History of the Apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe
With the arrival of the Spaniards to the New World came religious persons who desired to convert the native people to the Christian faith. An Aztec Indian named “Cuauhtlatoatzin” (“the talking eagle”) was among those who converted. Between 1524 and 1525, he was baptized, receiving the Christian name Juan Diego. On December 9, 1531, as he made his way to the chapel, Juan Diego, 57 years of age, walked through the Tepeyac hill country in central Mexico.
Near Tepayac Hill, he encountered a beautiful woman surrounded by an orb of light as bright as the sun. Speaking in Juan Diego’s native Nahuatl language (the language of the Aztec empire), the beautiful lady 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 Tenochtitlán and tell the Bishop all that you have seen and heard.”
Juan Diego, although he had never been to Tenochtitlán, responded to the Blessed Virgin’s request as he sought out the Bishop of Mexico City, Fray Juan de Zumarraga, and requested a meeting. The bishop did not believe Juan Diego, and on the same day, Juan Diego saw the Virgin Mary for a second time (the second apparition). Although Juan Diego felt unworthy to persuade someone as important as a bishop, the Virgin Mary asked him to keep insisting.
On Sunday, December 10, Juan Diego met with the bishop a second time. The bishop instructed Juan Diego to ask the lady for a miraculous sign to prove her identity. That same day, the third apparition occurred when Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac, encountered the Virgin Mary, and reported the bishop’s request for a sign. She consented to provide a sign on the following day, which would be December 11.
However, on December 11, Juan Diego’s uncle, Juan Bernardino, was very ill. Instead of meeting with the Virgin Mary, Juan Diego tended to his uncle. In the early hours of December 12, his uncle’s condition having deteriorated overnight, Juan Diego set out to find a priest to hear his uncle’s confession and administer to him on his deathbed.
Juan Diego was ashamed at having failed to meet the Blessed Mother the previous day, and, in order to avoid being delayed by the Virgin, he chose another route around Tepeyac Hill. The Virgin intercepted him and asked where he was going (fourth apparition).
Juan Diego explained what had happened with his uncle, and the Virgin gently chided him for not having had recourse to her. Her words to him are inscribed over the main entrance to the Basilica of Our Lady Guadalupe. She asked, “¿No estoy yo aquí que soy tu madre?” (Am I not here, I who am your mother?).
The Virgin Mary assured Juan Diego his uncle would recover, and she told him to gather flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill, which was normally barren, especially in December. Juan Diego did as he was instructed, and he found Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, blooming there. The Virgin arranged the flowers in Juan Diego’s tilmátli, or tilma (cloak).
Juan Diego took the roses to Bishop Zumárraga on that day, December 12. When Juan Diego opened his tilma in front of the bishop, dozens of roses fell to the floor and revealed the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe imprinted on the inside of Juan Diego’s tilma.
On December 13, Juan Diego found his uncle fully recovered, as the Virgin Mary had told. Juan Bernardino recounted also seeing the Blessed Virgin at his bedside (fifth apparition), and that she told him to tell the bishop of this apparition and of his miraculous cure.
Following the Apparitions of our Blessed Mother and the miracle of the blessed tilma, more than nine million Aztecs converted to Christianity in little over 10 years.
The Name “Guadalupe”
It is believed that the word Guadalupe was actually a Spanish mistranslation of the local Aztec dialect, and that Our Lady used the Aztec Nahuatl word of “coatlaxopeuh,” which is pronounced “quatlasupe” and sounds remarkably like the Spanish word Guadalupe. Coa meaning serpent, and tla being the noun ending interpreted as “the,” and xopeuh meaning “to crush or stamp out,” the Virgin likely was calling herself the one who “crushes the serpent.”
The Miraculous Tilma
A tilma is a course, thin woven covering made of poor sacking material and worn by field workers. It consists of two strips, each about 70 inches long by 18 inches wide and held together by weak stitching.
Juan Diego’s tilma shows the Virgin Mary as the God-bearer, pregnant with her Divine Son. The tilma, which should have deteriorated in 20 years, shows no signs of decay 487 years later. The image is inexplicable in its longevity and method of production. Sophisticated digitizing and image processing techniques demonstrate that the eyes of the Blessed Virgin reflect what was in front of her in 1531. The tilma, even after centuries of study, remains an enigma for science.
It has become Mexico’s most popular religious and cultural symbol and is on display in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe — by far the most popular religious pilgrimage site in the Western Hemisphere. Pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego in 2002, making him the first indigenous American saint, and declared Our Lady of Guadalupe the Patroness of the Americas.
Since the time the tilma was first impressed with a picture of the Mother of God, it has been subject to a variety of environmental hazards, including smoke from fires and candles, water from floods and torrential downpours and, in 1921, a bomb which was planted by anti-clerical forces on an altar under it. When the bomb exploded, there was also a cast-iron cross next to the tilma. The cross was twisted out of shape, the marble altar rail was heavily damaged, and the tilma was…unscathed. No one was injured in the Church despite the damage that occurred to a large part of the altar structure.
An incredible list of miracles, cures, and interventions are attributed to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Each year, an estimated 10 million people visit her Basilica (which seats 10,000 worshipers), making her Mexico City home the most popular Marian shrine in the world, and the most visited Catholic church next to the Vatican.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, help and protect us!
Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe
Remember, O most gracious Virgin of Guadalupe, that in your apparitions on Mount Tepeyac you promised to show pity and compassion to all who, loving and trusting you, seek your help and protection. Accordingly, listen now to our supplications and grant us consolation and relief.
We are full of hope that, relying on your help, nothing can trouble or affect us. As you have remained with us through your admirable image, so now obtain for us the graces we need.
I really enjoyed visiting the churches and being able to see what it was like in the past with the appearance of Mary. All the churches were magnificent in their own way.
I’ll always remember the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, complemented by all the related apparition sites as well as the pilgrimage aspect of the trip. Of course getting to know our fellow pilgrims added to the favorable experience.