Our Lady of Guadalupe or Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is a Roman Catholic title of the Blessed Virgin Mary associated with a blessed image enshrined within the minor Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Because of the image, this basilica is one of the most visited sites for Catholic pilgrimages in the world. Pope Leo XIII granted the venerated image a Canonical Coronation on October 12, 1895.
But, just who is Our Lady of Guadalupe other than what’s stated above? Why does she remain to be one of the most beloved miraculous stories we have? Today we tackle the story that accompanies the very famous image.
It all started on the morning of December 9, 1531 where a native Mexican peasant named Juan Diego witnessed an apparition of the Virgin Mary on the Hill of Tepeyac. She spoke to him in his native Nahuatl (Aztec) language and asked for a church to be build at that site in her honor. Juan Diego sought out the archbishop, Fray Juan de Zumarraga, and told him what he had witnessed.
The bishop dismissed the peasant and sent him away. On the very same day the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego once more–asking him to persist in his request. On Sunday, December 10, Juan Diego talked to the archbishop once more. The archbishop, still disbelieving, ordered Juan Diego to return to Tepeyac Hill and to ask the lady for a miraculous sign to prove her identity. On that day, Juan Diego saw the Virgin Mary for a third time and he reported the task that the archbishop had given him. She told Juan Diego to return the next day as she would provide the proof he would need.
However, the next day, Juan Diego’s elderly uncle Juan Bernardino had fallen ill and it was only Juan Diego who could care for him so he did not return to hill and spent the day caring for his relative. The uncle’s condition had deteriorated overnight and Juan Diego went to Tlatelolco to find a priest to hear his uncle’s last confession and give him his last rites. He was quite ashamed at having failed to return as the Virgin Mother had bid so he avoided the hill but the Holy Mother intercepted him.
She asked where it was he was going and he mournfully told her of his uncle. She gently chastised him for not having gone to her for his worries. She asked him “Am I not here, I who am your mother?” She was then quick to assure Juan Diego that his uncle would be well and asked him to return to the top of the hill and gather flowers.
Juan Diego was confused–flowers in December? Yet he obediently went back to the top of Tepeyac Hill and there he found fully bloomed Castilian roses which were not native to Mexico. Juan Diego gathered the flowers in his tilma and went before the archbishop once more.
There on December 12, in the presence of the archbishop, Juan Diego opened his tilma and let the flowers fall out and to everyone’s surprise there was the image of Virgin of Guadalupe imprinted upon the tilma. With that, a church was indeed made at the Hill of Tepeyac which still stands to this very day.
There have been several attempts to study the tilma and the image. A tilma like the one Juan Diego used is a very coarse woven cloak that is used by field workers. It is thin and made of poor sacking material. It is also held together by very weak stitching so it would be rather difficult if not near impossible to imprint an image let along one as rich in color and as detailed as the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Tilmas weren’t made to last and are readily available for the poor yet the tilma that bears the image of the Virgin Mother remained intact despite not being “properly” preserved for over 450 years. It is said that a closer study of photo imaging of the eyes of the Blessed Virgin show that her eyes reflect the scene of the archbishop caught in surprise.
With this, there is very little doubt why Our Lady of Guadalupe still persists to be a much beloved religious icon.