The Actual Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the Basilica in Mexico City
On December 9th, 10th, and 12th of 1531, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in Mexico as the pregnant Mother of God to Saint Juan Diego. Saint Juan Diego was an indigenous man who recently converted to Catholicism. (The Spanish had conquered Mexico only a few decades earlier. Later missionaries came to bring Christianity to the indigenous people of Mexico.)
Our Lady left a Miraculous Image of her appearance on Saint Juan Diego’s cactus fiber cloth (tilma), which still exists today and is on display at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Our Lady came to offer faith, hope and consolation to the indigenous people of Mexico and to bring peace to the land. Her appearance also brought an end to the human sacrifices that were part of the Aztecs’ offerings to their false gods. She led them instead to Jesus, her Son, the One True God.
Early in the morning of December 9th, 1531, Our Lady appeared to Saint Juan Diego for the first time. Saint Juan Diego was walking to attend the Holy Mass in the morning as usual. (It is said that Saint Juan Diego walked 15 miles every day to attend the Holy Mass!) Our Lady said:
“My dear son, whom I love tenderly, know that I am the Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God; the Giver and maintainer of life; Creator of all things; Lord of Heaven and Earth, Who is in all places. I wish a temple be erected here, where I can manifest the compassion I have for the natives and for all who solicit my help.”
She asked him to go to Bishop Juan Zumarraga and request to have a church built on the barren hill of Tepeyac which is now part of Mexico City. Juan Diego went to the Bishop as Our Lady had asked. The Bishop asked Juan Diego to ask Our Lady to give him a sign.
On December 12th, Our Lady appeared to Saint Juan Diego and told him to pick the Castillian roses (found naturally in Spain) that miraculously appeared on Tepeyac hill, though Tepeyac hill is a barren area with cactus plants and despite the fact that it was winter. Saint Juan Diego put the roses in his tilma which Our Lady carefully arranged in his tilma. She told him to bring them to the Bishop as the sign for him to believe her request. Our Lady told him only to open the tilma full of roses in the presence of the Bishop.
- Saint Juan Diego and Bishop Zumarraga
Saint Juan Diego went to see the Bishop and then he opened the tilma and the roses fell to the floor. To everyone’s amazement, the Image of Our Lady had appeared on the tilma by the direct power of God! The Bishop built the church as Our Lady requested and within the next nine years, nine million native Mexican people were converted and baptized to the one true faith and established an era of peace!
Miraculous Phenomena related to the Image
Many scientists (including scientists from NASA) have studied the image and have shown that the miraculous Image is not a painting! There is no pigment and there no brushstrokes on the tilma. Also, since the tilma is made of a simple cactus fiber cloth, it should have rotted after 20 years, but it has been miraculously preserved over the past 471 years! The image was also left unscathed by a bomb blast in 1921 when a bomb was placed directly in front of it by anti-Catholic Mexican people. Furthermore, digital enhancement of the eyes of Our Lady in the Image shows the reflection of the faces of Bishop Zumarraga and Saint Juan Diego. This phenomenon is only possible for human eyes. Five eye doctors who examined Our Lady’s eyes said that what they looked into were human eyes. Dr. Jose Aste Tonsmann carried out the most famous research studies of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s eyes in the image. No painter would have been able create such effects.
Even the constellations on her mantle have been identified to match the constellations in the sky of Mexico on December 12th 1531!
All of this confirms what the faithful have always believed—that this truly Miraculous Image was produced directly by the hand of God.
Understanding the Symbolism of the Image
Being in front of the sun and stepping on the moon shows that She is greater than they are. For the Aztecs’ it meant that She was even greater than their sun and moon gods to whom they offered sacrifices. Furthermore, She is wearing the star-filled sky as a cloak. This would have especially impressed the Aztecs who had devoted themselves to studying the stars, sun, and moon as part of their worship.
However, despite all this, Her hands are clasped in prayer and Her head is bowed in reverence toward someone else who is yet greater than She is–the One True God.
Her belt shows she is pregnant. To the Aztecs, the four petal flower below her belt and the constellation Leo (Lion) at the same spot below her belt would signify that the Child to be born would be divine and all-powerful. Interestingly, Jesus is referred to in the Bible as the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” Through this Image, the Virgin Mary communicates that she is the Mother of Jesus, the one True God.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is the same woman described in the Book of Revelation.
“There was a great sign in the heavens, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.”(Revelation 12:1-2)
The image is full of symbolism which communicated to the native people of Mexico to embrace the Catholic faith, the gospel of Jesus Christ—to turn to the One True God. The miracles attributed to Our Lady of Guadalupe continue to this day. Her image still continues to communicate to us the need to seek Her intercession that She might bring us to Her Son Jesus.
During one of the apparitions, when Saint Juan Diego was concerned about his dying uncle (who Mary later healed), she said,
“… Do not be afraid of any illness or accident or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Do you need anything else? ”
These words still bring comfort today and help us remember that Mary is always at our side.
Furthermore, how fitting that Mary should appear pregnant with her Son during the season of Advent of 1531, hoping to bring people to her Son in time for Christmas! May Our Lady of Guadalupe bless us during Advent, Christmas, and always!
For more information about Our Lady of Guadalupe:
Our Lady of Guadalupe (Catholic Online)
Our Lady of Guadalupe (Feast: December 12)
Our Lady of Guadalupe (Wikipedia)
“Guadalupe” made in 2006 by Dos Corazones Films