Our Lady of Guadalupe
Patroness of the Americas and the Unborn
On the American continent, Marian devotion is frequently centered around the figure of our Blessed Mother as she appeared in December of 1531 to the native American Saint Juan Diego at Tepeyac Hill in the area of modern-day Mexico City. Our Blessed Mother actually appeared four times to Saint Juan Diego and once to his dying elderly uncle, Juan Bernardino. The fourth appearance to Saint Juan Diego was the most wonderful. A brief account of the apparitions will help to appreciate better God the Father’s purpose in sending the Blessed Mother to the American continent at Tepeyac and the important meaning of devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The first apparition took place on December 9, which at that time was the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in the Spanish Empire, of which Mexico was then a part. Our Blessed Mother appeared to Saint Juan Diego, an older native American who had recently lost his dear wife. Juan Diego himself died in 1548, seventeen years after the apparitions, at the age of 74. On May 6, 1990, Pope Saint John Paul II, during his second pilgrimage as Pope to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, declared Juan Diego blessed. Pope Saint John Paul II later canonized Juan Diego on July 31, 2002.
About Juan Diego
Juan Diego was a devout Catholic but a man of no particular prominence in the local society or the Church. He had been living with and looking after his uncle, Juan Bernardino, who was gravely ill.
On Saturday morning, 9 December 1531, Juan Diego was on his way to church to participate in the Mass for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and in the catechetical instruction which would follow. As he reached Tepeyac Hill, he heard beautiful music and a beautiful voice calling out his name. Our Blessed Mother appeared to him as the “woman clothed with the sun” of the Book of Revelation, pregnant with the Child Jesus. She instructed Juan Diego to go to the house of Bishop Juan de Zumárraga and to request that a chapel be built in her honor on Tepeyac Hill so that she might show the infinite majesty and mercy of God to all His children of America.
Juan Diego went to the Bishop’s house at which he was received with great respect but also with hesitation regarding his story of the apparition and of our Blessed Mother’s request. The Bishop, who was praying and working to bring together the native Americans and the Spanish conquerors and settlers, requested time to consider the matter.
On Juan Diego’s return home, the Blessed Mother appeared to him for the second time. Disappointed that he had failed in his mission, he asked Our Lady of Guadalupe to send a more esteemed messenger to the Bishop, so that he would believe the message. Our Blessed Mother instructed Juan Diego to return to the Bishop with her request.
The third apparition took place on December 10. Juan Diego had gone to the Bishop for a second time. The Bishop responded by asking for a sign so that he might believe the Blessed Mother’s request. On his way home, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, and he told her of the Bishop’s request of a sign. Our Lady promised to provide the sign for the Bishop when Juan Diego would return to her on the next day.
Juan Diego missed his appointment with Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 11 because he was looking after his uncle Juan Bernardino who was gravely ill. On December 12, he was hurrying to bring a priest to administer the sacraments to his uncle who was dying. He took a different route in order to avoid another encounter with the Blessed Mother, embarrassed that he had missed the appointment on December 11 and not wanting to be delayed in seeking spiritual help for his uncle.
Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to him nonetheless, the fourth time, assuring him that his uncle was already cured and instructing him to gather flowers on the top of the hill as a sign to take to the Bishop. Juan Diego trusted Our Lady and found on the top of the frozen and barren hill the most beautiful flowers. He gathered them and Our Blessed Mother arranged them in his cloak, or tilma as it was called. Juan Diego then hurried to the Bishop’s house where this fourth apparition reached its fullness. When he opened his tilma to show the flowers to the Bishop, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared depicted on the tilma. The Bishop immediately understood the truth of Juan Diego’s message from the Blessed Mother and hastened to have the chapel built on Tepeyac Hill.
The fifth apparition took place in the little home in which Juan Diego was living with his uncle. Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Bernardino and cured him of his fatal illness.
Source: Adapted from an article in The Catholic Times on 29 May 1999 by then-Bishop Raymond Leo Burke.
Watch the Story of Our Lady of Guadalupe
"The newly-appointed bishop-elect of Mexico wrote to tell the King of Spain that, unless there was a miracle, the continent would be lost. Between December 9 and December 12, 1531, that miracle happened, and it forever changed the future of the continent."
- Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus
Truths about the Miracle of Guadalupe
"The lady from Heaven"
Did you know?
Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Saint Juan Diego on December 9, 10 and 12, 1531.
The image left on Saint Juan Diego’s tilma is the only true picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe in existence.
The image has remained intact with all its original vibrancy for 475 years. The natural life span of a cloak made with fiber from the agave or maguey plant is only about 30 years.
The image is a pictograph which could be read and understood by the Aztec Indians.
Our Lady appears as a beautiful young Indian maiden and Queen.
Her eyes are looking down with humility and compassion. She is human, not God.
She is wearing a blue-green mantle (the color worn by royalty) covered with stars.
The stars signify she comes from heaven – the Queen of Heaven. The constellations are in the exact position as appeared before dawn on the morning of December 12, 1531.
Her robe is colored rose or pale red and covered with Aztec flowers, symbolic of an Aztec princess.
In the center of her robe, overlying her womb, is a four petal quincunx flower in the shape of a cross which is the sign of the Divine and the center of the cosmic order to the Aztec. The Virgin’s Baby, Jesus, is Divine and the new center of the universe.
Her hands are joined in prayer and, therefore, she is not God but clearly there is one greater than she and she points her finger to the cross on her brooch.
Her fur cuffs symbolize royalty.
She wears a black maternity band signifying she is with Child.
A black cross is on the brooch around her neck. This signifies she is a follower of the God of the Spanish Missionaries, Jesus Christ who died on the cross for all.
She stands in front of the sun. The sun symbolizes the greatest Aztec god – Huitzilopochtli. She announces the God who is greater than their sun god.
She stands on the moon. The crescent moon symbolized the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent moon god. She has clearly crushed and defeated him.
An angel with eagle’s wings supports the Mother of God. The eagle was the “bird of the sun.” Here the eagle is the servant of the Virgin. She holds her mantle in one hand and robe with the other, signifying the Son she bears is from both heaven and earth.
To date the image cannot be explained by science.
The image on the tilma was able to do what up to that time the missionaries were not able to do significantly. Namely, clearly explain Christianity to the Indian people. The proof is in the fact that after the apparitions, eight million natives of Mexico converted to Catholicism from 1531 to 1538.
Guadalupan Expert: Msgr. Eduardo Chávez Sánchez
Msgr. Eduardo Chávez Sánchez is co-founder and rector of the Institute for Guadalupan Studies, and is a canon of the Basilica of Guadalupe. Born in Mexico City, he studied philosophy and theology in the Institute for Ecclesiastical Studies at Mexico’s Conciliar Seminary. He was ordained on Aug. 15, 1981, in the Archdiocese of Mexico. He holds a diploma in philosophy from the Universidad del Valle de Atemajac in Guadalajara and, a doctorate in Church history from the Pontifical Gregorian University.