Everything You Need To Know About Our Lady of Guadalupe
The title of Mary under Our Lady of Guadalupe is a familiar and beloved one in the Americas and throughout the world. Most are aware of at least the image of Our Lady, but the revelation and miracles surrounding the image are unknown to many. Read on to discover the mysteries of St. Juan Diego's famous tilma and be inspired by the incredible beauty of God's works.
The Apparition of Our Lady
On December 9, 1531, a peasant in Mexico named Juan Diego was climbing the Hill of Tepeyac when he saw a vision of a beautiful woman. She spoke to him in the native language of the Aztecs and clearly identified herself as the Virgin Mary, “the mother of the very true deity,” emphasizing a monotheistic God amidst the Aztec culture that adored multiple gods.
Mary requested that a church be built on the Hill of Tepeyac, and Juan immediately approached the archbishop of Mexico City, who, of course, disbelieved the story. Undaunted, Juan again told the bishop about his vision the following day, December 10. At that point, the bishop asked for a sign from Our Lady in order to prove the validity of the vision. When Juan told Our Lady about this, she promised to send one the next day, December 11.
On December 11, however, Juan was obligated to tend to his sick uncle, Juan Bernardino, so he was unable to go back to the Hill and meet Our Lady and receive the awaited sign. On December 12, his uncle had fallen gravely ill, so Juan Diego set out for a priest to administer Confession and the Last Rites. Ashamed that he had not met Mary the day before, he set out on a different path than the one by the Hill.
Even so, Mary intercepted his journey and asked him, “Am I not here, I who am your mother?” At this point, several miraculous phenomena occurred. First, Mary assured Juan Diego that his uncle would make a full recovery. Second, she instructed Juan to gather the flowers he’d find at the top of the Hill, which was humanly impossible, given that it was the month of December when no flowers were in bloom. Still, Juan ended up gathering a lustrous bouquet of Castilian roses that he did, in fact, find at the Hill top, and this variety of roses wasn’t even native to Mexico. Third, Mary arranged the flowers inside Juan’s tilma, and when he approached the bishop for the third time, the roses cascaded out of his cloak, revealing a beautiful imprint of Our Lady on the inside of the tilma.
After the bishop believed in the apparition, Juan discovered that his uncle had truly recovered to full health and had also seen a vision of Our Lady. She instructed Juan Bernardino to inform the bishop about his apparition and her wish to be called Our Lady of Guadalupe. Shortly thereafter, another miracle occurred when an Indian was struck in the neck by an arrow and nearly died. Once he was placed before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, he was immediately cured.
The Evidence In the Tilma
Despite this incredible story, many skeptics have emerged, especially during the Age of Enlightenment, when critics frowned upon the widespread devotion and even cult following of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. Many began to study Juan Diego’s tilma and claimed it was a phony. Even so, Juan Diego was canonized as a saint in 2002. The tilma is worth examining, as it does affirm the story and the vision as reality rather than fiction.
For 115 years, St. Juan Diego’s tilma was not preserved in any way, mainly because there were few means to do so. Thousands of people had access to it by way of devotion, so the cloak would probably have undergone substantial damage from handling. This has never happened. Four official examinations have been documented regarding the condition of the tilma, three of which are public knowledge. All of them state how inexplicable to human reason it is that the cloak’s condition is so pristine after 500 years – no wear and tear, no deterioration of fabric or pigment in the painting.
Those who have investigated the tilma also note that parts of the image of Our Lady appear to have been hand-painted, almost certainly later additions to the image. However, “the original Image cannot be explained in natural terms” according to Dr. Philip Serna Callahan, a biophysicist at the University of Florida, an expert in infrared photography, and painter who examined the image (“The Tilma of Guadalupe: A Scientific Analysis”, Br. Thomas Mary Sennott). There is no evidence of brush strokes. This enough is baffling to scientific explanation, but to devotees of Our Lady, it only confirms the many miracles associated with her presence that remains eviedenced in the supernatural beauty of this ancient piece of art. Dr. Callahan also said of the image's pigments:
“At a distance of six or seven feet, however, the skin tone becomes what might best be termed Indian-olive (gray-green) in tone. It appears that somehow the gray and “caked” looking white pigment of the face and hands combines with the rough surface of the unsized hue. Such a technique would be an impossible accomplishment in human hands. It often occurs in nature, however, in the coloring of bird feathers and butterfly scales, and on the elytra of brightly colored beetles . . . By slowly backing away from the painting, to a distance where the pigment and surface sculpturing blend together, the overwhelming beauty of the olive-colored Madonna emerges as if by magic. The expression suddenly appears reverent yet joyous, Indian yet European, olive-skinned yet white of hue. The feeling is that of a face as rugged as the deserts of Mexico, yet gentle as a maiden on her wedding night. It is a face that intermingles the Christianity of Byzantine Europe with the overpowering naturalism of New World-Indian, a fitting symbol for all the peoples of a great continent!”
Another fascinating aspect of the tilma is Mary’s eyes. In 1929 and 1951, several photographers claimed they saw a figure reflected in her eyes on the cloak. When tested by an ophthalmologist, the figure was indeed found – along with every witness who was present when the tilma was first revealed in 1531 and an entire family, fourteen people in total! This is another miraculous aspect of the tilma, because this phenomenon would be impossible to achieve through human means.
People who ascribe solely to science will remain critical and cynical about matters of faith, including the story of St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe. But as people of faith, we know that there are countless mysteries that exist in life that cannot be attributed to human understanding or explanation. We all should strive to be like St. Juan Diego – poor and unassuming, open and willing to be used as God's instrument for whatever He wills.