by Elaine Romero
After the Spanish conquest of Mexico there were many Aztec Indians planning to rise against the Spanish. Continued turmoil and political revolution seemed certain. With a heart heavy from witnessing so much death, the Bishop Juan de Zummaraga prayed to the Blessed Mary for peace between the Spanish and the natives. He asked for a sign of roses, native to his home in Castile, Spain, that his prayer was heard.
Juan Diego was a humble Aztec Indian farmer. He was one of the few Indians who had recently converted to Catholicism. On December 9, 1531 he was walking up the hill of Tepeyac, the hills of today's Mexico City, when he heard what seemed to be 1,000 birds singing.
At the top of the hill he saw a beautiful dark-haired brown-eyed woman. She wore a sky colored cloak covered with brilliant moving stars. He bowed in reverence to her. She said, "My son, I am the Virgin Mary. I want a sacred house built on this hilltop. Go to the bishop in Mexico City and let him know you've spoken with me." The woman did not surprise Juan, he had long known Tepeyac as a sacred place where a temple dedicated to Tonantzin, the Aztec Mother of the Gods, had once stood. Tonantzin like the Blessed Mary was a virgin goddess and to Juan they were one and the same.
Juan did as he was asked and went directly to the bishop. The bishop, dressed in his brown cloak, was not sure whether to believe Juan Diego. He asked Juan to give him time to think about it and come back the following day.
Juan returned to the hill of Tepeyac to tell the Virgin Mary that the bishop doubted him. She asked Juan to return again to the Bishop. Juan had faith and did as he was asked the following morning. This time the Bishop asked him to return with proof that he had spoken with the Virgin Mary.
Juan respectfully asked the Virgin Mary for proof to take to the bishop and was asked to return to Tepeyac hill in the morning. When Juan returned home he learned his uncle was dying and the following morning, quickly and in sadness, went to find a priest for his uncle instead of returning to the Virgin Mary. It was December 12, three days after first seeing the Blessed Mother when he walked very quietly past the Tepeyac hilltop hoping to avoid the Holy Mother.
"Don't be afraid, my smallest of children. Have faith that I will protect you. Your uncle is already well, now go to the top of the hill and gather the flowers growing. Fill your tilma with them and take them to the bishop." Holy Mother whispered gently to Juan.
Juan was amazed by the most perfect, beautiful, reddest flowers he had ever seen. He thought the powerful fragrance must surely be the smell of Heaven. Never had he seen red roses in his beloved Mexican hills. Also, it wasn't possible that any flower would bloom like this in the middle of December. He gathered the flowers into his tilma, a peasants cloak made of coarse woven cactus. Juan hurried to deliver the flowers to the Bishop.
The Bishop's servants laughed at his return and would not allow him to enter the palace. They left him waiting. Juan pleaded to see the Bishop and showed the servants the flowers he was delivering. Three times the servants tried to grab his wrap and take the flowers but each time the flowers disappeared leaving only a painting on the inside of his tilma.
Understanding that this was certainly something out of the ordinary the servants finally led Juan to the Bishop. When Juan opened his tilma, before the Bishop, the flowers fell to the floor, filling the room with the holy fragrance of rose, and on Juan's tilma remained the image of the Blessed Holy Mother exactly as she had appeared to him on Tepayac Hill.
First thing in the morning, the Bishop followed Juan the farmer to Tepayac Hill to see where the mission would be built. They returned to Juan's home to be greeted by Juan's uncle who was well and walking around. He told them of being visited by the woman with the sky blue cloak covered with moving stars. The woman told him her name was Guadalupe.
The shrine was built. It has been rebuilt many times and today is a basilica that has space for 10,000 pilgrims. The tilma of Juan Diego still hangs above the main alter in the basilica for believers from around the world who travel to witness the miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Many are puzzled that the colors on the coarse cactus cloth are still so brilliant and that the cloth has lasted for more than 450 years, when it would ordinarily rarely last more than 30 years. Scientists have puzzled over the lack of a sketch on the cloth, the lack of bush strokes, the appearance of an image so smooth it appears to be a photograph, but the image dates back hundreds of years before photography.
Serrano, Francisco. Our Lady of Guadalupe, a childrens pop-up book. Groundwood Books: Columbia, 1998.
http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/mary0003.htm. Our Lady of Guadalupe. - taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia article by G Lee, copyright 1911, Nihil Obstat, 1 February 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor; Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York; edited and rewritten.
http://www.ourladyofguadalupe.org/ologimage.htm. The Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. JKMI.com The Home Page of the Jesus King of All Nations Devotion and the Missionary Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
http://www.sacredsites.com/2nd56/399.html. Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, Mexico City. Places of Peace and Power: The Sacred Sites Pilgrimage of Martin Gray. Martin Gray 1983 2002.
© elromero 2002
Copyright 2002. May not be reproduced in any form without written permission.