Our Lady of Guadalupe
On December 12, the Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in memory of the series of apparitions of Mary, the Virgin of Guadalupe to a Mexican peasant, St. Juan Diego, in the 16th century. The actual words that Mary spoke when identifying herself in the native language meant “she who crushes the stone serpent”; at the time the primary god of the native pagan religion in the area was a stone serpent. However, to the Spanish that had recently come to Mexico, it sounded like the Spanish word Guadalupe, the name of a favorite image of Mary in Spain.
The Apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe
In 1531, Our Lady appeared to a 57-year-old peasant widower, Juan Diego at Tepeyac, not far from Mexico City. On December 9, Juan, a recent convert to Catholicism, was on his way to an early Saturday morning Mass and session of catechism lessons when he heard beautiful music playing near the base of the barren and rocky hill of Tepeyac. There, a radiant, beautiful young woman called to him by name, “Little Juan,” and told him that she was the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God. She pointed to a spot on the hill and told Juan that she wanted a church to be built for the people there.
Juan went to the local bishop, a Franciscan named Juan de Zumárraga, to relay the message from Mary. Fray Juan de Zumárraga had only recently arrived from Spain and had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin but did not believe that Mary had appeared in his diocese. When Juan returned to Tepeyac, he apologized to Mary for his failure and asked that she choose a better man to perform her task. Mary said that she had chosen Juan Diego and that the message, delivered by him, would be accepted. Juan Diego once again visited Fray Zumárraga, who this time asked for some sort of proof of the events. As Juan returned home, Mary appeared again and promised to provide a sign for the bishop the next day.
However the next day, Juan Diego stayed with his uncle who had become seriously ill during the night. Juan’s uncle’s health did not improve and so the next day Juan decided to find a priest to bring to the dying man. He tried to skirt around the hill of Tepeyac, but the Virgin appeared to him a fourth time. She assured Juan that his uncle’s health would improve and told him to go to the top of the hill and gather the flowers he would find there. Juan did as he was bid and gathered the fresh Castilian roses in his tilma, a cloak worn by the native Mexicans. Mary arranged the flowers and tied the cloak, telling Juan to untie the tilma only when he met the bishop.
The Tepeyac soil was barren and the roses were out of season, so Juan believed the flowers would provide the proof that the bishop had asked for. Juan returned to Bishop Zumárraga’s presence and told him he had the proof requested. He opened his cloak, and as the flowers tumbled to the floor, the bishop and the others in the room fell to their knees. A beautiful image of the Virgin Mary had appeared on Juan’s tilma. The tilma was enthroned immediately in the bishop’s chapel until the church that Our Lady had requested could be built.
Devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe
In the 400-plus years since the apparitions, devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe has not waned. The tilma, though made of natural fibers, is still preserved, enshrined at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Many visitors from Mexico and the world over come to visit it every year. Our Lady of Guadalupe is patroness of the Americas, as proclaimed by Pope Pius XII. Because the apparitions took place shortly after Christianity was first brought to Central America, devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is especially deep and strong in Mexico.