As an example of such an integration that is successful, Christopher referred to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and spoke beautifully of some of those elements of the content that are particular to the culture (and of which I had not been fully aware before). So referring to this detail:
Our Lady's hairstyle, with the central parting, was in 16th-century Aztec culture the sign of a maiden, a virgin. The ribbon and bow around her waist signified that she was pregnant. So this is a young woman who is portrayed simultaneously a virgin and pregnant. And then the quatrefoil roses articulated in sepia lines on the pale brown-ochre shawl signify royalty. This is the visual vocabulary of Aztec culture.
But this image spoke to the Aztecs of more than their own culture because it has elements that come from traditional Christian culture too. These are universal in that they speak to all Christians (one might make an argument in some cases for non-Christians too). It is these that speak to 16th-century Spaniards and to many Christians from all over the world since.
We can see, for example, the blue shawl, a common color for Mary's outer robe. It is said to denote royalty and Marian chapels often have their walls painted in this color too. The exact shade of blue is unusual in that it is not lapis lazuli blue (French ultramarine), which a contemporary painter of the High Renaissance period might have used, but rather a turquoise blue often described as cerulean. I have no explanation for this difference. Also, I am curious to know more about the pigment that provides this color than Wikipedia can tell me -cerulean blue pigment is only known since the late 18th century when it was chemically created and it is not a naturally occurring mineral. It might be that there is no great mystery here and that it is an effect created by a simple combination of other, naturally occurring green and blue pigments available at the time.
The eight-pointed stars represent her connection with the 'eighth-day' of Creation, her Son, Jesus Christ who rose on the eighth day of the week. Traditionally in Eastern icons, there will be just three stars, symbolizing the perpetual virginity of the Theotokos - God-bearer - before, during and after her pregnancy. There are many more than three stars here. Perhaps it was deemed unnecessary by the Divine Artist to stay with three stars because the indication of virginity is indicated in a different way, as already mentioned. We not only stars but the moon, and this reveals a consistency with scripture in that it shows Our Lady as the woman of the Apocalypse, with the upturned crescent moon.
Another feature which interests me greatly is the nimbus of light around her. The account of the woman in the Book of the Apocalypse describes her as being 'clothed in the sun'. The golden nimbus around her whole person might correspond to this. However, this is more complicated, there is something else going on here I believe that relates to the symbolism of the mandorla.
A mandorla is an iconographic symbol in the shape of a circle or an almond-shaped oval signifying heaven, Divine Glory, or Light. Mandorla is Italian for "almond". It is an indication of the divine light of sanctity but the mandorla of this type is generally reserved for Christ, at least in traditional iconography. I suggest that its presence here is to indicate the presence of Christ within her womb. It is not there so much for the God-bearer, but for God! This is the Christian way of indicating the Our Lady is with child, the divine child which complements the visual symbolism of Aztec culture. Remember that if this image had not spoken to the Spanish occupiers too, none would have taken Juan Diego seriously.
Also, take a close look at the gold envelope that surrounds her. This is not, as one might first suspect, a series of bright gold darts emanating from Our Lady. Rather it is a series of dark darts emanating from her on a gold background, the outer limits of which describe the mandorla shape, which is a smooth almond. In other words, this mandorla is getting darker the closer it is to her. Why should this be?
She really is, to use a familiar phrase, a riddle wrapped up in an enigma!
The answer is that this is how it is painted in traditional iconography. As I wrote in a recent article on the subject: 'The mandorla surrounding Christ usually shows concentric bands of shading which get darker toward the center, rather than lighter. It is painted in this way so as to communicate to us, pictorially, the fact that we must pass through stages of increasing mystery in order to encounter the person of Jesus Christ. This encounter, which takes place in the Mass with the Eucharist at its heart, is one that transforms me supernaturally so that I can begin to grasp the glory of Christ more directly.'
You can see an iconographic mandorla here in the Dormition painted by Theophan the Greek in 1392: