The Apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531
A miraculous image painted by Heaven
that defies any explanation
On July 31, 2002, Pope John Paul II canonized the seer, Juan Diego
The “Event of Guadalupe”
We are in Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) in 1521: The capital city of the Aztec empire falls under the Spanish forces. Less than 20 years later, 9 million of the inhabitants of the land, who professed for centuries a polytheistic and human-sacrificing religion, are converted to Christianity. What happened in those times that produced such an incredible and historically unprecedented conversion?
In 1531, a “Lady from Heaven” appeared to a poor Indian at Tepeyac, a hill northwest of Mexico City. She identified Herself as the Mother of the True God, instructed him to have the bishop build a temple on the site, and left an image of Herself imprinted miraculously on his tilma, a poor quality cactus-cloth, which should have deteriorated in 20 years, but which shows no sign of decay 471 years later, and today still defies all scientific explanations of its origin. It apparently even reflects in Her eyes what was in front of Her in 1531!
The Lady asked to be called “the ever-virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe”. Why should the Virgin Mary, when appearing to an Indian in recently-conquered Mexico, and speaking to him in Nahuatl, call Herself “of Guadalupe”, a Spanish name? Did She want to be called de Guadalupe because of the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Estremadura, Spain?
It is believed that the name “Guadalupe” came about because of the translation from Nahuatl to Spanish of the words used by the Virgin during the Apparition to Juan Bernardino, the ailing uncle of Juan Diego. It is believed that Our Lady used the Aztec Nahuatl word of coatlaxopeuh which is pronounced “quatlasupe” and which sounds remarkably like the Spanish word Guadalupe. Coa meaning serpent, tla being the noun ending which can be interpreted as “the”, while xopeuh means to crush or stamp out. So Our Lady must have called Herself the one “who crushes the serpent.”
We must remember that the Aztecs offered annually at least 20,000 men, women, and children in human sacrifice to their gods. The early Mexican historian Ixtlilxochitl estimated that one out of every five children in Mexico was sacrificed. The climax of these ritual killings came in 1487 for the dedication of the new, and richly decorated with serpents, temple of Huitzilopochtli, in Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City), when in a single ceremony that lasted for four days and four nights, with the constant beating of giant drums made of snakeskin, the Aztec ruler and demon worshiper Tlacaellel presided over the sacrifice of more than 80,000 men.
Certainly, in this case, the Virgin Mary crushed the serpent (as it is written in the Book of Genesis, “a woman shall crush your head”) by putting an end to these barbaric human sacrifices, and a few years later, millions of the natives were converted to Christianity.
Today, the ancient serpent is certainly achieving big hits in its attack upon human life. Millions of unborn children are killed every year around the globe, in procedures that in some countries are not only legal but are also officially supported and financed. This is why Our Lady of Guadalupe has been chosen by the Church as the Protectress of the Unborn, to put an end to abortions.
The present Basilica of Guadalupe was constructed on the site of an earlier 16th-century church that was finished in 1709, the Old Basilica. When this basilica became dangerous, due to the sinking of its foundations, a modern structure called the New Basilica was built nearby, between 1974 and 1976; the original image of the Virgin of Guadalupe is now housed in this New Basilica.
An incredible list of miracles, cures, and interventions are attributed to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Yearly, an estimated 10 million visit Her Basilica, making Her Mexico City home the most popular Marian shrine in the world, and the most visited Catholic church in the world next to the Vatican. Altogether 24 popes have officially honored Our Lady of Guadalupe, His Holiness John Paul II visited Her Sanctuary four times: on his first apostolic trip outside Rome as Pope in 1979, and again in 1990, 1999, and on July 31, 2002, for the canonization of the poor Indian who saw Our Lady in 1531: Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin.
St. Juan Diego
Juan Diego was born in 1474 with the name “Cuauhtlatoatzin” (“the talking eagle”) in Cuautlitlán, today part of Mexico City. He was a gifted member of the Chichimeca people. He devoted himself to hard work in the fields and to manufacturing mats. He owned a piece of land and a small house on it. He was happily married but had no children. Between 1524 and 1525, he was converted and baptized, as well as his wife, receiving the Christian name of Juan Diego, and his wife, the name of Maria Lucia. His wife, Maria Lucia, became sick and died in 1529. Juan Diego then moved to live with his uncle Juan Bernardino in Tolpetlac, which was closer (9 miles) to the church in Tlatelolco-Tenochtitlan.
He walked every Saturday and Sunday many miles to church, departing early in the morning, before dawn, to be on time for Mass and religious-instruction classes. He walked on naked feet, like all the people of his class, the Macehualli. Only the higher social classes of the Aztecs wore cactlis, or sandals, made with vegetal fibres or leather. He used to wear, in those chilly mornings, a coarse-woven cactus cloth as a mantle, a tilma or ayate made with fibres from the maguey cactus. Cotton was only used by the upper Aztec classes.
During one of this walks to Tenochtitlan, which used to take about three-and-a-half hours between villages and mountains, the first Apparition occurred, on December 9, 1531. He was 57 years old, certainly an old age in a time and place where the male-life expectancy was barely above 40.
After the Miracle of Guadalupe, Juan Diego moved to a room attached to the chapel that housed the sacred image, after having given his business and property to his uncle. He spent the rest of his life propagating the account of the Apparitions to his countrymen. He died on May 30, 1548, at the age of 74. Juan Diego deeply loved the Holy Eucharist, and by special permission of the Bishop, he received Holy Communion three times a week, a highly unusual occurrence in those times.
The first Apparition
On December 9, 1531, a Saturday, just before dawn, Juan Diego was on his way to pursue divine worship and to engage in his own errands. As he reached the base of the hill known as Tepeyac, the break of day came, and he heard singing atop the hill, resembling the singing of varied beautiful birds. Occasionally the voices of the songsters would cease, and it appeared as if the mount responded.
The song, very mellow and delightful, excelled that of pretty-singing birds. Juan Diego stopped to look, and said to himself: “By fortune, am I worthy of what I hear? Maybe I am dreaming. Am I awake? Where am I? Am I now in the terrestrial Paradise which our elders had told us about? Perhaps I am now in Heaven?”
He was looking toward the east, on top of the mound, from whence came the precious celestial chant, and then it suddenly ceased, and there was silence. He then heard a voice from above the mount, saying to him: “Juanito, Juan Dieguito.” Then he ventured and went to where he was called. He was not frightened in the least; on the contrary, he was overjoyed!
Then he climbed the hill, to see by whom he was being called. When he reached the summit, he saw a Lady, who was standing there, and who told him to come hither. Approaching Her presence, he marveled greatly at Her superhuman grandeur. Her garments were shining like the sun, the cliff where She rested Her feet, pierced with glitter, resembling an anklet of precious stones, and the earth sparkled like the rainbow. The mezquites, nopales, and other different weeds which grow there appeared like emeralds, their foliage like turquoise, and their branches and thorns glistened like gold. He bowed before Her and heard Her words, tender and courteous, like someone who charms and esteems you highly.
She said: “Juanito, the most humble of My sons, where are you going?” He replied: “My Lady and Child, I have to reach Your church in Mexico, Tlatilolco, to pursue things divine, taught and given to us by our priests, delegates of Our Lord.” She then spoke to him: “Know and understand well, you, the most humble of My sons, that I am the ever-virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God, for whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of heaven and earth. I wish that a temple be erected here quickly, so I may therein exhibit and give all My love, compassion, help, and protection, because I am your merciful mother, to you and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love Me, invoke and confide in Me, to listen there to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions and sorrows. And to accomplish what My clemency pretends, go to the palace of the Bishop of Mexico, and you will say to him that I manifest My great desire, that here on this plain, a temple be built to Me. You will accurately relate all you have seen and admired, and what you have heard. Be assured that I will be most grateful and will reward you, because I will make you happy and worthy of recompense for the effort and fatigue in what you will obtain for what I have entrusted. Behold, you have heard My mandate, My humble son; go and put forth all your effort.”
At this point, he bowed before Her, and said: “My Lady, I am going to comply with Your mandate; now I must part from You, I, your humble servant.” Then he descended to go to comply with the errand, and went by the road which runs directly into Mexico City.
The visit to the Bishop
Having entered the city, and without delay, Juan Diego went straight to the Bishop's palace, who was the recently arrived prelate named Father Juan de Zumarraga, a Franciscan religious. On arrival, he endeavored to see him; he pleaded with the servants to announce him; and after a long wait, he was called and advised that the Bishop had ordered his admission. As he entered, he bowed, and on bended knees before him, he then delivered the message from the Lady from Heaven; he also told him all he had admired, seen, and heard. After having heard his chat and message, it seemed incredible. Then the Bishop told him: “You will return, my son, and I will hear you at my pleasure. I will review it from the beginning, and will give thought to the wishes and desires for which you have come.” Juan Diego left and seemed sad, because his message had not been realized in any of its forms.
Riding in his popemobile, on a carpet of flowers, John Paul II salutes the crowd in Mexico City, on July 31, 2002. On the left, the New Basilica of Guadalupe, completed in 1976, and on the right, the Old Basilica. 10 million people gathered along the streets on the day to see the Pope. Mo human being has ever drawn so many people in one day in history.
He returned on the same day. He came directly to the top of the hill, met the Lady from Heaven, who was awaiting him, in the same spot where he saw Her the first time. Seeing Her, prostrated before Her, and said: “Lady, I went where You sent me to comply with Your command. With difficulty I entered the prelate's study. I saw him and exposed Your message, just as You had instructed me. He received me benevolently and listened attentively, but when he replied, it appeared that he did not believe me. I perfectly understood by the manner in which he replied that he believes it to be an invention of mine – that You wish that a temple be built here to You, and that it is not Your order. Now I exceedingly beg, Lady, that You entrust the delivery of Your message to someone of importance, well known, respected, and esteemed, so that they may believe in him; because I am a nobody, I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf, and You, my Lady, You send me to a place where I never visit nor repose. Please excuse my great unpleasantness, and let not fretfulness befall, my Lady and my All.”
The Blessed Virgin answered: “Hark, My son the least, you must understand that I have many servants and messengers, to whom I must entrust the delivery of My message and carry My wish, but it is of precise detail that You yourself solicit and assist, and that through your mediation My wish be complied. I earnestly implore, My son the least, and with sternness I command, that you again go tomorrow and see the Bishop. You go in My name, and make known My wish in its entirety – that he has to start the erection of a temple which I ask of him. And again tell him that I, in person, the ever-virgin Holy Mary, Mother of God, sent you.”
Juan Diego replied: “Lady, let me not cause You affliction. Gladly and willingly I will go to comply with Your mandate. Under no condition will I fail to do it, for the way is not even distressing. I will go to do Your wish, but perhaps I will not be heard with liking, or if I am heard, I might not be believed. Tomorrow afternoon, at sunset, I will come to bring You the result of Your message with the prelate's reply.” Juan Diego then left to rest in his home.
The Bishop asks for a sign
The next day, Sunday, after hearing Mass and being counted, and after the crowd had dispersed, Juan Diego went to the palace of the Bishop. Again with much difficulty was he able to see him. He knelt before his feet. He was sad and cried as he expounded the mandate of the Lady from Heaven, so that he would believe his message and the wish of the Immaculate, to erect Her temple where She willed it to be. The Bishop, to assure himself, asked many things, like where he had seen Her and how She looked, and he described everything perfectly to the Bishop.
Notwithstanding his precise explanation of Her figure and all that he had seen and admired, which in itself reflected Her as being the ever-virgin Holy Mother of the Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ, nevertheless, Bishop Zumarraga did not give it credence, and said that for his request to be granted, a sign was very necessary, so that he could be believed that he was sent by the true Lady from Heaven.
Juan Diego was again with the Blessed Virgin, relating the answer he brought from the Bishop. The Lady, having heard, told him: “Well and good, My little dear. You will return here tomorrow so you can take to the Bishop the sign he has requested. With this he will believe you, and in this regard he will not doubt you, nor will he be suspicious of you. And know, My little dear, that I will reward your solicitude and effort and fatigue spent on My behalf. Lo! Go now. I will await you here tomorrow.”
The miracle of December 12
On the following day, Monday, when Juan Diego was to carry a sign so he could be believed, he failed to return, because, when he reached his home, his uncle, named Juan Bernardino, had become sick, and was gravely ill. First he summoned a doctor, who aided him. But it was too late; he was gravely ill. By nightfall, his uncle requested that by break of day he go to Tlatilolco and summon a priest, to prepare him and hear his confession, because he was certain it was time for him to die, and that he would not arise nor get well.
On Tuesday, before dawn, Juan Diego came from his home to Tlatilolco to summon a priest; and as he approached the road which joins the slope to the Tepeyac hilltop, toward the west, where he was accustomed to cross, he said: “If I proceed forward, the Lady is bound to see me, and I may be detained, so I can take the sign to the prelate, as prearranged. I must first go hurriedly to call a priest, as my poor uncle certainly awaits him.”
Then he rounded the hill, going around, so he could not be seen by Her who sees well everywhere. He saw Her descend from the top of the hill, and was looking toward where they previously met. She approached him at the side of the hill, and said to him: “What's there, My son the least? Where are you going?” Was he grieved, or ashamed, or scared? He bowed before Her. He saluted, saying: “Lady, I am going to cause You grief. Know that a servant of Yours is very sick, my uncle. He has contracted the plague, and is near death. I am hurrying to Your house in Mexico to call one of Your priests, beloved by Our Lord, to hear his confession and absolve him, because, since we were born, we were taught to prepare for death. But if I go, I shall return here soon, so I may go to deliver Your message. Lady, forgive me, be patient with me for the time being. I will not deceive You. Tomorrow I will come in all haste.”
After hearing Juan Diego's chat, the Most Holy Virgin answered: “Hear Me and understand well, My son the least, that nothing should frighten nor grieve you. Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear that sickness, nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I not here, who am your Mother? Are you not under My protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happily within My fold? What else do you wish? Do not grieve nor be disturbed by anything. Do not be afflicted by the illness of your uncle, who will not die now from it. Be assured that he is now cured.” At this very moment, his uncle was cured, as it was later learned. (See picture.)
When Juan Diego heard these words from the Lady from Heaven, he was greatly consoled. He was happy. He begged to be excused to be off to see the Bishop, to take to him the sign or proof, so that he might be believed. The Lady from Heaven ordered him to climb to the top of the hill, where they had previously met. She told him: “Climb, My son the least, to the top of the hill where you saw Me and I gave you orders. You will find different flowers. Cut them, gather them, assemble them, and then come and bring them before My presence.”
Immediately, Juan Diego climbed the hill, and as he reached the summit, he was amazed to see that so many different varieties of exquisite roses de Castilla were blooming, long before the time when they were to bud, because, being out of season, they would freeze. They were very fragrant and covered with dewdrops of the night, which resembled precious pearls. Immediately he started to cut them. He gathered them all and placed them in his tilma. The hilltop was no place for any kind of flowers to grow because it had many crags, thistles, thorns, nopales, and mezquites. Occasionally weeds would grow, but it was now the month of December, when all vegetation was destroyed by frost.
He immediately went down the hill and brought the different roses which he had cut to the Lady from Heaven, who, as She saw them, took them with Her hand and again placed them back in the tilma, saying:“My son the least, this diversity of roses is the proof and the sign which you will take to the Bishop. You will tell him in My name that he will see in them My wish, and that he will have to comply to it. You are My ambassador, most worthy of all confidence! Rigorously, I command you that only before the presence of the Bishop will you unfold your mantle and disclose what you are carrying. You will relate all and well; you will tell that I ordered you to climb to the hilltop, to go and cut flowers, and all that you saw and admired, so you can induce the prelate to give his support, with the aim that a temple be built and erected as I have asked.”
After the Lady from Heaven had given Her advice, he was on his way by the road that goes directly to Mexico. He was happy and assured of success, carrying with great care what he bore in his tilma, being careful that nothing would slip from his hands, and enjoying the fragrance of the variety of the beautiful flowers.
The miraculous image
Juan Diego reached the Bishop's palace, and waited a long time. The servants of the Bishop came near to him to see what he had and to satisfy their curiosity. Juan Diego, seeing that he could not hide what he had, and on account that he might be molested, pushed or mauled, uncovered his tilma a little, and there were the flowers. Upon seeing that they were all different roses de Castilla, and out of season, they were thoroughly amazed, because they were so fresh and in full bloom, so fragrant and so beautiful. They tried to seize and pull some out three times, but they were not successful. They were not lucky because, when then tried to get them, they were unable to see real flowers. Instead, they appeared painted or stamped or sewn on the cloth. Then they went to tell the Bishop what they had seen, and that the Indian who had come so many times wished to see him.
Upon hearing this, Bishop Zumarraga realized that what he carried was the proof he needed to confirm and comply with what the Indian requested. Immediately, he ordered his admission. As he entered, Juan Diego knelt before him, as he was accustomed to do, and told him that he had brought with him the sign the Bishop had asked for – roses that he had picked high on the hilltop of Tepeyac.
He unfolded his white cloth, where he had the flowers, and when all the different varieties of roses scattered on the floor, there suddenly appeared the drawing of the precious image of the ever-virgin Holy Mary, Mother of God, in the manner as She is today kept in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
When the Bishop saw the image, he and all who were present fell to their knees. She was greatly admired. They arose to see Her. They shuddered and, with sorrow, they demonstrated that they contemplated Her with their hearts and minds.
The Bishop, with sorrowful tears, prayed and begged forgiveness for not having attended to Her wish and request. When he rose to his feet, he untied from Juan Diego's neck the cloth on which appeared the image of the Lady from heaven. Then he took it to be placed in his chapel. Juan Diego remained one more day in the Bishop's house, at his request. The following day, he told him: Well! show us where the Lady from Heaven wished her temple be erected.”
After the dedication of the new church, the sacred image was transferred there, so that the people would see and admire it. The entire city was aroused; they came to see and admire the image and to pray. They marveled at the fact that Our Lady appeared as did Her divine miracle, because no living person of this world had painted Her precious image.
An enigma for science
Modern technology has revealed even more the prodigious character of the image formed on Juan Diego's tilma on December 12, 1531. This image remains unexplained — an enigma for science — more than 450 years after it was created, despite the many tests by scientists. First of all, the tilma, which constitutes the “canvas” of the miraculous picture, usually lasts no longer than twenty years.
In 1936, Fritz Hahn, a professor in Mexico City, took, from the tilma, two fibres: one red, the other yellow, and then brought them to Germany for a close examination. There, Dr. Richard Kuhn, Nobel Prize Winner and director of the Department of Chemistry of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, came to the conclusion that the fibres in question contained no known artificial colouring — neither mineral, vegetal, animal, nor synthetic.
In 1951, Jose Carlos Salinas Chavez, examining a good photograph of the face, discovers the image of what clearly appears to be a bearded man reflected in the right eye of the Virgin, and locates it on the left eye too. Since then, many people have had the opportunity to inspect closely the eyes of the Virgin on the tilma, including more than 20 physicians and ophthalmologists. They all came to the conclusion that the bearded man was Juan Diego.
Moreover, the image has been mysteriously protected from malevolent attacks over the centuries. For example, on November 14, 1921, Luciano Perez, a worker, came to lay a wreath of flowers on the main altar of the basilica, just in front of the miraculous image of the Virgin. He had hidden a bomb in the wreath, which exploded when he left the church. The blow destroyed the steps of the altar, the candelabras, even the windows of neighboring homes, but the window protecting the image remained intact.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of America, protect us, and protect the unborn!