Lady of Guadalupe - Guadalupe, Mexico (1531)
Patroness of the Americas Feast Day in the USA - December 12th
The opening of the New World brought with it both fortune-seekers and religious preachers desiring to convert the native populations to the Christian faith. One of the very few converts in those early times was a poor Aztec Indian named Juan Diego. On Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Juan was walking through the hill country in central Mexico on a trip to the nearby chapel. Near Tepayac Hill he encountered a beautiful woman surrounded by a ball of light as bright as the sun. Speaking in his native tongue, the beautiful lady called to him by name and identified herself: "My dear little son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains its existence. He created all things. He is in all places. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth. I desire a church in this place where your people may experience my compassion. All those who sincerely ask my help in their work and in their sorrows will know my Mother's Heart in this place. Here I will see their tears; I will console them and they will be at peace. So run now to Tenochtitlan and tell the Bishop all that you have seen and heard."
Juan, age 57, and who had never been to Tenochtitlan, nonetheless immediately responded to Mary's request. He went to the palace of the Bishop-elect Fray Juan de Zumárraga and requested to meet immediately with the Bishop. The Bishop's servants, who were suspicious of the rural peasant, kept him waiting for hours. The Bishop-elect told Juan that he would consider the request of the Lady and told him he could visit him again if he so desired. Juan was disappointed by the Bishop's response and felt himself unworthy to persuade someone as important as a Bishop. He returned to the hill where he had first met Mary and found her there waiting for him. Imploring her to send someone else, she responded:"My little son, there are many I could send. But you are the one I have chosen." She then told him to return the next day to the Bishop and repeat the request. On Sunday, after again waiting for hours, Juan met with the Bishop who, on re-hearing his story, asked him to ask the Lady to provide a sign as a proof of who she was. Juan dutifully returned to the hill and told Mary, who was again waiting for him there, of the Bishop's request. Mary responded:"My little son, am I not your Mother? Do not fear. The Bishop shall have his sign. Come back to this place tomorrow. Only peace, my little son."
Unfortunately, Juan was not able to return to the hill the next day. His uncle had become mortally ill and Juan stayed with him to care for him. After two days, with his uncle near death, Juan left his side to find a Priest to administer the Sacrament of the Sick. Juan had to pass Tepayac Hill to get to the Priest and in doing so he found Mary waiting for him. She spoke:"Do not be distressed, my littlest son. Am I not here with you who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Your uncle will not die at this time. There is no reason for you to engage a Priest, for his health is restored at this moment. He is quite well. Go to the top of the hill and cut the flowers that are growing there. Bring them then to me."
While it was freezing on the hillside, Juan obeyed Mary's instructions and went to the top of the hill where he found a full bloom of Castilian roses. Removing his tilma, a poncho-like cape made of cactus fiber, he cut the roses and carried them back to Mary. She rearranged the roses and told him:"My little son, this is the sign I am sending to the Bishop. Tell him that with this sign I request his greatest efforts to complete the church I desire in this place. Show these flowers to no one else but the Bishop. You are my trusted ambassador. This time the Bishop will believe all you tell him." At the palace, Juan once again came before the Bishop and several of his advisors. He told the Bishop his story and opened the tilma letting the flowers fall out. But it wasn't the beautiful roses that caused the Bishop and his advisors to fall to their knees; for there, on the tilma, was a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary precisely as Juan had described her. The next day, after showing the tilma at the Cathedral, Juan took the Bishop to the spot where he first met Mary. He then returned to his village where he met his uncle who was completely cured. His uncle told him he had met a young woman, surrounded by a soft light, who told him that she had just sent his nephew to Tenochtitlan with a picture of herself. She told his uncle: "Call me and call my image Santa Maria de Guadalupe".
The symbolism of the image
From a European perspective the hair on our Lady's image is parted in
the middle and flows to the side beneath the mantle as was the style of
women living in the Holy Land. The moon under her feet was a sign of
perpetual virginity. The red, white and blue of the angel's wings represent
faith loyalty and fidelity. Her sash, known as a singulum, and the whiteness
of the ermine fur were signs of chastity. The image, as a whole, is of the
description of the woman in the 12th Chapter of the Book of Revelations.
It should be noted that Bishop Zumárraga had prayed to Our Lady for
Castilian roses as a sign the violence between the Aztecs and Spaniards
would cease. It was this very same Spanish variety of roses that Juan
Diego brought, from rocky ground, in December no less! Those, plus
our Lady's image was a sign to him that she had heard his prayers and
would grant his plea.
Important to the Aztecs was the fact that the lady who appeared to Jua
n Diego was also an Indian, not a Spaniard, and spoke to him in Náhuatl,
the Aztec language. It's believed that the word Guadalupe was actually a Spanish mis-translation of the local Aztec dialect. The word that Mary probably used was Coatlallope which means "one who treads on snakes"! Juan Diego further explained that she appeared at Tepeyac, the place of Tonantzin, the mother god, sending a clear message that the Virgin Mary was the mother of the true God. Like many ancient peoples, the Aztecs had no written language but relied on pictograms to convey messages. Her rose dress, adorned with a jasmine flower, eight petal flowers, and nine heart flowers symbolic to the Aztec culture, is that of an Aztec princess. The stars on our Lady's mantle coincide exactly with the constellations visible in the sky on December 12, 1531, but they are depicted as viewed from space rather than from earth. Because Mary stands in front of the sun and atop the moon, she was clearly seen to be greater than both their sun and their moon gods. She is shown being held up by a heavenly being but her hands are joined in prayer signifying there is a being greater than herself. The bluish green color of her mantle is representative of divinity yet her lowered eyes clearly say she is not a goddess. Our Lady wears a pregnancy belt typical of soon-to-be Aztec mothers of the time and this means the child is divine. The white ermine fur at the neck and sleeves, along with the gold border, signified royalty to the Aztecs. The stars in her mantle along with the fact she is being carried represented a new era. The broach is the same cross worn by Cortez and the friars meaning the true religion is one the Spaniards brought to the New World.
Catholic sources claim many miraculous and supernatural properties for the image such as that the tilma has maintained its structural integrity over nearly 500 years, while replicas normally last only about 15 years before suffering degradation. In 1791, an ammonia spill did considerable damage but the tilma repaired itself with no external help. On November 14, 1921, a bomb all but destroyed the altar, but left the tilma and the assembled worshippers unharmed. In 1929 and 1951, photographers found a figure reflected in the Virgin's eyes. Upon inspection they said that the reflection was tripled in an effect commonly found in human eyes. An ophthalmologist later enlarged an image of the Virgin's eyes by 2500x and claimed to have found not only the aforementioned single figure, but images of all the witnesses present when the tilma was first revealed before Zumárraga, plus a small family group of mother, father, and a group of children, in the center of the Virgin's eyes, giving us, essentially, photographs .... from 1531! Later, in 1936, a biochemist analyzed a sample of the fabric and announced that the pigments used were from no known source, whether animal, mineral or vegetable. Dr. Philip Serna Callahan, who photographed the icon under infrared light, discovered from his photographs that portions of the face, hands, robe, and mantle had been painted in one step, with no visible brush strokes and with no sketches or corrections to guide its creation.
The image and the circumstances surrounding it had an immediate impact on the Indian population. To the dismay of the Spaniards, they had stubbornly clung to their old religion which demanded hundreds of human sacrifices to appease their gods. Now they were introduced, in terms they clearly understood, to the one true God whose love for them led Him to sacrifice His own Divine Son for them. In just six years six million of them thronged to churches and missions to claim this Holy Faith as their own, a Faith that would remain unshaken through the 20th century revolution that saw tens of thousands of Priests, nuns and ordinary people mercilessly executed for practicing that Faith.