Our Lady of Guadalupe: Miracles, Facts and Fancy

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Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of the most dramatic appearances of Mary in history, when Mary, in the guise of an Aztec princess, appeared to Saint Juan Diego (his pre-conversion name of Cuauhtlatoatzin translates as “Talking Eagle”), a Mexican convert, on December 9, 1531 as he strode to Mass and was passing by the base of Tepeyac hill.  She spoke to him in Nahuatl, his native tongue, and told him to go to Archbishop Juan de Zumarraga, the primate of Mexico, and tell him that she wished for a shrine to be built on Tepeyac hill.  She also gave him this message: 

“I will demonstrate, I will exhibit, I will give all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me , of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities and misfortunes.”  

The Archbishop told Diego he would not believe in his encounter with Mary unless he had a sign.  Our Lady told Diego to visit the Archbishop again, but Zumarraga repeated his request for a sign.   Returning to Tepeyac, Diego again encountered Our Lady who told him to present himself to  Archbishop Zumarraga and give to him roses he was instructed to pick.  Roses growing in Mexico in December were a miracle in and of themselves.  Diego did as he was bidden, and when he presented the roses to the Archbishop, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was imprinted on his tilma, his peasant’s cloak, where the roses had been held by him.  News of the miracle spread throughout Mexico and before the decade was out some eight million Mexicans converted to the Faith.  A chapel was built on Tepeyac and Diego cared for it and the image as a religious hermit until his death in 1548 at 73. 

Doubts have been raised about whether Juan Diego existed due to the lack of contemporary accounts.  However, these doubts were quashed, at least any reasonable doubts, in 1995 with the coming to light of the Codex Escalada which has been dated to the sixteenth century.  It bears the date of 1548 and is an illustrated account of the apparition with text in Nahuatl describing the encounter between Juan Diego and Mary.  The document bears the signature of  Father Bernadino de Sahagun, a missionary priest and historian in Mexico, and a contemporary of Juan Diego.  The first mention of the image in Spanish is in 1556 in a sermon preached by Archbishop Alonso de Montufar, the successor to Archbishop Zumarraga, in which he recommended devotion to the image.  Devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe spread rapidly throughout the Catholic world, with Genoese Admiral Giovanni Andrea Doria having a copy of the image on his flagship during the decisive Christian victory at the battle of Lepanto in 1571.

The image I believe is miraculous in nature.  However, many spurious claims have been made about the image, and the video below is a good compilation of some of the wilder ones.

Go here to read a very good article which separates fact from fancy regarding the image.  It points out the true miraculous feature of the image:

Again, this is misplaced over-excitement. There is paint ALL OVER the tilma, BUT NOT IN THE FACE AND THE HANDS OF THE VIRGIN. The above observation is correct only with reference to the Face and the Hands.

As a matter of fact the original figure, including the rose robe, blue mantle, hands and face … is inexplicable. In terms of the infrared study executed over the tilma in the 70s, there is no way to explain either the kind of color luminosity and brightness of pigments over the centuries. It seems that the facial image is formed from the very woof and weft of the fibers of the cloth.

There is no need to gild the lily in regard to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe;   it is quite miraculous enough without that, both the miracle intrinsic to itself and the faith, always the greatest of miracles, in God it has fostered in human hearts.

O Immaculate Virgin Mother of the true God and Mother of the Church! You, who from this place revealed your clemency and your pity to all those who ask for your protection: hear the prayer that we address to you with filial trust, and present it to your Son Jesus, our sole Redeemer. Mother of Mercy, Teacher of hidden and silent sacrifice, to you, who come to meet us sinners, we dedicate on this day all our being and all our love. We also dedicate to you our life, our work, our joys, our infirmities, and our sorrows. Grant peace, justice and prosperity to our peoples; for we entrust to your care all that we have and all that we are, our Lady and Mother. We wish to be entirely yours and to walk with you along the way of complete faithfulness to Jesus Christ in His Church: hold us always with your loving hand. Virgin of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas, we pray to you for all the bishops, that they may lead the faithful along paths of intense Christian life, of love and humble service of God and souls. Contemplate this immense harvest, and intercede with the Lord that He may instill a hunger for holiness in the whole People of God, and grant abundant vocations of priests and religious, strong in faith and zealous dispensers of God’s mysteries. Grant to our homes the grace of loving and respecting life in its beginnings, with the same love with which you conceived in your womb the life of the Son of God. Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Fair Love, protect our families, so that they may always be united, and bless the upbringing of our children. Our hope, look upon us with compassion, teach us to go continually to Jesus and, if we fall, help us to rise again, to return to Him, by means of the confession of our faults and sins in the Sacrament of Penance, which gives peace to the soul. We beg you to grant us a great love for all the holy Sacraments, which are, as it were, the signs that your Son left on earth. Thus, Most Holy Mother, with the peace of God in our conscience, with our hearts free from evil and hatred, we will be able to bring to all true joy and true peace, which comes to us from your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Pope John Paul II

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  1. (from Don’s wife Cathy:) Fr. Bernardino de Sahagun later also wrote the “Psalmodia Christiana” (Mexico, 1583), which included a Nahuatl-language retelling of the story of the first Christmas in terms Aztec converts would have understood. That portion was translated to English in the 1990s and published in picture-book format as “Spirit Child: A Story of the Nativity” (available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0688099262/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1). Don & I plan to read “Spirit Child” this week to our Gr. 5-6 CCD class, and have already told our students that it’s the way the story of the first Christmas might have been explained to St. Juan Diego as a new convert.

  2. Great viewpoint, the Christmas story as told to a middle aged Indian, Juan Diego.
    I want to read too.

    I’m sure I’ve told my Juan Diego story before, if you would let me I’ll share a short version now.

    During prison ministry in Wisconsin, I was called to the jail by the prison nurse. She had a new inmate who could not be sedated and asked if I could drive in to minister to him.
    Juan Diego R. He was a mess. Could not focus and was mean. I got his full attention when I asked him how he got his name.

    Grandmother named him.

    That was the starting point to his conversion.

    Fast track to July 31st. 2002.
    No kidding….the date of his sentencing. The public defender asked me to give testimony on his behalf. I agreed. Unbeknownst to me, until I turned on Relevant Radio while on my way to court, the canonization Mass for Juan Diego was being broadcast from the Vatican.

    Tears did fall down my face as I walked in to help a fellow fallen Catholic. God is incredible.
    His timing is perfect.

    Jefferson county Jail in Jefferson Wisconsin.
    July 31st. 2002.

  3. An icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe is on a wall in my son John’s bedroom. It has been there since before he was born.
    The conversions to the Faith as a result of this miracle are astounding.
    I hope to go see the image one day.

  4. So many amazing events about this apparition.
    One is the relationship of Dec. 12th, and the apparition of the Patroness of the Americas, to Dec.8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Franciscans, who staffed the Church of Santiago de Tlatelolco, in Mexico City, Juan Diego’s parish church, had long promoted the Immaculate Conception feast day—the Franciscans, as an order, since Duns Scotus (d. 1308)—even tho’ the dogma was not formally defined til 1851. The Franciscan pope Sixtus IV (d.1484) had extended the cult to the whole Church calendar about 50 years prior to Guadalupe in 1531.
    Some historians believe Juan Diego was keeping a devotion of attending daily early morning Mass and prayers—including the “Rose” prayers of the Virgin, the “Rosary”— for the 8-day Octave of the Feast of the I.C.—in fact, by journeying from his home in the far NW part of the Valley of Mexico to Santiago church, perhaps one of his special intentions being for the recovery of his gravely-ill uncle. It was an arduous distance of over 7 or more miles one-way—one reason he took a short-cut over the mountain of Tepeyac that fateful Dec. 9th morning. (Just from Tepeyac to Tlatelolco one way is 5 km. or over 3 mi…a healthy walk)
    A second great curiosity is that the Nahuatl Nican Mopohua account says that, after Juan Diego gathered the impossibly-blooming roses from the hill crest and brought them to the Virgin, she stopped and mysteriously re-arranged them—in some mystical pattern? It also says she seemed to “float” over the sharp lava-bed pedregal and cactus to “catch up” with him. Shades of the accounts of the three children at Fatima! Anyway, this mysterious “floral arrangement” was how he took the roses to Bp. Zumarraga that morning.
    Finally, there is the curiosity of the somewhat-maligned—by history,that is— Bp. Zumarraga. Also a Franciscan, his was an almost impossibly hard life. The secular authorities were constantly intriguing to weaken his protective powers over the Indians. The discipline problems over his own clergy would make a weaker man crack. But the most interesting curiosity regarding this man, who became the defender of Our Lady of Guadalupe, was his intervention in the problem of the Indians’ practice of polygamy, a common practice of the pre-Columbian tribes. As the Indians became converts, what to do with all these wives? Which one was the valid marriage? Many clergy recommended the man choose — a bad idea—or, consider the last wife taken as the valid wife—an equally bad idea. Zumarraga recommended the matter to the pope, who agreed with him, that the first wife taken was the valid marriage, even tho’ married in a pagan ritual.

    Amd maybe the present pontiff can read up on Zumarraga’s recommendations and Paul III’s decree, and their shared view of the indissolubility of marriage. That would be another miracle of Guadalupe.

  5. Doubts have been raised about whether Juan Diego existed due to the lack of contemporary accounts.  However, these doubts were quashed, at least any reasonable doubts, in 1995 with the coming to light of the Codex Escalada which has been dated to the sixteenth century. 

    I love stuff like this– my cousin was looking up the “date of Christmas” entry on one of the online copies of the Catholic Encyclopedia, and noted it had a lot of statements about the “earliest” this or that which are outdated… it was written before people knew about plate tectonics. Just for some perspective. It’s hardly surprising that the historical information is outdated.

    My goodness, how much more history we’ve managed to find, and it’s getting even easier to collect it so that people know about it, and can check claims! I can visit, for fun, free websites that my grandfather would’ve contemplated homicide to access. Resources from the Vatican archives to the New York Library through dozens of museums are practically at my finger tips– and better yet, they’re available to folks like the guy at that first link who know enough to know what to look for, and put together. Ladies like SuburbanBanshee can translate stuff because they want it, and then put it up for other folks to buy for less than a pack of gum.

  6. Speaking of America, I wish more were made of the Dec. 8th Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the US. This is a Holy Day of Obligation and concerns a teaching of the Church in addition to being our patron saint. I know Guadalupe is important to Mexico, and perhaps to others as well, but it remains and always will be private revelation. I have read that she did appear on Dec. 9th to St. Juan Diego, which at the time was the day the Immaculate Conception was observed at the time.

  7. You are absolutely right, Ms B, and my point (which I guess I failed to make, about Guadalupe) is that the occasion of Guadalupe was “all about” the devotion to the Immaculate Conception by Juan Diego, and the Franciscans: a cult that had not even yet been formally defined by the Church, but that Juan Diego was keeping reverently, either the 8-day Octave of “Rose”-prayers and special intentions, or a Novena, conveniently ending on Dec 17th, the day that starts the “‘O’ Antiphons” and the anticipation of the Incarnation.

    Guadalupe was occasioned by the Great Feast of the Immaculate Conception, kept in the Eastern Church (not necessarily the Orthodox) going back to at least the 9th C. (according to Dom Gaspar Lefevbre, OSB, d. 1966). In a way, Juan Diego, the Franciscans, the nehophyte Nahuatl converts, and Juan Zummaraga “brought down from heaven” the Blessed Virgin at a crucial and almost desperate time for the New World Catholic Church.

    “And the rest is history.”

  8. As for the appearances, there traditionally were 4 (some say 5, inferring this from the Nican Mopohua):

    Dec 9th (Saturday, dedicated also to the Bl Virgin), when Juan Diego hurriedly “cut across” the top of Tepeyac hill to save time on his way to Morning Mass and “Rose-prayers”, and maybe later that evening when he returned and reported back his unsuccess to the Bl Virgin; Dec 10th, Sunday, when she met him again, and urged him to meet Zumarraga again, again unsuccessfully(this appearance is surmised, and sometime not counted); Dec. 11th, #2, he was detained by his then-dying uncle; and then Dec 12th, #3,when he had to travel the trail from his village in the NW valley back to the Franciscan Church of Santiago, and actually tried to “avoid” the Bl. Virgin, who it says “intercepted him” by floating down from the top of the hill and literally stopping him on the trail; at this point the Marian roses were “found” on top of Tepeyac hill, and he visited Zumarraga, at last successfully; and the 4th apparition was of the Virgin to his uncle on his sickbed, who confirmed Juan Diego’s accounts.

    That is why a traditional devotional image of the Virgin of Guadalupe shows the 4 apparitions at the 4 corners of the border of the image.

    If stability returns to Mexico, I hope everyone can visit Guadalupe, and can see the topography, the trails, the now-dry shores of Texcoco Lake, the Capilla, the Pozito, etc. and “walk the course” of Juan Diego. Everything then becomes quite clear, and that alone tells you it is a true story. No one could make up the part that he actually was trying to “avoid” her (for which she chided him! Ow!) on Dec. 12th, when this Lady would not be refused.

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