Our Lady of Guadalupe
Although she is the patroness of all the Americas, many Americans do not know the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Some know how she came to the Indian Juan Diego — but few know why she came.
In the beginning of the 16th century in Mexico, an idolatrous worship of Quetzalcoatl and other gods flourished. Although Mexico had been conquered for Spain by Cortez, the Indians still held to their ancient religion which emphasized human sacrifice. In the Aztec nation alone, 20,000 human lives were sacrificed annually to their gods. One particularly popular form of sacrifice was to cut the heart out of a still- living human victim.
One of the primary purposes of Mary's visitation, then, was to stamp out the religion of the stone serpent. That this purpose was fulfilled is shown by the fact that within seven years, 8,000,000 Indians had come voluntarily to the Franciscans and other missionaries and requested instructions and baptism. This fact is even more amazing when you consider that the Indians in their pagan religion had many wives, but upon becoming Christians were obliged to choose only one and be married according to the rites of the church.
Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego, a Christian convert, on the hill of Tepayac on December 9, l53l. She requested that he go to the Bishop of Mexico, in Mexico City and ask that a church be built on the spot. The hill held special significance in the pagan religion of the Indians.
At first, the bishop refused the appeal, thinking that Juan was merely imagining things. The next day, Our Lady appeared again and repeated her request. This time, Juan was so sincere in his petition that the bishop was more inclined to listen and told Juan to ask the lady for some sort of a sign as proof of the apparition. At a third meeting, Juan mentioned the bishop's request, and the lady promised to give the sign the following morning. The morning of December 12, Juan awoke to discover that his aged uncle was very ill, and he left hurriedly to bring a priest from the city to administer the last rites. As he neared the hill, he remembered the request of the lady and, thinking that she would delay him, he hurried around the side of the bottom of the hill to avoid her. There she was, however, and when she asked him where he was going, he explained about his sick relative.
Our Lady assured Juan that his uncle would recover, and then sent him to the top of the hill to fetch some flowers for her. Juan knew that nothing grew there except some cactus, so he was greatly surprised to find many flowers in bloom. He picked a large bouquet, and so as not to drop them, he put them in his tilma, a cloak woven of vegetable fiber.
When Juan reached the lady again, she tied the ends of the tilma at his neck and charged him not to show the flowers to anyone until he was in the presence of the bishop.
On reaching the bishop's palace again, and after a lengthy wait, Juan was at last admitted to the bishop's presence. Only then did he unfold his tilma. Castillian roses cascaded to the floor. Immediately, all those in the room fell to their knees. Did the sight of out-of-season, foreign flowers inspire this reaction? No. Instead, it was the sight of the beautiful image of the Blessed Virgin, imprinted on the tilma, just as she had appeared on the hill.
Juan rushed home to tell his uncle, but his uncle was coming to meet him with the news that he, too, had seen the beautiful lady. She had spoken, in his native language, and told him that the image was to be known by the name of the "Entirely Perfect Virgin, Holy Mary", and that the image would be the means to crush or stamp out the religion of the stone serpent.
Juan and his uncle spoke to the Spanish bishop through the use of interpreters, and when they were telling about Mary's words to Juan's uncle, or so most modern scholars believe, the words they spoke were not translated correctly. To the Spanish ears of the translator, their words seemed to say that the image was to be known by the name "Virgin of Guadalupe", which was the name of a popular shrine in Spain dedicated to the Virgin.
Is the image really miraculous, or only a painting? Various experts from all fields have studied it from time to time and all are in agreement that no artistic process currently known on earth was used to make the picture.
One artist who made a detailed examination of the image came to these conclusions:
- He could find no brush marks.
- The cloth had never been prepared for painting.
- The cloth was authentically a product of that time.
- No known painting process was used.
- None of the colors actually penetrated into the threads of the tilma.
The same artist further concluded that the gold on the picture is a precious gold powder, which is not held on by any fixative or glue. The fine black lines that outline the picture were drawn on by human hands at a later date, as was a crown which was not originally on the image. It is interesting to note that the crown, although of real gold, has tarnished and almost disappeared, whereas the other gold on the image is still in good condition.
The image is 66" X 41", and the figure is 4'8" tall. This makes the image life-size. This artist marvels that the colors have stayed fresh, although most old paintings of approximately four hundred and fifty years of age have become dull and dark. It is doubly amazing when you consider that for the first 116 years, the tilma was not covered with glass, but exposed to the smoke of millions of candles burned at the feet of the image.
The image is constantly being studied. After a shrine visitor noticed something in the eyes of the image, a commission which had several distinguished optometrists as members, as well as artists, studied the eyes of the image. A reflection of a man, probably Juan Diego, has been found imprinted on the eye of the virgin.
Twenty popes have issued decrees concerning the image. Each year's investigations are made with increasingly accurate and scientific equipment. To date, there has been nothing found to indicate that human hands could have made the picture.
Is this image a true picture of the Virgin Mary? The bible does not describe the virgin, and the only two sources which many scholars rely on in the matter of description are a painting which was discovered in the catacombs in 1852, and the descriptions given by people who claim to have seen a vision of Blessed Mother. In particular, the descriptions given by a German peasant girl, Anne Catherine Emmerich, are quite detailed. Comparisons of Anne's description and the painting from the catacombs with the image of Guadalupe yield startling similarities. Unlike the pictures of Our Lady of Lourdes, Fatima, and other paintings made by human hands from verbal descriptions of those who saw Our Lady, the image of Guadalupe, as far as is known, was made by some process above the laws of nature. It is, therefore, the most accurate representation of Mary extant.
Millions of pilgrims come to the shrine each year. Unfortunately, not everyone loves and venerates Our Lady, and in 1921, during the revolution and the persecution of Catholics in Mexico, a stick of dynamite hidden in a boquet of flowers was placed on the altar to destroy the image. It exploded, causing a great deal of damage. It broke all of the windows in the church, tore out marble blocks from the altar, and knocked a heavy bronze crucifix standing under the image to the floor, leaving it bent and twisted. Nothing, however, happened to the image. The glass which covers it was not even cracked. The preservation of the image in this case is miraculous in itself.
In 1976, work on a new basilica was completed, and the shrine re-dedicated. Study and research on the image continues, and annually thousands flock to the site to pay homage to Mary under the title, Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, when the false Gods of money, pride, and self-will demand my attention, draw me back to the One True God.
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