Our Lady of Guadalupe
"And the land was polluted with blood," by idolaters who sacrificed their sons and daughters to devils (Psalm 105:38). Such was Mexico when Hernando Cortes arrived there in 1519. Some ten million native Nahuatl Indians formed a vast confederation of tribes at this time. These tribes were dominated by the powerful Aztecs who, for all their intelligence, industry, and valor, were equally barbaric, enslaved by an extravagant system of idolatry which placated its numerous gods with gruesome orgies of human sacrifice and cannibalism. For centuries torrents of blood literally flowed from the temple pyramids, with as many as 20,000 humans being sacrificed in one day.
Cortes came and liberated the Nahuatls from their slavery to Satan, but because of the corruption of the Spanish rulers and because of the Aztec's attachment to polygamy and other pagan practices, very few converted to Catholicism in the first decade of Spanish rule. The saintly Juan de Zumarraga, Mexico's first bishop, could do little to convert the Aztecs, but he remained confident in the unfailing help of the Queen of Heaven, to whom he entrusted the future of New Spain.
Juan Diego, a simple and God-fearing man, was one of the few converts in the first 10 years. For 6 years he had devoutly practiced the Faith, walking 6 miles every morning to Mass. On Saturday, December 9, 1531, he began his usual pre-dawn journey. As he reached the hill known as Tepeyac, he heard a very wonderful music descending from the top of the hill. It sounded like the sweetest melody of singing birds. Suddenly the singing stopped and a gentle woman's voice was heard from above the mount saying, "Juanito, Juan Dieguito." When he reached the summit, he saw a Lady standing there who told him to come near. He marveled greatly at her superhuman grandeur. Her garments were shining like the sun and the cliff where she rested her feet was pierced with glitter.
The Lady thus spoke to him: "Know and understand well, you the most humble of my sons, that I am the ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for Whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of heaven and earth. I wish that a church be erected here quickly, so I may therein exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help and protection, because I am your merciful mother... Go to the bishop of Mexico and say to him that I manifest my great desire, that here a church be built for me."
Juan went directly to the bishop and gave him the message. Fray Zumarraga, however, did not seem to believe him and dismissed him after listening to his story. When Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac hill, the Lady appeared again and told him to "go again tomorrow and see the bishop ... and again tell him that I, in person, the ever virgin Holy Mary, Mother of God, sent you."
Juan visited the bishop's house again the next day and repeated the story. This time the bishop listened more attentively and then asked Juan to bring some sign as a proof of the story. Our Lady told Juan that she would give him a sign for the bishop on the following morning. He failed to return the next day, however, because his uncle Juan Bernardino was gravely ill and by night time asked Juan to summon a priest the next day.
On Tuesday, Juan climbed Tepeyac from a different angle to prevent the Lady from seeing him and deterring his journey to get the priest. She approached him from that side of the hill, however, and, on hearing his mission, replied, "Do not fear this nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I, your Mother, not here? Are you not under my protection? Do not be afflicted by the illness of your uncle; he is now cured."
Juan Bernardino related later that at that very hour a beautiful Lady appeared to him, calling herself "she who crushes the serpent" (see Genesis 3:15). Juan Bernardino felt a profound peace come over his soul and through his limbs a healing wave seemed to roll, filling him with strength and cooling his burning fever. He was cured.
After reassuring Juan Diego, Our Lady told him to gather the flowers at the top of the hill and give them to the bishop for a sign. But how could this be? Flowers in December, the month in which all vegetation is destroyed by freezing? Flowers on a hilltop full of crags, thorns, and thistles? Reaching the top of the hill, Juan was amazed to find many varieties of exquisite roses of Castella (in Spain), hitherto unknown to Mexico. He placed the flowers in his tilma, a coarsely woven cloak of cactus fibers, and set out for the bishop's house.
When Juan Diego reached the bishop's house and was finally admitted, he unfolded the tilma, revealing the gorgeous, sweet scented flowers. Suddenly there appeared on the face of the tilma a precious Image of the Ever-Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of God. The bishop and all others present fell to their
knees upon seeing the miraculous image...
The Image of Our Lady that appeared on the tilma, which can still be seen in Mexico City today, is truly miraculous and has been the wonder of scientists for hundreds of years. All, after exhaustive investigation with sophisticated analytic detectors, have concluded that the work is beyond the power of men to produce.
They were unable to find any trace of paint residue or dye of any sort on the Image. What produced the colors on Juan Diego's cloak or how they were applied remains a total mystery of science. The Image still retains its original colors, even though it was unprotected by any covering during the first 100 years of veneration. The bluish-green color of Our Lady's mantle is unique. It seems to be made of an unearthly shade that as yet no artist has been able exactly to match. Moreover, a painter would be incredibly foolish to choose an Indian's tilma to work on and even more to paint right over the center seam of the cloak. And had the Virgin not turned ever so slightly to the right, the stitch would have divided her face. Just as astonishing is the fact that only the seam still holds the tilma together. The law of gravity does not allow a single flimsy cotton thread to bind two heavier materials of cloth for more than ten years, much less four hundred and fifty! In addition, the coarse weave of the tilma was utilized by the Artist in such a precise manner as to give depth to the face of the Image.
Infrared radiation photography confirmed, besides the lack of paint and brush strokes, no corrections, no underlying sketch, no sizing used to render the surface smooth, no varnish covering the image to protect its surface. According to specialists of the Kodak Corporation in Mexico, the Image bears more resemblance to a color photograph than anything else. Study of photographic enlargements of Our Lady's face have revealed the image of a bearded man, clearly identifiable in the eyes. Rigorous investigations by leading oculists found not only the image of the bearded man but all the optical imaging qualities of a normal human eye, such as light reflection, image positioning and distortion on the cornea.
The Virgin's mantle is covered with stars which stunningly and accurately map out various constellations as might be seen in the Mexican sky. Even more remarkably, this "star map" on the mantle is in reverse: providing a view of the constellations from beyond them, as would be seen looking through them towards the earth. The constellations are consistent with what astronomers believe was in the sky above Mexico City the day the Image was formed, December 12, 1531. The colors of the tunic and mantle are important ones in the Aztec hierarchical structure, ones typically reserved for the emperor.
Recent gynecological studies have also identified signs of pregnancy in the image and a special flower, the Quincunx, over the place where the heart of the unborn child would be. This flower is the Aztec symbol of the Lord of the Universe.
The great majority of the miraculous aspects of the Image were not discovered until the 20th century, when the technology and archaeology made the discoveries possible. This is 400 years from the creation of the Image.
When Bishop Zumarraga saw the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, he commanded that a church be built on Tepeyac hill as Our Lady requested. Thousands of Aztec Indians were present at the translation of the Image to the new chapel. They chanted, "The Virgin is one of us. Our pure Mother, Our Sovereign Lady, is one of us!" In a transport of enthusiasm, one group of young warriors took their bows and sent a pretty volley of arrows through the air. Unfortunately, one of the shafts struck and killed one of the spectators. The poor native was picked up by his sorrowing friends and carried into the chapel, where they placed him at the feet of Our Lady of Guadalupe. While everyone together prayed for a miracle, suddenly the dead man opened his eyes and rose up fully recovered!
The Bishop placed Juan Diego in charge of the new chapel and the recipient of the apparitions spent the remainder of his life explaining the message and the meaning of the visions to the pilgrims who came there. There already existed good means of communication in that vast country and news of the wonderful events were soon common knowledge everywhere. From 1531 until the present day, a continuous stream of pilgrims have flowed through the doors of the church on Tepeyac hill. It is estimated now that as many as twenty million pilgrims come to see the miraculous tilma every year.
In explaining the apparitions to the pilgrims, Juan laid great stress on the fact that the Mother of the True God has chosen to come to the site of the temple of the pagan mother-goddess Tonantzin to signify that Christianity was to replace the Aztec religion. This startling fact made such an impact on the Mexicans, that for years after the apparitions they referred to the sacred image as the picture of Tonantzin ("Our Mother") or Teonantzin ("God's Mother").
Until 1531, the Sacrament of Baptism had been administered most to infants, as the overwhelming majority of Aztec adults had resisted the advances of the missionaries. However, as the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe began to spread throughout the country, great numbers of all ages and classes began to long for a new moral code based on the example of the Mother of the 'white man's god', who could now only be the Mother of the True God, their "clean Mother", and who had captivated their minds and hearts with her radiant purity, virtue and love.
As a result, the few missionaries in the country were soon increasingly engaged in preaching, instructing and baptizing. The trickle of conversions soon became a river, and that river a flood which is perhaps unprecedented in the history of Christianity. 5,000,000 Catholics were lost to the Church due to the Protestant Revolt in Europe at this time but their numbers were more than replaced in a few years by over 9,000,000 Aztec converts (out of 10 million).
A famous Mexican preacher of the 19th century expressed this tidal wave of conversions as follows:
"It is true that immediately after the conquest (of Cortes), some apostolic men, some zealous missionaries, mild, gentle conquerors who were disposed to shed no blood but their own, ardently devoted themselves to the conversion of the Indians. However, these valiant men, because of their fewness, because of the difficulty of learning various languages, and of the vast extent of our territory, obtained, in spite of their heroic efforts, but few and limited results.
"But scarcely had the Most Holy Virgin of Guadalupe appeared and taken possession of this her inheritance, when the Catholic Faith spread with the rapidity of light from the rising sun, through the wide extent and beyond the bounds of the ancient empire of Mexico. Innumerable multitudes from every tribe, every district, every race, in this immense country . . . who were grossly superstitious, who were ruled by the instincts of cruelty, oppressed by every form of violence, and utterly degraded, returned upon themselves at the credible announcement of the admirably portentous apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, recognized their natural dignity, forgot their misfortunes, put off their instinctive ferocity, and, unable to resist such sweet and tender invitations, came in crowds to cast their grateful hearts at the feet of so loving a Mother, and to mingle their tears of emotion with the regeneration of the waters of Baptism."
The missionaries were all but overwhelmed by the endless multitudes clamoring for instruction and Baptism. Almost everywhere they traveled, entire families would come running out of their village, entreating them with signs to come and pour the water on their heads. When the numbers grew too numerous to cope with individually, the missionaries formed the men and women into two columns behind a cross-bearer. As they filed past the first priest, he briefly imposed on each the Oil of Catechumens. Holding lighted candles and singing a hymn, they would then converge on a second priest who stood beside the baptismal font. The columns would slowly wind back to the first priest where, with hands joined, husbands and wives would pronounce their marriage vows together, receiving the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Several trustworthy contemporary writers note that one missionary, a Flemish Franciscan named Peter of Ghent, baptized with his own hands over 1,000,000 Mexicans! "Who will not recognize the Spirit of God in moving so many millions to enter the kingdom of Christ," wrote Fr. Anticoli, S.J., "and when we consider that there occurred no portent or other supernatural event ... to attract such multitudes, other than the apparitions of the Virgin, we may state with assurance that it was the Vision of the Queen of the Apostles that called the Indians to the Faith."
The miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an unquestionable display of God's love and mercy for the Mexican and American people. As She converted the hearts of the Aztec Indians, so let Her convert our modern, worldly hearts to turn to Her and Her Son. Let us ask her help to restore modesty and decency and especially to bring about the end of the modern sacrifice of innocent humans to the altar of self-love, abortion. Foster devotion to this Noble Virgin and Mother in your own life and the lives of others. Contemplating her, remember the following words of a prayer composed by Pope Pius XII, in which he declares the Virgin of Guadalupe the Empress of all the Americas: "For we are certain, that as long as you are recognized as Queen and Mother, Mexico and America will be safe."
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!