The story of the apparation, the miracles and the shrine
In the early 16th century, at the height of the Protestant Reformation sweeping across Europe, another reformation was embracing the American Continent. It began with a simple man and a spectacular miracle — the Our Lady of Guadalupe apparition.
In the cold, early morning of December 9, 1531, 57-year-old Juan Diego, an Aztec convert, was en route to Mass in Tlatelolco on Tepeyac Hill, near Mexico City. Suddenly, he saw a beautiful woman surrounded by a bright, golden light. She was dressed as an Aztec princess and spoke to him in his native tongue, Nahuatl.
The lady identified herself saying, “My dear little son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains its existence. He created all things. He is in all places. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth. I desire a church in this place where your people may experience my compassion. All those who sincerely ask my help in their work and in their sorrows will know my Mother’s Heart in this place. Here I will see their tears; I will console them and they will be at peace. So run now to Tenochtitlan and tell the Bishop all that you have seen and heard.”
In the Bishop’s Office
Though Juan Diego had never been to Tenochtitlan, he immediately traveled there and asked to meet with the Spanish Archbishop of the area, Juan de Zumárraga, a Franciscan and the first bishop of Mexico. Some of the bishop’s staff were suspicious of the rural peasant. After keeping him waiting for hours, Juan Diego was finally admitted to the Bishop’s office, where he reported his experience to Zumárraga.
The Bishop heard him out, but instructed Juan Diego to return and ask the lady for a sign to confirm her identity. Juan was unsatisfied by the bishop’s response and felt himself inadequate to persuade someone of the bishop’s stature of the veracity of his claims. He returned to the hill, and found the lady there waiting for him.
She responded to his pleas for a replacement, “My little son, there are many I could send. But you are the one I have chosen.”
The First Miracle
Though the Blessed Mother told Juan Diego to meet her the next day, he was unable to do so because his uncle, Juan Bernardino, was extremely ill. When he passed by Tepeyac Hill two days later on his way to find a priest to administer Last Rites to his uncle, Juan Diego again received an apparition of Our Lady.
She assured him that Bernardino would recover, “Do not be distressed, my littlest son. Am I not here with you who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Your uncle will not die at this time. There is no reason for you to engage a priest, for his health is restored at this moment. He is quite well.”
The miraculous recovery of Juan Bernardino was the first proof that she offered in response to Archbishop Zumárraga’s request. Then, the Virgin directed Diego, “Go to the top of the hill and cut the flowers that are growing there. Bring them then to me.”
Castilian Roses in December
Although it was very late in the growing season and the top of the hill was usually barren, he found Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, in bloom. The Blessed Mother arranged these in Juan Diego’s cloak, or tilma.
When he opened it in front of the Archbishop, the fragrant roses fell to the floor. On the tilma’s fabric appeared the miraculous image of the Virgin of Guadeloupe. It is reported that the archbishop and witnesses dropped to their knees in wonder.
The Most Visited Marian Shrine in the World
Juan Diego passed away on December 9, 1548, seventeen years after the first apparition. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II on July 31, 2002 and his cloak is displayed in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the most visited Marian shrine in the world.
On October 12, 1895, by decree of Pope Leo XIII, the Image of the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe was crowned with great solemnity. On October 12, 1945, the fiftieth anniversary of the crowning, Pope Pius XII proclaimed her Patroness of all the Americas.
The depiction of Our Lady on Juan Diego’s tilma is Mexico’s most popular religious and cultural icon, and under this mantle the Blessed Mother has garnered such titles as Queen of Mexico, Empress of Latin America and the aforementioned Patroness of the Americas.
Through the unshakable faith of one, humble man, this single image became integral to forging the Catholic identity of Mexico and the Americas.
(Editor’s Note: Up until this apparition occurred, the Spanish were having very little success in converting the Aztecs to Christianity. Within five years of this event, one of the greatest mass conversions in history occurred, with millions — virtually all of present-day Mexico – converting to the Faith.)
Meghan Ferraracontributes to Regina Magazine where this article was originally published. It is reprinted here with permission.