Joachim and Anne (Hannah). The couple was childless until they were visited by an angel who informed them a child was forthcoming. Anne promised the child would be brought up to serve the Lord.

Mary would have been born “Mariam” or מרים

For two-thousand years, the Virgin Mary has been the symbol of feminine spirituality in Christian culture. While Eve was unfairly vilified as the bringer of original sin throughout the Middle Ages, Mary represented the opposite, the ultimate purity and the the bringer of God.

Pope John Paul ll in his 2000 millennium message elevates the status of both Eve and Mary. He describes Eve as the original symbol of Humanity, the mother who gave birth to Cain and Abel, and Mary, who gave birth to Jesus, as a symbol of the New Humanity; one in which All Humanity is One in Spirit with God. This statement changes the context which the Christian doctrine has relegated to women; that the Spirit of God resides equally in male and female.

Contemplation of Mary – St. Mary’s at Penn

Visions of the Virgin Mary have been spotted by worshippers throughout the Christian world. One of the most famous of these was witnessed initially by three children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917.

On the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, many Mediterranean and Latin-American villages carry her statue from local churches through the streets. Local Spanish processions are known as Virgin de la Pena, Virgin de la Fuesanta, and Virgin de la Cinta. Peru has the Virgin of Cocharcas, and in Bolivia it’s the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Virgin of Guadalupe procession in Bolivia (c) Reuters
Virgin of Guadalupe procession in Bolivia © Reuters

And it may not be Madonna (Madonna Louise “Like A Virgin” Ciccone)’s birthday, but singer-songwriter Aimee Mann turns 51 today…and rumor has it she’s still a Virginian.

Easter comes and goes
Maybe Jesus knows…

Aimee Mann, “Thirty One Today”

Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Brazil – Independence Day

September 7

Had the Pope’s arm slipped just an inch that day in 1494, the people of Brazil might be speaking Spanish right now. But the vertical line in the Treaty of Tordesillas that split the world outside Europe between Spain and Portugal held steady. The Pope alloted the easternmost chip of the Americas to Portugal, while Spain got the rest.

The history of Brazil would unfurl quite differently from the rest of its neighbors, and indeed from all of the Americas.

As Portuguese explorers pushed eastward that chip of South America soon became the largest colony on the continent. A land that contained vast jungles, endless rivers, and bountiful resources unimaginable to the Europeans back home in Portugal.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Napoleon of France invaded Portugal.

The King of Portugal, João VI, fled to Brazil and declared Rio de Janeiro the new capital of Portugal and its possessions. (Imagine King George III coming to America and declaring New York the capital of Great Britain.)

Napoleon then did an about face and turned his troops on Spain. (This wasn’t hard to do, since the French army was already in Spain. Spain had given Napoleon permission to cross through to attack Portugal.)

As a result, South America was a scene of pandemonium for the next two decades. The Spanish colonies refused to answer to the French and declared their autonomy one at a time. Even when Spain kicked the French out of their homeland, the people of South America maintained their independence, leading to several lengthy wars between Spain and its colonies. From Buenos Aires to Santiago to Lima and beyond, the wars were hard fought and costly, both in terms of resources and human lives.

Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro

The situation in Brazil was different. João VI fell in love with Brazil, and when the French were booted out of Portugal in 1815, he refused to come home. João made Brazil its own kingdom, an equal partner with Portugal. But the folks back home were not so thrilled about this. They demanded that the royal family return to Portugal and that Brazil be made a colony again.

Eventually the king was forced to return home to maintain order in Portugal; his 23 year-old son Pedro stayed behind and became regent of the Kingdom of Brazil.

Pedro defied orders to return to Lisbon. The Portuguese Parliament limited his powers, and attempted to make Brazil a subservient colony once again. Upon hearing this news at the bank of the Ipiranga River, Pedro famously declared: “Independência ou Morte!” (Independence or Death!) The Grito do Ipiranga (Shout of Ipiranga) took place on September 7, 1822.

Grito de Iparanga
Grito de Iparanga

Pedro was proclaimed Emperor of Brazil on October 12, his 24th birthday.

In 1831, Pedro abdicated the throne to his 5 year-old son, Pedro II and returned to Portugal. Pedro II ruled as Emperor for nearly 50 years. In 1889 the Emperorship was abolished and Brazil became a republic.

Young Pedro II
Young Pedro II

Death of San Martín

August 17

…never had I entertained any ambition other than to merit the hatred of the ungrateful and the esteem of the virtuous.

-José de San Martín, July 22, 1820

San Martín did both.

One of the greatest heroes of Pan-American history, San Martín was an exceptionally rare kind in that, after achieving what he had set out to accomplish–namely the liberation of most of South America–he held true to his word. He relinquished all power and returned home following a fateful and mysterious meeting with fellow libertador Simón Bolívar.

Both men had hopes for a united South America, and both were disillusioned by the continual conflicts that thwarted their idealistic vision.

Upon vanquishing the Spanish army from Argentina, San Martín had hardly set foot outside his newly independent homeland when internal divisions led that nation to civil war. San Martín’s powerful army and his own fame could have swayed the civil war, but he chose to fight the Spanish in Chile and Peru rather than return to Argentina with his army to take sides and shed the blood of his countrymen.

He was proclaimed Protector of Peru, a title he relinquished after his meeting with Bolívar, along with command of his army. He then returned briefly to his farm in Mendoza, Argentina. After the death of his wife, San Martín placed himself in voluntary exile in Europe, moving to France with his daughter Mercedes. He would spend the rest of his life in France, a nation he had once fought against as a youth in service to Spain.

Today San Martín is revered as the national hero of Argentina.

The Life of José de San Martín

Children’s Day – Paraguay

August 16


Children’s Day in Paraguay has its roots in the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870), the most devastating war ever fought in South America. It was fought between Paraguay (on one side) and Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay (on the other).

Needless to say, Paraguay didn’t win. In fact, it lost half its population during the war—including nearly all its fighting-age men—as well as 60,000 square miles of territory to Brazil and Argentina. (Latin America’s Wars: the Age of the Caudillo (1791-1899) Robert Scheina)

Children’s Day recalls the anniversary of the one of the last battles of the war in 1869, the Battle of Acosta Nu. Having already lost most of his army, Paraguayan dictator Francisco Lopez used younger and younger recruits. The 6,000 strong force in August of that year was largely made out of children. On August 16, the small retreating army was overtaken by a force of 20,000 men from Brazil and Argentina. Within eight hours, over 2000 Paraguayans lay dead.

Paraguayans say the additional tragedy was that the war was already over at that point, but that the Brazilian government refused to stop until Lopez was captured.

The War of the Triple Alliance remains one of the darkest chapters in South American history.

Paraguay in green
Paraguay in green

Ecuador National Day – the “Grito” of Quito

August 10


Today is Ecuador’s National Day, and the event it celebrates is considered the first cry for independence in Latin America. It took place in Quito, Ecuador, on August 10, 1809.

South America’s “Primer Grito de la Independencia” (first shout for independence) was ironically a show of fidelity to Spain. On the other side of the Atlantic, Napoleon of France had invaded Spain and installed his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish throne in 1808.

When the news spread to South America, the criollos (Spanish descendants born in the New World) initially called for independence as a show of support. On August 10, 1809, they declared their unity behind the former King Ferdinand of Spain and they refused to recognize the legitimacy of officials appointed by the Bonaparte government. Over the next several years, several similar “gritos” would be issued by Latin American assemblies all the way from Mexico to Argentina.

But when the Spanish regained control of their own country, and turned their attention back to South America, the criollos who had been fighting for their freedom had no intention of turning back.

Independence however would be a long time coming. The Wars of Independence from Spain raged throughout South America for over a decade.

With support from the armies of Simón Bolivar and José de San Martín, Ecuador’s national hero Antonio José de Sucre eventually liberated the Quito region from Spanish forces in 1822. The final Battle of Pichincha, fought atop the slopes of a towering volcano overlooking Quito, took place on May 24 of that year.

Antonio José de Sucre

In the end, the long struggle worked out, and all told, the Ecuadorians would get not just one, but four annual holidays out of the War of Independence: today’s holiday, Independence of Guayaquil (October 9, 1820), Independence of Cuenca (November 3, 1820), and the Battle of Pichincha (May 24, 1822).

Even though the region was liberated, Ecuador’s own independence as a sovereign nation wouldn’t come for another eight years, during which Quito and the surrounding provinces were considered part of Bolivar’s “Gran Colombia.” The three southern provinces of Gran Colombia became “Ecuador”—so named because it straddles the equator—in 1830.

Battle of Boyacá – Colombia

August 7

Nearly two centuries after Simon Bolivar faced Spanish troops at the bridge of Boyacá on this day in 1819, Colombians still celebrate his victory as one of the defining moments of Colombia’s independence movement and of the independence of the entire South American continent.

As a military commander, Simon Bolivar was a master at turning disadvantages into advantages. His crossing of the high Andes prior to the Battle of Boyacá to meet the Spanish army has been compared in difficulty to that of Hannibal crossing the Alps.

“In this passage more than 100 men died of cold and exposure…No horse had survived. It was necessary to leave the spare arms behind and even some of those that were carried by the soldiers. When the army reached Socha…in the heart of the province of Tunja July 6th, 1819, it had dwindled to a mere skeleton…

The commander of the Spanish troops, General Barriero, controlled the road to Bogota, and Bolivar knew he had to attack quickly before reinforcements could arrive. Bolivar maneuvered his men around Barriero’s to attack them from behind, forcing Barriero’s army to abandon their entrenchments. Bolivar continued to keep Barriero’s army moving by leading his own men across the Sagomoso River, then feigned a retreat in order to capture the city of Tunja and restock arms and supplies.

By August 5, Bolivar had turned the tables, placing his men between Barriero and the capital. Barriero attempted to bypass Bolivar by crossing the river at the Boyacá bridge. However, Bolivar predicted this move and reached the bridge first.

The armies collided on August 7. Though their numbers were about even, Bolivar’s placement of infantry and cavalry allowed him to capture 1600 royalist prisoners, including Barriero and his officers, who were then executed.

When Bolivar entered the capital, he was applauded by the people who proclaimed him liberator of New Granada.

History of South America from the First Human Existence to the Present – William Frederick Griewe

Venezuela – Flag Day

August 3 (since 2006)


Up until 2006, Venezuelans celebrated El Día de la Bandera (Flag Day) on March 12th, in honor of the day in 1806 that Francisco de Miranda first hoisted the future flag of Venezuela on the ship Leander.

Miranda was born in Caracas, Venezuela. During the American Revolutionary War, Miranda fought for Spain in Florida. In France he served in the French Revolutionary Army. And between those two revolutions he lived in England, Italy, Prussia, and the Ottoman Empire.

But he’s most famous for his role in the liberation of his homeland Venezuela, a crusade that occupied the last decade of his life.

In 1806 Miranda acquired unofficial British support to lead a rebellion against Spain in South America. On March 12, 1806, Miranda raised the tricolor flag, which he himself designed, atop the ship Leander, just before she and two other ships set forth from Haiti to liberate South America.

The plan didn’t work.

The other two ships were captured by the Spanish, their occupants tried, and many were put to death. The Leander escaped, arriving in La Vela de Coro on August 3, 1806, flag in tact.

Miranda led the struggle against Spanish forces for the next several years. On Maundy Thursday in 1810 a military junta established a provisional Venezuelan government, to which Miranda was appointed as a delegate from El Pao. The congress adopted Miranda’s tricolor flag as the official banner the following year.

However, later losses, and a huge earthquake which hit Venezuela on Maundy Thursday two years after the junta (taken by many as a sign from God against the revolution) reduced Venezuelan morale and popular support. Miranda became a generalissimo with dictatorial powers, but as the revolutionary effort crumbled, he began considering an armistice with Spain.

Simon Bolivar and other revolutionaries viewed Miranda as a traitor. In one of Bolivar’s less touted moves, he and his co-patriots turned Miranda over to the Spanish. Miranda was transported Spain, incarcerated, and died in his cell four years later—on July 14 (Bastille Day) 1816.

He was buried in a mass grave.

Francisco de Miranda in Cadíz
Francisco de Miranda in Cadíz

In 2006, the Venezuelan government voted to change the date of Flag Day to August 3rd to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the flag’s (and Miranda’s) arrival on Venezuelan soil.

“Miranda was a man of the eighteenth century whose genius lay in raising the consciousness and confidence of his fellow Americans. Although he prided on being a soldier, his greatest battles were fought with his pen.”

Francisco de Miranda, a Transatlantic Life in the Age of Revolution, by Karen Racine

Venezuelan Flag & Flag Day

Independence Day – Peru

July 28

Jose de San Martín had liberated the Rio de la Plata (Argentina), marched his army across the Andes, and defeated the Spanish in Chile before turning his attention to the north, to Peru—Spain’s most tenacious stronghold on the continent. In Chile he created a navy from scratch in order to attack Peru by sea.

At that moment, San Martín’s newly independent homeland of Argentina was emerged in civil war; yet he felt if he used his army to intervene in Argentina it would only lead to more destruction. Before debarking from Valpasairo, Chile, he issued his proclamation to his countrymen in Argentina on his reasons for continuing to Peru, rather than returning to his homeland to support one warring faction over another:

Provinces of the Rio de la Plata: This proclamation will be my last response to my calumniators: I can do no more than to risk my life and my honor for the sake of my native land. Whatever may be my lot in the campaign of Peru, I shall demonstrate that ever since I returned to my native land, her independence has been my constant thought, and that never had I entertained any ambition other than to merit the hatred of the ungrateful and the esteem of the virtuous.

Upon reaching Peru, he was interviewed by an Englishman, Captain Basil Hall, who paraphrased the General as saying that the war in Peru was “not a war of conquest or glory, but entirely of opinion; it was a war of new and liberal principles against prejudice, bigotry, and tyranny.

San Martin crosses the Andes
San Martin Crosses the Andes

San Martín said he had no territorial ambitions in Peru, or even to wish them independence if the people were not for it.

All that I wish is, that this country should be managed by itself, and by itself alone. As to the manner in which it is to be governed, that belongs not at all to me. I propose simply to give the people the means of declaring themselves independent, and of establishing a suitable form of government; after which I shall consider that I have done enough, and leave them.

A year later, on this day in 1821, the General stood in the great square in Lima, unfurled the new flag of independent Peru, and announced:

From this moment, Peru is free and independent, by the general wish of the people, and by the justice of her cause, which may God defend. Viva la patria! Viva la libertad! Viva la independencia!

The General was made Protector of Peru, but Spanish forces continued to battle San Martín’s troops, and Peruvian independence was far from assured. General Simón Bolívar, who had defeated the Spanish in Gran Colombia (today’s Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador), entered Peru from the north. The two great Liberators of South America met in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on July 26, 1822, to discuss the fate of the continent.

Much has been written about, and hardly anything is known about, what happened between Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín at their only meeting. There were no witnesses other than the two men themselves. But after the interview, San Martín–true to his word–resigned his position as Protector and returned to Argentina, leaving Bolívar to defeat the Spanish in Peru.

San Martin and Simon Bolivar

San Martín’s wife died the following year. Distraught by her death and the civil wars wreaking havoc in Argentina, José de San Martín took his daughter Mercedes and moved to France, where he lived until his death in 1850.

Jose de San Martin
Jose de San Martin

Bolívar was deigned Dictator of Peru in 1824, the same year he drove out the Spanish for good. The southern part of Peru became Bolivia in his honor.

Spain officially recognized Peru’s independence in 1879.

Emancipation of South America – William Pilling

Rise of the Spanish-American Republics as told in the Lives of their Liberators – William Spence Robertson