Juan Diego was from Mexico; but not the Mexico you and I know. He was from a Mexico that was mostly still Aztec and worshipped false gods. These false gods demanded human sacrifice, so their “priests” said. It’s estimated that between 20,000 and 250,000 people – mostly children – were sacrificed to the gods every year.
Juan, however, was swimming against the tide. He was Catholic, and one of only a few. He was a poor man and was taking care of his dying uncle, minding his own business… when low and behold, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him! She told him that she wanted a church to be built and he was to tell the Bishop. Easy mission right? Not when the Bishop won’t believe you, and wants proof that you’re seeing apparitions from Heaven.
Juan’s uncle suddenly got more ill, and while Juan was rushing to get a doctor he purposefully avoided the hill where Mary appeared to him. She appeared anyway and told him his uncle would be cured. Mary also miraculously showed him where to pick roses (even though it was December) to take to the Bishop. Juan followed her instructions, and when he opened his cloak to show the Bishop the roses there was a beautiful picture of Our Lady on the inside, just as she had appeared to him. The Bishop was stunned at this miracle and had the church built.
What’s so awesome about this story is that Juan Diego was obedient and faithful even when things weren’t going well in his life. Because of his trials his virtue shone even brighter. Six million Mexicans converted to Catholicism because of the miraculous image of Our Lady, who pointed them toward thetrue God, her Son. This huge conversion began in 1531, a time when the Protestant reformation was going on in Europe and millions were leaving the faith.
The Miraculous image on the tilma
A tilma is a very coarse, woven covering worn by field workers. It is thin, made of poor sacking material (a sort of vegetable fibre) and consists of two strips, each about 70 inches long by 18 inches wide, held together by very weak stitching.
Over the centuries people have wondered at the beauty of the image. Hundreds have tried to duplicate it with waters, paints and oils and none have come close to doing the image justice, or capturing its beauty. The colors have been compared and tests have shown that the flower like tints and abundant gold colors ‘cannot be duplicated.’ Tests have revealed that there are NO brush strokes and that the image could not be the work of a painter.
Artists note that the proportions of the woman are perfect for a maiden in her early teenage years, that the figure (Mary) is pregnant with child, her hands are folded in prayer as a sign of holiness and piety, and that her knee is bent as a sign of penitence and honor to God.
There were various commissions where people inquired as to the validity or truth of the story, and the miraculous origin of the tilma. Sworn evidence, wills, and contemporaries of Juan Diego and those involved with the miracle offer substantial proof that the events of December 1531, and the subsequent events over the past several centuries, are inexplicable especially the lifespan of the poorly made tilma that usually would have given out in less than five years. But the tilma has lasted, without preservation, for an unfathomable 470 years!
The Name Guadalupe means what?
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. It is believed 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, 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.”
What effects did the apparitions and tilma have?
At the time, the Aztecs offered annually at least 20,000 men, women and children in human sacrifice to their gods. In 1487, just in a single 4 day long ceremony for the dedication of a new temple in Tenochtitlan, some 80,000 captives were killed in human sacrifice. But following the Apparitions of our Blessed Mother and the miracle of the blessed tilma in 1531, over 9 million Aztecs converted to Christianity in little over a decade.
More Miraculous Facts about the tilma:
- The tilma, a poor quality cactus-cloth, which should have deteriorated in 20 years but shows no sign of decay 470 years later and still defies all scientific explanations of its origin.
- Photo imaging demonstrates that the eyes of the Blessed Virgin apparently even reflect what was in front of her in 1531!
- There is reason to believe that at Tepeyac Mary came in her glorified body, and her actual physical hands rearranged the roses in Juan Diego’s tilma, which makes this apparition very special.
- In 1921, a bomb (hidden in a vase of flowers) placed beneath the image exploded, causing severe damage to the Church and altar but nothing happened to the tilma
- In 1945, Pope Pius XII stated that the Virgin of Guadalupe is the ‘Queen of Mexico and Empress of the Americas’ and that she had been painted ‘by brushes that were not of this world.’
- In 1962, Dr. Charles Wahlig, O.D. announced the finding of ‘two images’ reflected in the eyes of the Virgin while studying an enlargement (25 times the size) of the original tilma
- In 1979, using the most sophisticated digitization and image processing techniques, Dr. Jose Aste-Tonsmann announces the finding of at least four human figures, reflected in both eyes of the Virgin.
- An incredible list of miracles, cures and interventions are attributed to Her. 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.
Other Interesting Facts:
In 1999, Pope John Paul II declared the date of December the 12th as a Liturgical Holy Day for the whole continent. During the same visit Pope John Paul II entrusted the cause of life to her loving protection, and placed under her motherly care the innocent lives of children, especially those who are in danger of not being born.
She is the Patroness of the Unborn and The Americas and her feast day is celebrated on December 12th.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, help us to remain faithful to your Son, even through our struggles. Renew in us a greater respect for life, especially for unborn children. Draw us constantly closer to your loving heart, where you comfort and care for us. Amen.