Our Lady of Guadalupe
By Francesca Merlo
December 12th is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We take a look at the story behind the indigenous peasant who came across the Patron of the Americas, and how he fought for her message to be heard.
The Virgin of Guadalupe, like the shroud of Turin, appears on a piece of fabric. Both are sacred objects, hundreds of years old, and both depict an image said to be miraculous. The Virgin of Guadalupe was declared Queen of Mexico and is Patron of the Americas.
Our Lady of Guadalupe first introduced herself as the Mother of God and the mother of all humanity when she appeared on the hill of Tepeyac in Mexico in 1531. An indigenous peasant, Juan Diego, saw a glowing figure on the hill. After she had identified herself to him, Our Lady asked that Juan build her a shrine in that same spot, in order for her to show and share her love and compassion with all those who believe.
Afterwards, Juan Diego visited Juan de Zumárraga, who was Archbishop of what is now Mexico City. Zumárraga dismissed him in disbelief and asked that the future Saint provide proof of his story and proof of the Lady’s identity.
Juan Diego returned to the hill and encountered Our Lady again. The Virgin told him to climb to the top of the hill and pick some flowers to present to the Archbishop.
Although it was winter and nothing should have been in bloom, Juan Diego found an abundance of flowers of a type he had never seen before. The Virgin bundled the flowers into Juan’s cloak, known as a tilma. When Juan Diego presented the tilma of exotic flowers to Zumárraga, the flowers fell out and he recognized them as Castilian roses, which are not found in Mexico.
What was even more significant, however, was that the tilma had been miraculously imprinted with a colorful image of the Virgin herself.
This actual tilma, preserved since that date and showing the familiar image of the Virgin Mary with her head bowed and hands together in prayer, represents the Virgin of Guadalupe. It remains perhaps the most sacred object in all of Mexico.
The story is best known from a manuscript written in the Aztec’s native language Nahuatl by the scholar Antonio Valeriano. It was written sometime after 1556.
Over 20 million people visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe each year, now situated on the very same hill on which she appeared.
In 1990, Pope Saint John Paul II visited Mexico and beatified Juan Diego. 10 years later, in the year 2000, he was declared a Saint.