You know the Lady of Guadalupe, even if the name sounds unfamiliar to you.
It’s the image of the Virgin Mary, Jesus’s mother in the guise in which she appeared to a peasant in Spanish Mexico in 1531 (or so the Catholic Church claims).
As the story goes, Mary appeared to a man named Juan Diego five times in order to convince him to convince a local bishop to build her a church on a hilltop near Mexico City. To get the bishop’s buy-in, Mary had Diego gather up roses—non-native to Mexico, which miraculously appeared on the chosen hilltop—in his cloak and bring them to the bishop.
He did so, but upon unfurling his cloak, he saw it had been inscribed with the image of Mary herself. The cloak itself is now on display at a major church in Mexico City, and the multicolored, radiant image of Mary is now a national symbol of Mexico, and has been reproduced many times over, in part because of the healing qualities that believers swear it possesses.
So what does this have to do with marijuana? In the image on Diego’s cloak, or tamil, and in the myriad reproductions appearing on murals and frescoes, living-room walls, and hanging from the rearview mirrors of cars, the Lady of Guadalupe wears a blue cloak adorned with yellow stars over a yellow tunic.
Stitched on her tunic, over the Virgin’s abdomen, is a conical, four-petaled flower—a symbol of an Aztec deity, or perhaps a sign of fertility and/or the divine, depending on the source.*
In nature, four-pointed flowers include pine cones, hops—and cannabis, points out Anne Armstrong, a devout Catholic based in Rhode Island. That’s a cannabis flower on the Lady of Guadalupe, Armstrong and her cannabis-centric church group insist, an argument they’re willing to make in court.
Armstrong, 56, converted to Catholicism in 1991 and is a staunch believer in the oldest branch of Christianity. When Pope Francis visited Washington, D.C. last year, Armstrong was there. Armstrong is also “one of the leaders of the Healing Church“—a brand of Catholicism that “uses marijuana and its derivatives in religious rituals,” according to the Providence Journal.
It was on her visit to D.C. to see the pope that Armstrong became convinced that that image on the Guadalupe Virgin’s cloak was cannabis. So when a 6-foot-tall replica of the virgin became available last year for loan—for use in religious rituals, of course—Armstrong leaped at the opportunity, and brought along the virgin where she went: to a gay pride parade, to legalization protests, and to church services where celebrants burned cannabis as incense.
In other words, all kinds of places where you’d be shocked to find a mainstream Catholic. It absolutely shocked 72-year-old Dan Lynch of Vermont, the owner of the virgin who loaned it to Armstrong. As soon as he found out what she was up to, he cried sacrilege and demanded the virgin back, the Journal reported.
“The Missionary Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was entrusted to a woman who committed herself to our conditions for a Guardian to give honor to Our Lady and to help her to fulfill her mission of bringing conversions and a Culture of Life,” Lynch wrote on his website. “However, she and her cohabitant, sacrilegiously used the Image to promote their personal cause for the use of marijuana as a remedy for the healing of the world.”
Lynch posted several times on the Healing Chuch’s Facebook page to demand the virgin’s return. Armstrong, who says she told Lynch exactly what she planned to do with it in emails, refused, so Lynch then drove down to Connecticut in mid-June to get his Mary back.
With a police officer in tow, Lynch marched up to Armstrong’s house to confront her and demand she return the replica. Armstrong refused, and so Lynch and the police left empty-handed—but not before noticing that Armstrong was growing marijuana at her home, a crop that Lync took pains to point out to the police, he wrote on his website.
Within two weeks, Lynch had filed a formal complaint and police forcibly repossessed the Mary. And a month later, drug cops returned and raided Armstrong.
They seized 12 pounds of marijuana, 59 plants, and 10 pounds of hash oil, according to the newspaper.
Rhode Island has medical cannabis but apparently Armstrong did not have a valid recommendation, the newspaper reported. (Either way, if she was growing cannabis outside, she’s in trouble, as that’s illegal in Rhode Island.) She claimed that the cannabis was not hers and belonged to another patient, but was nonetheless arrested and spent two weeks in jail before securing her release.
She could be sentenced to even more time in prison depending on how her pending case goes; she’s due back in court on Dec. 6, the newspaper reported.
But in the meantime, Armstrong has filed suit in federal court, the newspaper reported, alleging religious discrimination and that Lynch defamed her when he posted online messages saying that she was committing sacrilege when she brought Mary along to the cannabis events and the gay Pride event.
Eventually, Armstrong wants to take the Virgin to the United Nations, where she’d planned to convince world leaders that cannabis oil—which, according to some interpretations, is mentioned in the Book of Exodus as the “anointing oil” used in rituals—could be a cure for the Zika virus. Off-the-wall, maybe, but no more so than positing the Virgin of Guadalupe can a cannabis flower stitched to her tunic.
* An earlier version of this story misstated where the cannabis image was on her portrait.