Mexico City: Our Lady of Guadalupe & Saint Juan Diego
The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe:
So much has been written about this most important apparition that we cannot include everything here. There are many books on the subject that will go into greater detail. However the following is a condensed version of the apparitions to Saint Juan Diego.
Juan Diego was born in 1474 with the name “Cuauhtlatoatzin” (“the talking eagle”) in Cuautlitlán, today part of Mexico City, Mexico. He was a gifted member of the Chichimeca people, one of the more culturally advanced groups living in the Anáhuac Valley.When he was 50 years old he was baptized by a Franciscan priest, Fr Peter da Gand, one of the first Franciscan missionaries.
Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin was a widower at age 55, and turned his life to God. It was his custom to attend Mass and catechism lessons at the Church in Tlatelolco. At daybreak, on Saturday, December 9, 1531, Juan Diego began his journey to Church. As he passed a hill named Tepeyac, on which once stood a temple to the Aztec mother god Tonantzin, he heard songbirds burst into harmony. Music and songbirds presaged something divine for the Aztec. The music stopped as suddenly as it had begun. A beautiful girl with tan complexion and bathed in the golden beams of the sun called him by name in Náhuatl, his native language, “Juan Diego!”
The girl said: “Dear little son, I love you. I want you to know who I am. I am the Virgin Mary, Mother of the one true God, of Him who gives life. He is Lord and Creator of heaven and of earth. I desire that there be built a temple at this place where I want to manifest Him, make him known, give Him to all people through my love, my compassion, my help, and my protection.
I truly am your merciful Mother, your Mother and the Mother of all who dwell in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, and of those who seek and place their trust in me. Here I shall listen to their weeping and their sorrows. I shall take them all to my heart, and I shall cure their many sufferings, afflictions, and sorrows. So run now to Tenochtitlan and tell the Lord Bishop all that you have seen and heard.”
Juan Diego went to the palace of the Franciscan Don Fray Juan de Zumarraga, and after rude treatment by the servants, was granted an audience with the Bishop. The Bishop was cordial but hesitant on the first visit and said that he would consider the request of the Lady and politely invited Juan Diego to come visit again. Dismayed, Juan returned to the hill and found Mary waiting for him (second apparition). He asked her to send someone more suitable to deliver her message “for I am a nobody.”
She said on this second visit, “Listen, little son. There are many I could send. But you are the one I have chosen for this task. So, tomorrow morning, go back to the Bishop. Tell him it is the ever holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God who sends you, and repeat to him my great desire for a church in this place.”
So, Sunday morning, December 10, Juan Diego called again on the Bishop for the second time. Again with much difficulty, he was finally granted an audience. The Bishop was surprised to see him and told him to ask for a sign from the Lady. Juan Diego reported this to Our Lady (third apparition) and she told him to return the following morning for the sign.
However, when he got home he found that his uncle, Juan Bernardino, was gravely ill. So instead of going to Tepeyac as he had been told he stayed home with his uncle. On December 12th Juan Diego woke up early in order to bring a priest to give his uncle Last Rights. Juan Diego took an alternate route in order not to pass Tepeyac Hill so that Our Lady would not see him. But guess who intercepted him on his route? It was, of course, Our lady and she asked him where he was going. No doubt surprised by this appearance (fourth apparition), he explained the purpose of his journey. Mary told him that his uncle would not die and, as he learned later, at that very moment his uncle’s health was restored. Our Lady instructed Juan Diego to go up to the top of the hill, cut the flowers that were blooming there, and bring them to her. Teypeyac Hill is shown in the background of the photo on the right.
Flowers in December? Juan Diego must have thought this to be an impossible request. But he was obedient, and sure enough found beautiful Castilian roses on the hilltop. As he cut them, he decided the best way to protect them against the cold was to cradle them in his tilma – a long, cloth cape worn by the Aztecs, and often looped up as a carryall. He ran back to Mary and she rearranged the roses and tied the lower corners of the tilma behind his neck so that nothing would spill, and said, “You see, little son, this is the sign I am sending to the Bishop. Tell him that now he has his sign, he should build the temple I desire in this place. Do not let anyone but him see what you are carrying. Hold both sides until you are in his presence and tell him how I intercepted you on your way to fetch a priest to give the Last Sacraments to your uncle, how I assured you he was perfectly healed and sent you up to cut these roses, and myself arranged them like this. Remember, little son, that you are my trusted ambassador, and this time the Bishop will believe all that you tell him.”
This fourth apparition was the last known time Juan Diego ever saw the Our Lady. Juan called for the third time on the Bishop and explained all that had passed. Then Juan put up both hands and untied the corners of crude cloth behind his neck. The looped-up fold of the tilma fell; the flowers he thought were the precious sign tumbled out on the floor. The Bishop rose from his chair and fell on his knees in adoration before the tilma, as well as everyone else in the room. For on the tilma was the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary just as described by Juan Diego.
While Juan Diego was calling on the Bishop, Juan Bernardino, the dying uncle, suddenly found his room filled with a soft light. A luminous young woman filled with love was standing there and told him he would get well. During this fifth apparition, she told him that she had sent his nephew, Juan Diego, to the Bishop with an image of herself and said, “Call me and call my image Our Lady of Guadalupe.” This was the fifth apparition of the Blessed Mother in Mexico (but not to Juan Diego, of course) and there is a simple church here that is well worth the visit. It is often referred to as the Church of the Fifth apparition.
With the Bishop’s permission, Juan Diego lived the rest of his life as a hermit in a small hut near the chapel where the miraculous image was placed for veneration. Here he cared for the church and the first pilgrims who came to pray to the Mother of Jesus. Juan Diego received the grace of interior enlightenment and from that moment, he began a life dedicated to prayer and the practice of virtue and boundless love of God and neighbor. He died in 1548 and was buried in the first chapel dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, and his grave is now on the grounds of the Basilica.
He was beatified on 6 May 1990 by Pope John Paul II in the Basilica of Santa Maria di Guadalupe, Mexico City and the Canonized by Pope John Paul II on July 31, 2002 (the last rip he would take to Mexico). We celebrate his Feast Day on December 9.
The miraculous image, which is preserved in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, shows a woman with native features and dress. She is supported by an angel whose wings are reminiscent of one of the major gods of the traditional religion of that area. The moon is beneath her feet and her blue mantle is covered with gold stars. The black girdle about her waist signifies that she is pregnant. The fact that Our Lady appeared in native costume and spoke the native language rather than Spanish made the apparitions even more easily accepted by the natives and as a result, millions of conversions took place within just a few years.
Traveling to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe:
Address: Plaza de las Américas 1, Villa de Guadalupe, Gustavo A. Madero, 07050 Ciudad de México, D.F., Mexico
GPS coordinates: 19° 29′ 4.9704” N, 99° 7′ 3.5184” W
Tel: +52 55 5118 0500
There is also a relic of the Tilma of Saint Juan Diego enshrined in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, California.
Catherine M. Odell, “Those Who Saw Her”, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 1986.