12th, 1531, the Virgin of Guadalupe is said to have appeared to
Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill, bridging two worlds, that of the Aztec
who saw her and that of the Spanish conquerors who now ruled his
land. She has since become the patron and symbol of Mexico, a
country born of this fusion of cultures.
of Mexico was not only carried out in the military and political
spheres, but was also a battle for cultural predominance and forms
of worship. The Mexica did not require the peoples under their
rule to adopt their religious or social beliefs; indeed, they
frequently incorporated the rites practiced by peoples under their
sway into their own belief system. But the Spanish conquistadors
considered religious conversion one of their main tasks in the
Cortés and his soldiers conquered Tenochtitlan, the capital city
of the Mexica, in 1521, they were accompanied by priests and followed
closely by missionaries. These men of the cloth were amazed at
the science, culture and religion of the native peoples, but they
were also horrified by some of their deities and rites, especially
by the practice of human sacrifice. The conquerors destroyed many
temples and forbade the old ways, offering Catholicism as the
only true religion. Their churches were often built on the foundations
and with the very stones of the Mexica temples they destroyed;
and their use of indigenous craftsmen to decorate them has resulted
in a very real physical expression of the underlying syncretism
One of the
temples destroyed during the early years was that of the goddess
Tonantzin, located on Tepeyac Hill. Tonantzin is believed to be
a manifestation of the Earth Mother, known as Coatlicue, the mother
of all living things, who conceived by immaculate and miraculous
means. She was also the one to decide the length of life; to the
Mexica, the earth was both mother and tomb, the giver of life
and the devourer. Human sacrifice and harsh physical penance were
used to appease this goddess. Tonantzin, or Little Mother, patron
of childbirth, had a devout following; the Aztecs mourned their
goddess and felt threatened and endangered by the profanation
and razing of her temple by the Spaniards.
In 1525, only
four years after the conquest, the Aztec Quauhtlatoatzin was baptized
by a Franciscan priest, who named him Juan Diego. Six years later,
on December 9th, Juan Diego witnessed the first appearance of
the Virgin of Guadalupe. She told him she wanted a church built
on Tepeyac Hill and told him to communicate her wish to the authorities.
Mexico's first Bishop, Juan de Zumárraga, didn't believe him.
The Virgin appeared to Juan Diego again, asking him to go see
the Bishop on Sunday. Juan Diego obeyed, but Zumárraga asked for
some proof. The Virgin appeared to Juan Diego a third time and
told him to return the next day. His uncle, with whom he lived,
became very ill, and Juan Diego went to find a priest to give
him the last rites. The Virgin appeared for the fourth and last
time on December 12th, 1531, and spoke soothingly in Náhuatl.
She told Juan Diego not to worry, that his uncle was well, that
she was his mother and he need fear nothing. She asked him to
go gather some flowers: roses, which had never grown there, much
less in mid-winter. He wrapped them in his ayate or tilma, a sort
of coarsely woven cape, and the Virgin told him not to open it
until he was before the Bishop. When Juan Diego opened the tilma
in front of Bishop Zumárraga, the roses cascaded out and they
discovered the image of the Virgin imprinted upon it. This depiction
of the Virgin of Guadalupe is on display in the Basilica.
Cover of a
1649 edition of the Nican Mopohua
written account still in existence is known as the Nican Mopohua;
it was written in Náhuatl between 1558 and 1570 by Antonio Valeriano,
perhaps with the collaboration of others, and is now in the Public
Library of New York. The story is also told in a text dated 1573
by historian Juan de Tovar, who is believed to have transcribed
it from the text by Friar Juan de Zumárraga's translator, which
has not been found; this is now in the Mexican National Library.
References to the apparitions appear on maps, codices and in various
annals of the period.
of Tepeyac, as she is also known, spoke to Juan Diego in Náhuatl.
The similarities in sound and attributes between Guadalupe and
Coatlicue have been pointed out repeatedly; and the Spanish Bishop
may quite naturally have given her a more familiar name. In fact,
there is a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe near the Guadalupe
mountains in Extremadura, Spain, from which many of the conquistadors
and missionaries hailed. According to Friar Bernardo de Sahagún,
one of the main Spanish missionary and historians of the period,
the Indians continued to call her Tonantzin until around 1560,
when the Spaniards baptized her with the sole name of Guadalupe.
the Vatican accepted the news of the miracle from Friar Juan de
Zumárraga and a sanctuary was erected in 1533; recent repairs
have uncovered the pre-Hispanic foundations beneath the original
construction. A second church was begun in 1556, and, in 1695,
the first stone of a new sanctuary was laid. In 1976, the modern
Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe was dedicated.
of the original image of the Virgin of Guadalupe
and lay researchers have studied the phenomenon from many angles.
In 1666, a formal inquiry was carried out by the Catholic Church
to validate the appearance; 1723 marked another such investigation.
There have also been many examinations of the image of the Virgin
imprinted on Juan Diego's ayate. The Virgin's eyes apparently
not only contain the image of Juan Diego kneeling before her,
but also the inner capillary structure; and the preservation for
over 400 years of the crudely woven cloth and its image is astounding.
In 1737, the Catholic Church declared Guadalupe Patron of Mexico;
and in 1895, she was Crowned Queen of Mexico; Pope Pius X named
her the Celestial Patron of Latin America in 1910; and Pius XII
called her Empress of the Americas in 1945. Pope John Paul II
beatified Juan Diego in 1990, and dedicated a Chapel to the "Mother
of the Americas" in Saint Peter's Basilica in 1992.
the widely-reported appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe to the
Aztec Indian Juan Diego was a powerful unifying factor between
the Spanish-Catholic and Pre-Hispanic strains. The native Mexicans
identified the dark Virgin who spoke in Náhuatl with the goddess
Tonantzin and celebrated her with indigenous rites within the
framework of the Catholic Church. This incident was perhaps the
most important single event to hasten the conversion of the Mexican
indigenous peoples to Catholicism. And the soft-spoken Virgin
became link and symbol of the fusion of these two cultures into
our nation. It is no coincidence that, in 1810, when Don Miguel
Hidalgo y Costilla called for an uprising which led to the Independence
of Mexico from Spain, he adopted her pennant as the first Mexican
flag. The Image of the Virgin of Guadalupe has repeatedly been
taken as an unofficial national symbol, and a great many Mexicans
proudly proclaim themselves "Mexicans and Guadalupans".
of Guadalupe is celebrated every year on December 12th with a
variety of rites ranging from the serenade with Mariachis the
night before --which is televised nation-wide-- to the midnight
ceremonies by concheros (named after the armadillo shells they
use as stringed instruments, or the seeds of the ayoyote tree
they wear on their ankles to complement the drum), who call upon
nine spirit guides with pagan dances and Catholic chants all through
the night, before dancing all day in front of the Basilica. Hers
is one of the main religious shrines in the world, second in visitors
only to the Vatican. Pilgrims from all over Mexico and abroad
converge on Tepeyac Hill, seeking healing and favors, keeping
vows, or simply paying homage to their beloved Little Mother,
Queen of Mexico.