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Virgin Rebirth

He isn't saying it was a miracle, that an angel of God guided him to a particular place at a particular time and said, "Here she is." He's not saying that at all. But he's not saying it was entirely coincidental, either. After one coincidence leads to another, and then...
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He isn't saying it was a miracle, that an angel of God guided him to a particular place at a particular time and said, "Here she is." He's not saying that at all. But he's not saying it was entirely coincidental, either. After one coincidence leads to another, and then another still, you begin to think things happen for a reason. And you wonder.

December 12, 1995
Fred Kline was late and among the last to arrive at the estate sale in a small village outside Santa Fe. After picking through a garage filled with old clothes, dishes and broken radios, he thought about hitting the road. But he decided to stick around for a while. It was a beautiful day, the celebration day for Our Lady of Guadalupe, and anything seemed possible.

As he browsed through assorted household items, he came upon two statuettes of the Virgin Mary. One was wooden, painted, with missing hands and the word "Mexico" carved on one side. "Hmm," Kline thought. "Vintage Thirties." The other was larger, made of stone, with surface designs Kline had never seen on a religious artifact. It looked very old, possibly Mexican, but he couldn't be sure.

Kline picked it up, turned it over, walked from the garage into the sunlight and flicked open his art dealer's magnifying glass. "Where did you get this?" he asked.

The owner said it had belonged to his uncle, who kept it in a bedroom nicho as a personal saint. After the uncle died in the Fifties, the family had packed up the statue and left it in the garage for decades because it was "weird." It could have come from Mexico, the man said, since that's where his family was from, but he knew nothing more. The figurine's next stop would be the flea market.

Kline, an affable man in his late fifties, returned the statue to the table and poked around some more, but he kept returning to the stone Virgin. The more he held it, the more fascinated he became. "Okay," Kline said, and opened his checkbook.

December 12, 1531
To those who believe, this is what happened 467 years ago on a Mexican hill named Tepeyac:

Just before dawn one Saturday, a 57-year-old peasant named Juan Diego was on his way to church when he heard singing and a woman calling his name. He looked up and saw a beautiful woman, dark-skinned like himself, smiling down; her robes were shining like the sun. Speaking in his native language, the woman said she was Holy Mary, Mother of God, and had come to help the people of Mexico, which had recently been conquered by the Spanish. She told Juan Diego to deliver a message to the bishop: Build a church on this spot. Build a church so she may receive prayers.

Juan Diego delivered the message, but the bishop was skeptical and demanded proof. So the peasant returned to the hill, where the woman again appeared and said to come back the next day and he would have his proof.

The next day, as Juan Diego approached the top of the hill, he saw roses covering a landscape normally speckled with thistles, thorns, nopales and mesquite. The apparition told him to gather up the wonderful variety of flowers, return to the bishop, show him the proof and repeat the message. Again, Juan Diego did as he was directed. When the bishop granted him an audience, the peasant unfolded his cloak, his tilma, and the roses spilled onto the floor. And there, on the fabric, an image appeared: Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The Quest
For a guy fresh out of prison for killing another guy in a bar fight, the "Michelangelo of Eskimos" seemed in good spirits. "This crazy polar bear wants to make love to this pretty seal," he chuckled. "What do you think?" The artist held up a pale-green stone carving. "I love it," Fred Kline said.

This was 1976. Kline had just finished researching an article for National Geographic magazine, where he worked as a staff writer. After a treacherous hundred-mile trek toward North America's northernmost national park, Kline decided to take a few days off, indulge in a hobby and learn about Eskimo art. What he learned was this: If you want the best, find Henry Evaluardjuk, drinker of liquor, husband several times over, ex-con (he'd also done time for killing his son, whom he'd caught sleeping with his third wife) and sculptor of unparalleled skill.

Kline spent two days tracking Evaluardjuk through the snow-swept villages of the Canadian Arctic. Evaluardjuk was every bit the rough genius people had described: weatherbeaten, possibly drunk, as happy as one of the mythological beasts in his hand.

"Can I buy that?" Kline asked.
"Okay," Evaluardjuk said. "But you have to pick it up in two days."
Kline returned in two days with $800 and bought the piece. Back home in Maryland, he set the carving on a table and began to wonder exactly what he had acquired. He called art galleries and auction houses in Toronto and discovered that Evaluardjuk's work was quite rare--and rather valuable. One thing led to another, and Kline sold the sculpture to a bank for $18,800. He thought: "Wouldn't it be nice if I could quit journalism and do this for a living?"

So he did.
And the quest began.
Kline was born in Maryland and raised in San Antonio, where his father had a real-estate company and his mother was a homemaker. If he inherited his artistic eye from anyone, it was probably from his grandfather, who collected such things as a medieval suit of armor and a Rubens painting. Kline remembers the old gentleman guiding him through the collection, telling stories and firing his imagination.

By the time Kline hit the fifth grade, he had assembled his own collection of strange and beautiful objects--butterflies and autographs of baseball players prominent among them. In high school he moved on to poetry, and in college he pursued creative writing. After attending universities in Texas and Mexico City, Kline wound up in San Francisco, where he fell headlong into the Haight-Ashbury scene and attended peace marches, poetry readings by Allen Ginsberg and concerts by Janis Joplin. He also scoured the secondhand boutique at the Spreckels Mansion and collected fine used furniture, first-edition books and rare prints.

After teaching English and creative writing, getting married and having kids, publishing several books of poetry and working as a speechwriter for the president of Cornell University, Kline was hired by National Geographic and dispatched to the Arctic, where he met the "Michelangelo of Eskimos." After that, he moved to Santa Fe and settled down as an art dealer.

From the beginning of this career, Kline has been lucky. One of his first discoveries was in an interior designer's shop: a sunset landscape featuring a barge chugging down a canal and the signature "G. Inness, 1869." The painting was torn, dirty and worth $1,000, the decorator said. Kline had a feeling. He bought the painting anyway.

Kline then dived into his personal library, which would eventually grow to include 2,000 books. He had the painting restored to museum condition and tracked down an art expert who took ten seconds to authenticate it. "Sunset, Canal Scene" sold for $35,000 and now hangs in a private collection in the Midwest.

"First you see quality," Kline says. "That is something you train for. And I study a lot. All kinds of art. I'm a generalist. Experts tend to know too much about one thing, and if it's out of their specialty, they tend to draw back. You have to be open. Anything can be anywhere. If I've proved anything, it's the truth of that."

Another time, Kline walked into a Santa Fe antique store and asked the proprietor to bring him the shop's most valuable object. He produced a tintype photograph of a man with long hair and a handlebar mustache dressed in a checkered suit. On the back of the photo's case was a poem written in pencil: "Do I love thee/ go ask the flowers/if they love/sweet refreshing showers" and the signature, "James B. Hickok, Springfield, Mo."

Kline asked the proprietor if he could verify that the tintype was indeed Wild Bill Hickok. The man said no and explained that that was why he had not been able to sell it for twenty years. But Kline had a feeling. He bought the photo for $1,200.

Once again, he returned to his office, read everything he could and found the expert on Hickok, who said that not only were the photo and poem authentic, but they were the only items of their kind. Kline sold them for $18,700.

"It's an instinct," he says. "A knack. A gift. Call it fate, chance, intuition. I find it mystical. I like the idea that there's magic involved and that I'm a part of it."

Whatever it is, Kline's wife, Jann, seems to have it, too. About fourteen years ago, Jann attended an estate sale offering up furniture, antiques and some "old pictures." She returned home with a sepia-ink drawing of the Holy Family on old handmade paper, which she had bought for $100. Kline looked it over and said, "This is Raphael."

They spent the next month with their noses in art history books, examining thousands of drawings. Raphael was close, but not quite right. Then Jann found an inscription on the bottom of the drawing that said, "Baldassare da Siena." After more research, they discovered that Baldassare da Siena was Baldassare Peruzzi.

The Klines sold the 400-year-old masterpiece at Christie's auction house for $66,000. It now hangs in the J. Paul Getty Museum.

In his 22 years as an art dealer, Kline has discovered long-lost works by Jan Brueghel, Pier Francesco Mola, William Coulter and Joseph Anton Koch, to name a few.

"I'm an art explorer," Kline says. "This is what I do. So many people are ready to say no. But finally, you can only trust your own eye. We have been fortunate enough to make money, but I really do it for the love of art. It really is a quest. The metaphor I like to use is the Holy Grail. That's how I feel. Every time I go out, I feel I'm looking for the Holy Grail, that hidden object of art. I love the mystery of it."

La Virgencita
The moment had come. Constantino Reyes-Valerio turned the stone statue in his hands and examined it closely. What he said would determine whether Fred Kline had found another priceless artifact or an interesting curio.

It was April 1996, five months after Kline had bought the statue at the estate sale and taken it home. Jann had immediately built an altar for the piece. As the couple admired the statue by candlelight, they became intrigued. Neither had seen anything like it before.

They hit the books.
Kline started at the beginning, studying early Christian images and working his way toward the present. He read anything he could about the Virgin Mary. After a week or so, he'd exhausted his library sources.

"There was nothing," Kline says. "Nothing like this except hints at its shape. The other iconography was nowhere to be found."

The sculpture, which Kline dubbed "La Virgencita del Nuevo Mundo (The Virgin of the New World)," stood fifteen inches tall, weighed fifteen pounds, and was carved from a brownish lava. She was clearly an image of the Virgin Mary, Kline thought, similar to Immaculate Conception images such as the Indian Madonna statuette in Patzcuaro, Mexico, or the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe statue in Estremadura, Spain. All featured similar crowns, halos and bell-shaped cloaks; all depicted Mary standing upon a crescent moon.

But La Virgencita had stylistic differences that set her apart. On her cape and clothing were zigzag patterns, wheel-like symbols and markings resembling feathers. She had the wide nose, thick lips and large eyes of Aztec carvings. Kline guessed she was pre-Columbian, but turned to curators, historians and Mexican folk-art experts in and around Santa Fe for help.

But the study of sixteenth-century Indo-Christian art is still in its infancy, and fewer than a hundred examples of this type of work existed. The experts simply did not have a large enough body of work to compare, contrast and develop stylistic markers that could determine with absolute certainty what was and what was not authentic.

"Basically, nobody said, 'My God, you've got a treasure here,'" Kline recalls. "No one said much of anything. They didn't know what she was."

Again and again, Kline was referred to Constantino Reyes-Valerio, an art historian with the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia y Historia in Mexico City, who's considered the world authority on Indo-Christian art. Kline sent the scholar photos of La Virgencita. The statue looked authentic, Reyes-Valerio said, but he had to see it in person to know for sure. Kline flew the historian to Santa Fe, where he hosted a reception and publicly displayed La Virgencita for the first time. Before the party, Reyes-Valerio conducted his inspection of the statute. After studying it for several minutes, he said, "I've never seen anything like it. It's authentic."

La Virgencita was probably made around 1540 in a small village in central Mexico, according to Reyes-Valerio; it was likely kept in a small wall niche or above a door. The figurine definitely depicts the Virgin Mary and was probably copied from a Spanish book engraving. Since the engraved image was likely small, details were left to the Mexican-Indian artist, who added Aztec imagery. The friars who inspected the completed statue were more interested in faithful parishioners than skillful carvers and either did not recognize the native symbols or did not care.

In a short written opinion, Reyes-Valerio concluded: "La Virgencita is a unique and authentic Indo-Christian sculpture from 16th century Spanish-Colonial Mexico. I know of no comparable work in museums in the United States, Latin America or elsewhere. La Virgencita is, in my opinion, one of the early rare examples of religious art made in the New World and one of the finest Mexican-colonial 'Indian Madonna' single-figure sculptures known to exist."

The endorsement was more than Kline had hoped for. And soon after Reyes-Valerio's visit, La Virgencita also had the backing of a scientist. Susan Barger, an art conservationist and materials expert at the University of New Mexico, traced the sculpture's cantera stone to the Los Humeros volcanic field about 180 kilometers from Mexico City, where Indo-Christian artifacts often have been found. She also discovered a layer of ceramic underpaint in the crevices of La Virgencita made from tropical soils.

Barger's opinion: The statuette could very well be what Reyes-Valerio thinks it is. The stone almost certainly came from central Mexico and not from the Santa Fe area, where Kline bought the piece. Although she could not date the stone (which would not determine when the statue was carved, anyway), she found no microscopic residue suggesting it had been made in this century, or even the last. As for how the statue traveled to New Mexico, Barger, like Reyes-Valerio, had no reason to doubt Kline's hypothesis that a Mexican family brought it with them to Santa Fe.

"I think it's real," Barger says. "It's so unusual that it's very unlikely that it would be a fake."

Next Kline presented La Virgencita to scholars, art historians and curators, who became as excited about the piece as he was.

"I have to say, I was totally blown away by this," says Mary Miller, a pre-Columbian art specialist at Yale. "It's a major piece. Those big wheel-like things on her cape are identified with the Aztec maize goddess. Not only that, what she's wearing inside her cloak are feathers. Big beautiful carved feathers. The Virgin Mary doesn't wear feathers like that. This is probably one of the very first objects made by a Nahuatl-speaking artist that is tailored to the new religion, Christianity. This is just the most amazing thing."

"I've never seen anything like it," adds Linda Hall, a professor of history and Latin American studies at the University of New Mexico and the author of the forthcoming book The Virgin's Hand: Mary in Latin America. "Nothing even comes close. It's a wonderful example of the way European religious belief is actually embodied and produced materially in the New World. It's amazing."

"It's very important, assuming it's what everyone thinks it is," says Marcus Burke, an author of six books on Mexican Colonial art and the curator of paintings at the Hispanic Society of America in New York City. "These objects are very rare. They are almost never found outside their original contexts. Stylistically, this is dead center in the middle of [Indo-Christian] art and seems to be an extraordinary example of it."

At last Kline had an answer. At an estate sale near Santa Fe, for a price so low he is embarrassed to mention it, he'd found his most valuable and intriguing lost treasure.

Threads of Devotion
Since Our Lady of Guadalupe first appeared to Juan Diego almost five hundred years ago, she has shown up everywhere, on everything from church altars to prison-yard tattoos. In Denver, a senior center, a housing service and a church, Our Lady of Guadalupe in northwest Denver, bear her name. With every generation, her following grows stronger.

"She is the protector of the American people," says Jose Aguayo, museum director of Denver's Museo de las Americas, which is currently exhibiting Spanish Colonial religious art. "I guess we identify with her because she came to a Mexican during the colonial period. Those of us who are proud of our indigenous roots and our European heritage see her as a symbol of the Catholic faith. She definitely serves as a symbol of pride--you won't find many Mexicans who doubt that [the apparition] happened. That's why you see her everywhere."

Jacqueline Dunnington is a scholar of comparative religions and the author of Viva Guadalupe and the new Guadalupe in New Mexico. A living testament to the contemporary cult of Guadalupe, she's the keeper of 1,300 Guadalupe photos, 34 Guadalupe T-shirts, 17 pairs of Guadalupe bottlecap earrings, a dozen Guadalupe statues, a dozen more Guadalupe paintings and assorted Guadalupe pillow cases, aprons and dish towels. She even renamed her pet Jack Russell terrier "Lupita."

"No one knows me as Jacqueline Dunnington. They all call me Mrs. V. of G.," Dunnington says. "I had a Guadalupe lollipop, too, but someone ate it."

Dunnington has spent fourteen years consumed with researching the symbolism of Our Lady of Guadalupe. What she discovered was this: While devotion to the Virgin is undeniable, the icon and its origins are complicated, subject to interpretation and constantly debated.

Aside from a few vague and scattered references, there is no written account of the legend until 1648. Even the bishop to whom Juan Diego unfolded his cloak made no mention of the miracle in his writings. That omission, Dunnington says, "is like Franklin Roosevelt not mentioning World War II."

And although a Franciscan priest named Bustamante denounced a cult called Guadalupe in a 1555 sermon, scholars who have examined original records, such as the Reverend Stafford Poole, say the reference could easily have been to the Spanish Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, another Virgin Mary icon also associated with miracles and brought to the New World by the conquistadores.

"You can go through every document, catechism and sermon between 1521 and 1648 and not find one reference to Juan Diego and the story of the apparition," Poole says. "Not one."

Some scholars even suggest that Juan Diego's Tepeyac Hill vision was invented by the church as an instrument for evangelization and later manipulated for political and cultural purposes. The Vatican, meanwhile, has remained vague on the subject, scholars say, accepting devotion to Guadalupe but stopping short of endorsing the miracle in dogma. At Denver's Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, which will host a special mass and banquet in her honor this weekend, interest in the Virgin is undeniable. "She's very important," says the Reverend Felix Lopez. "Mexicans identify with her and have a special devotion to her. The Europeans paint Jesus with blue eyes, but Our Lady of Guadalupe has the features of Mexicans. She appeared to them, and they felt they had the same dignity as the conquistadores under the church of God. They were simple people of some ignorance, but it doesn't matter, the color of your skin or how poor you are--we're all children of God's church."

Historical record or no, the followers of the Mexican Guadalupe have remained strong and unwavering in their faith, and the notion of the "dark-skinned Virgin" has become a symbol of hope for the poor and disenfranchised. When Mexico sought independence from Spain, Our Lady of Guadalupe was depicted next to the Mexican flag in patriotic paintings.

"Mary is an intercessor," Dunnington says. "She is supposed to pray to Jesus or transmit to Jesus the requests of her followers. But Guadalupe isn't used as intercessor for one particular thing. She is broad enough to encompass many requests and fulfill many dreams. Her importance doesn't come from one source. It's from miracles, nationalism, artistic expression, the need for a female presence in religion, family tradition, all of that. It's like a cable as opposed to a thread. There are so many threads that when it's twisted together, it becomes stronger. And I don't see that support diminishing."

And today that is more true than ever, she says, not only in Mexico, but around the world. In New Mexico alone, Dunnington has counted seventy churches bearing the Guadalupe name. She also has found references in cemeteries, on street signs, in housing developments and shopping malls, and at pop-art shops that sell everything from coffee mugs to Guadalupe jewelry.

"Bottlecap earrings are a way of personalizing her and keeping her presence close. An outward expression of an invisible companion," Dunnington says. "I can't think of a place where she isn't. There's nothing like her. Not a single image that competes."

It just came to him. Fred Kline was staring at La Virgencita for probably the thousandth time, thinking about Indo-Christian art, thinking about the Virgin Mary, when suddenly he saw the light. What if La Virgencita is more than a rare, early Indo-Christian depiction of the Immaculate Conception Mary? What if she is Our Lady of Guadalupe?

Consider: Unlike other Immaculate Conception images, La Virgencita appears to be speaking, in accordance with the Guadalupe legend. La Virgencita also looks Indian, not European, which also fits with the long-told story. And the dates seem right, too. The apparition came to Juan Diego in 1531; La Virgencita was possibly carved nine years later. Furthermore, a Franciscan sermon in 1555 denounced a cult calling itself Guadalupe. If a cult inspired by the Guadalupe vision could exist by then, why couldn't this be a statue of that vision?

"I'm not saying 'is.' I'm saying 'could be,'" Kline says. "Why couldn't La Virgencita be the Virgin Mary as recycled by the Aztecs as the first cult of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico? I don't find it such a big stretch. I think the evidence is before our eyes."

He's not arguing that the Guadalupe miracle actually happened, nor is he challenging the image on Juan Diego's tilma. What he's suggesting is this: What if a Mexican-Indian convert to Christianity crafted an interpretation of the apparition based on a Spanish engraving of the Virgin Mary and the oral legend of Guadalupe? What if this artist, who had never seen the image on Diego's cloak--the accepted look for Guadalupe--filled in the blanks using Aztec symbols and his own imagination?

"Who's to say she wasn't inspired by the apparition?" Kline says. "Really--who's to say I'm wrong?"

Four People Who Say He's Wrong
Many of those who have seen La Virgencita in person or in photos and have studied Mexican art, the Virgin Mary or some combination of them both agree that the statue could very well be a rare example of Indo-Christian art and a wonderful illustration of the cultural collision in sixteenth-century Mexico. But Our Lady of Guadalupe? No.

First, scholars say, for those who believe, there is only one look for Our Lady of Guadalupe: the miraculous image on Juan Diego's tilma. That is the image enshrined in the Basilica in Mexico City, that is the image worshiped by millions. Compare it with La Virgencita. They look nothing alike.

Second, if La Virgencita were made in 1540, as Reyes-Valerio suggests, it would have been carved more than a century before the legend of Our Lady of Guadalupe enters historical record in 1648. The sermon cited by Kline says nothing about the apparition nor the miraculous tilma.

And last, there were numerous depictions of the Virgin Mary on a crescent moon with a bell-shaped cape and shimmering crown brought from Spain to the New World in the sixteenth century. La Virgencita could simply be one of them, albeit an unusually eclectic version.

Says the Reverend Stafford Poole, author of Our Lady of Guadalupe: The Origins and Sources of a Mexican National Symbol 1531-1797: "That statue is not Our Lady of Guadalupe or intended for that purpose. It doesn't resemble the traditional picture and it's too early. There was no oral tradition of the apparition prior to 1648. There was devotion to the Virgin, and there was definitely a shrine with an image in it, but it's my belief that the devotion and the image were those of Guadalupe in Estremadora. I think [La Virgencita] is an early depiction of the Virgin Mary with a layer of pre-Conquest style."

Jeanette Peterson, an associate professor of art history at the University of California at Santa Barbara: "Seeing it at first blush, I think it's quite generic. There were many Virgin images that had Immaculate Conception iconography. The triangular robe she is wearing is very common in these dressed madonnas. I also have problems with the dating, because it's a very crude provincial style, which is quite common. I'm not saying it's not sixteenth-century, but I could just as easily see it coming from the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries from an untutored hand. I think it's a generic Immaculate Conception Virgin."

Marcus Burke, of the Hispanic Society of America: "It was probably derived from a cult figure, but not the Virgin of Guadalupe. It just doesn't look like it. It doesn't work that way with holy images. It's like having an Italian Renaissance sculpture and comparing it to the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It's in the same stylistic orbit, but it has no artistic connection whatsoever. The only relationship is that they are both the Virgin Mary and both representative of Indo-Christian art--that is to say, a sixteenth-century hybrid. The rest of it--I just don't see any evidence whatsoever."

Louise Burkhart, a University of Albany associate professor of anthropology who's writing Before Guadalupe: Virgin Mary in Early Literature: "I don't see any connection to Guadalupe. A lot of the iconography is of the Immaculate Conception. The Guadalupe image isn't like that. The shape of the image is more like the Immaculate Conception."

As for the fact that La Virgencita appears to be speaking, these scholars say: interesting, but coincidental. Aztecs often carved speaking figures in order to convey a sense of authority, Poole says. The artist who made La Virgencita could have used the same technique.

Miller thinks La Virgencita's expression and native features were unintentional, more related to a pre-Columbian style of art than a deliberate reference to the Guadalupe story. "They were having a hard time carving faces, so when you look at how faces were carved, they often looked pained, awkward and stressed," she says. "La Virgencita looks native because she's carved by a native person. When you look at that style of work, she looks like a native woman as they were typically represented."

But Kline is correct in one way, these scholars agree: Although La Virgencita is probably not Our Lady of Guadalupe, no one can be absolutely certain. "Our evidence for the actual apparition of Our Lady is very sketchy and, in fact, grown out of other legends," explains Linda Hall of the University of New Mexico. "In the Valley of Mexico, two or three decades after the conquest, there were various reports of the apparition of the Virgin in areas sacred to mostly female goddesses. There's not really good evidence until the seventeenth century. The whole idea of Guadalupe in that period is really in question. We don't know. We just don't know."

December 12, 1998
On the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, churches will hold special masses in celebration; neighbors will open their kitchens to visitors; and believers everywhere will give special thanks to the benevolent Virgin. Fred Kline will mark the anniversary with a candle on the altar and a quiet nod to himself.

He is not bothered by those who dispute the authenticity of La Virgencita as an Indo-Christian artifact or disagree with his suggestion that she could actually be Our Lady of Guadalupe. He welcomes the discussion. He encourages the debate. As much as anyone else, he wants to know what La Virgencita is, where she came from and where she belongs.

Unlike his other discoveries, Kline has no plans to sell La Virgencita. One day he hopes to find her a permanent home inside a museum; she's already been displayed at the San Antonio Museum of Art, Iowa's Davenport Museum of Art and the Meadows Museum in Dallas. And next summer, if all goes well, the statue will join a major exhibit of Mexican Colonial art traveling the United States and then Mexico. Perhaps for the first time in more than 450 years, La Virgencita will return home.

From time to time, Kline contacts the man who sold him the sculpture three years ago this Saturday. Out of respect for the man's privacy, Kline will not reveal his name nor his village and says only this: The man has no regrets about letting La Virgencita go. "She came to you," Kline remembers him saying. "She came to you for a reason."

That is how Kline likes to think about it, as an unfolding mystery. Though he is not Catholic, he has developed an affinity for the Mexican Guadalupe and a deep respect for those who believe in her. Exhibitions and position papers will come eventually, he says. For the moment, he is content to sit back with Jann in the weeks before Christmas and gaze at the strange and beautiful statue that caught his eye.

"It all comes back to faith," Kline says. "You can't push this. La Virgencita has her own agenda. Her own timetable. The truth will come out in time. I believe that.

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