Guadalupe – Mexico
“…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…”
A little over twelve centuries later, in 1531, Our Lady appeared in the Americas, atop a small hill in the Tepayac hill country of the Mexican desert, to a simple Aztec Indian named, Juan Diego. He was 57, a recent convert to Christianity.
This beautiful lady, ‘…surrounded by a ball of light as bright as the sun’ told him: “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.”
She added: “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 and tell the bishop all that you have seen and heard.”
Juan hurried as fast as he could and upon arriving at Bishop Juan de Zumárraga’s house, he asked to see the bishop; however, the servants were suspicious of this rural peasant and they kept him waiting for hours. Finally, he was escorted to see the bishop where Juan told him the whole story. The bishop advised Juan that he would consider the Lady’s request and suggested meeting Juan again if he wished.
Naturally, Juan was very disappointed by the response and felt unworthy to persuade someone so important as a bishop.
Returning to the hill where he had first seen Mary, he found her waiting for him. He implored her to send someone else but she responded: “My little son, there are many I could send. But you are the one I have chosen.”
She told him to return the next day and repeat the same request to the bishop. So, next Sunday, after waiting several hours, he again talked to the bishop. This time, though, the bishop told him to ask the Lady to provide a sign as a proof of who she was.
Juan dutifully returned to the hill where Our Lady was again waiting for him. When he told her what the bishop said, she 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.”
Upon reaching home Juan discovered that his uncle, Bernardino, whom he dearly loved as a father, was extremely ill. He was much worse by daybreak, so Juan set out to obtain medicine from a doctor. Yet, the following morning found him near death so Juan left his side to find the priest.
Passing near Tepayac Hill Juan realized he had not done as Our Lady asked; however, fearing his uncle would die, he took another road. Not to be outdone, Mary appeared in front of him on the path. He was frightened and falling to his knees informed her he was hurrying to find a priest for his uncle.
Then, Mary replied: “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.”
Juan obeyed Mary’s instructions and went to the top of the hill. There, despite the fact that it was freezing, 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 retold his story to the bishop. Then, on opening the tilma, he let the flowers fall out. But it wasn’t the beautiful roses which bloomed in winter that caused the bishop and his advisers to fall to their knees in wonder and awe! It was the tilma, for emblazoned on it 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 place where he first encountered Mary.
Later that day, he returned to his village where he met his uncle. He had been completely cured. His uncle relayed to him that he met a young woman, surrounded by a soft light, who told him that she had just sent his nephew to the bishop with a picture of herself. She told his uncle: “Call me, and call my image, Santa Maria de Guadalupe.”
The picture on the tilma is similar to an icon with precise meanings for each symbol to the native population, one of which shows Mary as the God-bearer who is pregnant with her Divine Son. Since the time the tilma was first impressed with a picture of the Mother of God, and over the first six years, six million Aztecs were converted to Catholicism.
The tilma has been subjected to a variety of environmental hazards, including smoke from fires and candles, water from floods, and torrential downpours. In 1921, anti-clerical forces planted a bomb which exploded, but the tilma was untouched and no one in the church was injured. However, a cast-iron cross next to the tilma was twisted out of shape and the marble altar rail was heavily damaged.
In 1977, the tilma was thoroughly examined using infrared photography and digital enhancement techniques. Unlike other paintings, the tilma shows no sketching or any sign of outline drawn to permit an artist to produce a painting.
Furthermore, the very method used to create the image is still unknown. Recently, with advanced electronic photographic magnification, it was discovered that Mary’s eyes reflected the face of the bishop, as well as that of Juan Diego.
The image, inexplicable in its longevity and method of production, is a miracle in itself and can be seen today in Mexico City, Mexico, in a large Cathedral built to accommodate up to ten thousand people. It is by far the most popular religious pilgrimage site in the Western Hemisphere.