Our Lady of Guadalupe
Introduction to the Miracle of Guadalupe
The Blessed Virgin is huge in my life and I’ve always had a special devotion
I ﬁrst heard about the Mexican apparitions and our Lady of Guadalupe many years ago.We have Fatima, Lourdes, Knock and Medjugorje in Europe, but the equivalent in South America is Our Lady of Guadalupe.
It’s a lovely story in itself, and the imprint of the Virgin is an object of great devotion in Mexico and beyond.
The ‘tilma’ or cloak that is imprinted with the image of the Blessed Virgin has captured the imagination of believers for nearly 500 years.
However, the most extraordinary secrets of Our Lady of Guadalupe have only been revealed in recent years.And it has been modern scientiﬁc investigations that have uncoveredthe real wonders of the image.
These early Marian apparitions took place at Tepeyac near present day Mexico City around 30 years after the Spanish conquered the region.A humble farmer and descendent of the fallen Aztec Empire was chosen to witness the miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The man, who was originally known as Cuauhtlatoatzin, took the name Juan Diego when he converted to Catholicism.One day when he was a 57-year-old widower, he was walking near Tepeyac Hill when he came upon an apparition of a beautiful “maiden” bathed in light and surrounded by music.
The day was Saturday, December 9th, 1531 and in those days, it was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception across the Spanish Empire.The maiden, who appeared to be wearing the dress of an Aztec princess, spoke to him in his native Nahuatl language.
Her words to Juan Diego were as follows:
"Know for certain, least of my sons, that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God through whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near and far, the Master of heaven and earth."It is my earnest wish that a temple be built here to my honour.
“Here I will demonstrate, I will exhibit, I will give all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, of those who have conﬁdence in me.
“Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow, and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple suﬀerings, necessities and misfortunes."
Our Lady asked Juan Diego to go to the Archbishop and tell him that her name was Our Lady of Guadalupe and that she wanted a church built on this site of the apparition in Tepeyac.This was to be the ﬁrst of four apparitions that Juan would witness while his uncle would witness a ﬁfth.
The simple peasant did as he asked but Archbishop Juan de Zumarraga, a Franciscan, dismissed the story and sent him away.Juan returned to tell the Virgin Mary what had happened and he begged her to send someone of more importance because the Archbishop
would not listen to him.However, Our Lady asked him to return to the Archbishop again thenext day. Juan returned to give the same message to the Archbishop as Our Lady requested on Sunday, December 10.
The Archbishop sent him way again and told him not to come back until he had a miraculous sign that would prove his story.Juan returned to the site of the apparitions and told the Virgin Mary what the Archbishop had said.
She told him to return the next day and she would provide him with
a sign.However, the next day Juan’s beloved uncle, Juan Bernardino, the man who had raised him from a child, fell seriously ill.
Juan Diego never went to Tepeyac to collect the sign he needed to bring to the Archbishop’s residence.By Tuesday, December 12, his uncle was dying so he left the house to get a priest.On his way, Juan had another apparition of the Virgin Mary and he explained that he hadn’t returned to her because his uncle was ill.The Virgin Mary gently chided him with the words:
“Am I not here, I, who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, the crossing of myarms? Am I not the source of all your joy? What more do you need? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.”
The Spanish words for “Am I not here, I, who am your mother?” are inscribed over the door of the Basilica of Guadalupe to this day.
After being assured that his uncle would be well, Juan followed the Virgin Mary’s new instructions.
She told him to go to the top of Teypeyac hill and pick the roses there.Our Lady's request confused Juan as it was winter and the mountain was barren. But when he reached the crest of the hill, he found a bush of beautiful Castilian roses in bloom.
The roses were neither in season nor native to the region.
He arranged the ﬂowers in his tilma, a yarn cloak made from rough agave ﬁbre worn by the poor people of the time.The Blessed Virgin instructed him to only open the cloak again when he reached the Archbishop.
At the same time that Our Lady was with Juan Diego, she also appeared at the bedside of his dying uncle, Juan Bernadino.
As soon as she appeared in his room, the uncle recovered. The uncle claimed that she repeated to him her message that she wanted to be known as “Our Lady of Guadalupe."
Juan Diego travelled to the Archbishop’s residence with the out-of-season roses as miraculous proof that he was telling the truth.When he got an audience with the Archbishop, he opened his cloak
and the Castilian roses spilled onto the ﬂoor. What caught everyone's attention, however, was the fabric of his tilma where the incredible image of Our Lady of Guadalupe had miraculously appeared.Our Lady was portrayed with dark hair and high cheekbones with herhead bowed and her hands folded in prayer to God.Her dark complexion and features are said to be those of a mestiza -the oﬀspring of a Spaniard and an indigenous person.On her blue cloak, there are scatterings of stars and under her feet is a crescent moon, a symbol of the old Aztec religion of the area.The measurements were ﬁrst recorded in 1786 and the tilma’s height
is 170cm or 67 inches and the fabric width is 105cm or 41 inches.
The indigenous people of Mexico were often subject to discriminatory treatment by the Spaniards, and the apparition was seen as a rebuke to the conquistadors.
For Juan Diego’s people, Our Lady of Guadalupe was a sign that the Virgin and her God accepted all people.Juan Diego moved to Tepeyac Hill beside the church built for Our Lady of Guadalupe.He lived a solidarity life of prayer and work and died 17 years after
the ﬁrst apparition on December 9, 1548.Juan was beatiﬁed on May 6, 1990 by Pope John Paul II and canonised
as Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin on July 31, 2002.
He became the ﬁrst Catholic indigenous saint from the Americas.His feast day is celebrated on December 9 and he is the patron saint of
Indigenous people.His tilma is now enshrined in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
The basilica is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the worldwith over 20 million people worshiping at the shrine.
All pilgrims see the tilma from a moving walkway designed to keep the thousands of daily visitors in constant motion.On December 12 of each year, the last date on which the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Our
Lady of Guadalupe.
The true origin and nature of the "tilma" with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe remains a mystery.As with many miracles, scientiﬁc studies have only served to reveal more of its magniﬁcent mysteries.The remarkable state of preservation of the tilma is the ﬁrst thing to
confound those who study it.The fabric imprinted with Our Lady of Guadalupe’s image is made of maguey ﬁbre from a succulent called Agave which is a cactus-type plants of the region.This rough, vegetable-based traditional textile was woven and worn
by indigenous people of the 16th century.However, it has a lifespan estimated at between 20 to 50 years at the most and should have decomposed by the early 17th century.Yet, for its ﬁrst one hundred years, the Church hung it unprotected and open to the elements such as humidity and light.The faithful also subjected it to their kisses and tears and pressed their faces to the icon during its early decades.
Despite being almost 500-years-old, it shows no signs of disintegration.In 1979, Doctor Philip Serna Callahan, a biophysicist at the University of Florida, and an expert in infrared photography, examined the image.He found that most of the entire painting seemed to have been done with a single brush stroke.
“The original ﬁgure, including the rose robe, blue mantle, hands and face
... is inexplicable,’’ he concluded.He added: “There is no way to explain either the kind of colour luminosity and brightness of pigments over the centuries.’’
He was also astonished by the tilma’s longevity.It is remarkable that after more than four centuries there is no fading or cracking of the original ﬁgure on any portion of the agave tilma, which…should have deteriorated centuries ago.’’
Doctor Adolfo Orozco, a researcher and physicist at the National University of Mexico, also remarked in 2009 about the remarkable
preservation of the tilma.Dr. Orozco said, he could not explain the tilma's survival after being“exposed for approximately 116 years without any kind of protection, receiving all the infrared and ultraviolet radiation from the tens of thousands of candles near it and exposed to the humid and salty air around the temple.”The fact it has survived two near disasters is a miracle in itself.
In 1785, a worker accidentally spilled 50% nitric acid solvent while cleaning glass around the tilma. Despite falling onto a large part of the tilma, the only burn marks that show are on parts of the fabric not bearing the image.
In 1921, an activist hid a bomb containing dynamite in a pot of roses and placed it before the image inside the Basilica at Guadalupe.
When the bomb exploded, windows were blasted into the street, the marble altar rail and ﬂoor were destroyed.
A large brass cruciﬁx in front of the image was bent backwards with the force of the blast.However, the tilma and its glass surrounding remained unscathed.Other scientists have examined the stars which were apparently randomly scattered on the tilma.
Doctor Hernández Illescas, a medical doctor and amateur astronomer working with Father Mario Rojas, made an astonishing discovery when they performed an astronomical study of this star pattern in 1981.
They discovered this was no random placement. They claim the stars are aligned to recreate the constellations as they were on December 12th, 1531 at 10:26am.
This was the morning that Juan Diego opened the tilma in the
Archbishop’s residence.One of the greatest mysteries of the tilma is found within Our Lady
of Guadalupe’s eyes.In 1929, Alfonso Marcue, who was the oﬃcial photographer of the
Basilica of Guadalupe, spotted what appeared to be an image of a bearded man reﬂected in the right eye of the Virgin.
Others examining detailed photos of the face also discovered the bearded man and saw that he appeared in both eyes.
In March 27, 1956, Doctor Javier Torroella Bueno, an ophthalmologist saw the human ﬁgure in both eyes. He noted that the distortion of the images agree with the curvature of the cornea.
Doctor Jose Aste Tonsmann, a civil engineer from Cornell University,scanned the eyes at very high resolutions and magniﬁed them 2,500 times.He made the most incredible discovery of all.Not only did the digital images reveal the "human bust" of the bearded man in both eyes. Te newly enhanced photos showed a total of13 human ﬁgures.
The same microscopic people are present in both the left and right eyes, in diﬀerent proportions, as would happen when human eyes reﬂectthe objects.In his book "El Secreto de sus Ojos" (Te Secret of her Eyes), he says the eyes show a snapshot of the people in the room as Juan Diego unravelled the tilma in 1531.
Tonsmann discerned a seated Indian, who is looking up to the heavens and an elderly man with a white beard, much like a portrait of Archbishop Zumárraga painted in the era.
Also present is an Indian with a beard and moustache, likely Saint Juan Diego. He believes the younger man in the image is probably an
interpreter called Juan González.
Also, in the collection of people is a woman of dark complexion,possibly a Negro slave who was in the bishop's service.It is little wonder that the images in the eyes are commonly referred to as "miraculous paintings” or "heavenly photographs.”
A Reﬂection on Our Lady of Guadalupe
I was lucky enough to attend a retreat a few years ago where I met an indigenous Mexican who had a great devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.He wasn’t a theologian or a philosopher or a scientist. He was just an ordinary man and compared himself to a peasant like Juan Diego, but he devoted his whole life to learning about and studying the tilma.He was so interested and so learned about the miracle that he was asked to give a presentation to Pope John Paul II when the pontiﬀ visited Guadalupe in 1999.He has an exact replica of the tilma which he uses as an aid in his presentation.
It was only the ﬁrst time he’d been invited to speak at a retreat in Europe, and he was doing it in gratitude for a cure of a recent illness. His English is poor, so he made his presentation through an interpreter.But I felt privileged to talk with him through his interpreter over lunch and listen to his knowledge of, and his passion for the tilma.As I’ve said, the story is a lovely one in itself but the results of the scientiﬁc studies are incredible.
The secrets in her eyes could only ever have been discovered with modern technology. It’s like Our Lady has been storing some revelationsfor our time.The description of what can be seen in her eyes is just incredible. How can you refute that kind of evidence?
The studies that revealed the stars on the tilma are reﬂ ections of the constellations in 1531, are also amazing.
All these revelations continue to defy sound scientiﬁc explanation,but to me there is no doubt. The tilma is another wonder that points to
God’s incredible power and care for us.I’ve always had a huge devotion to the Blessed Virgin but for me, Our
Lady of Guadalupe is the most intriguing and wondrous Marian apparition of them all.