December 12th is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, unborness, and a new understanding of the Logos.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is unlike any other apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. First, it is the only apparition where Our Lady left a miraculous image of herself unmade by human hands. Second, it is the only universally venerated Madonna & Child image where Our Lady appears pregnant instead of holding the Infant Jesus.
The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to an Aztec peasant, Juan Diego, in the 16th century near Mexico City. Juan Diego saw an apparition of the Blessed Virgin as he walked along Tepeyac Hill, on December 9, 1531, which happened to be the feast day of the Immaculate Conception. He began to hear beautiful strains of music, & he saw a beautiful lady, who called his name: “Juanito, Juan Dieguito.” He approached, & she said, “Know for certain, least of my sons, that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, 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 honor. Here I will demonstrate, I will manifest, 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, and 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.”
She told Juan Diego to go tell Bishop Zumarraga of her desire for a church to be built at the site. Tradition holds that Juan Diego asked our Blessed Mother her name. She responded in his native language of Nahuatl, “Tlecuatlecupe,” which means “the one who crushes the head of the serpent” (a clear reference to Genesis 3:15 & perhaps to the prominent symbol of the Aztec religion). “Tlecuatlecupe” when correctly pronounced, sounds remarkably similar to “Guadalupe.” Consequently, when Juan Diego told Bishop Zumarraga her name in his native tongue, he probably confused it with the familiar Spanish name “Guadalupe,” a city with a prominent Marian shrine.
The bishop asked him to bring back a sign from Mary to prove the story. Juan Diego reported the matter to our Blessed Mother, who told him to return the next day to receive “the sign” for the bishop.
On December 11, Juan Diego couldn’t go to see the Lady, he had to spend the day caring for his very sick uncle, Juan Bernardino, who asked Juan Diego to go & bring a priest who would hear his confession & administer the last rites. On December 12, Juan Diego set out again, but avoided Tepeyac Hill because he was ashamed that he had not returned the previous day as our Blessed Mother had requested. While making his detour, the Blessed Mother stopped him & said, “Hear and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little son: let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you. Let nothing alter your heart or your countenance. Also, do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else that you need?” Mary reassured Juan Diego that his uncle would not die; in fact, his health had been restored.
As for the sign for the bishop, Mary told Juan Diego to go to the top of the mountain & pick some flowers. He went up to the hill which was dry & barren, a place for cactus, but there he found roses, which are foreign to Mexico. He gathered them in his tilma, a garment like a poncho. He brought them to Mary who arranged them & said to take them to the bishop.
Upon opening the tilma to reveal the miraculous roses to the bishop, there was something even more miraculous present in the tilma–a striking image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In the image Our Lady wears the traditional garments of an Aztec princess. A black sash around her waist was a cultural tradition among the Aztec women that indicated pregnancy.
A church was built at Our Lady’s request on the Hill of Tepeyac to mark the apparition site, & today it is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage shrine in the world. Venerated in this cathedral is the original tilma of St. Juan Diego, which still displays the miraculous Our Lady of Guadalupe image.
THE MIRACULOUS IMAGE
Here are just a few from a long list of interesting facts about the Our Lady of Guadalupe image itself:
- The image is proven to not be painted by human hands
- The image and fabric have miraculously lasted in its original condition for nearly 500 years
- The weak cactus fiber, of which the tilma was made, should have decomposed within 15-20 years of being woven
- No natural or animal mineral colorings, or paint, are found on the image
- The image itself is iridescent, which cannot be produced by hand
- Mary stands on a crescent moon, the same crescent moon in the sky on the day of her apparition
- Mary’s mantel is a constellation map, the same constellations in the sky as on the day of her apparition
- These constellations tell the story of the Gospel with the arrangements of Leo in the womb of Virgo
- On her rose garment is a topographic map of the geographic location of her apparition
- Over her womb on her dress is a four-petal flower, the Aztec symbol of life and deity
- In the image Mary is “clothed with the sun” with “the moon at her feet” as described in Revelation 12:1
- A doctor once heard a heartbeat coming from the image through a stethoscope over the womb
- The eyes of the image have the refractory characteristics of human eyes
- The eyes, when examined through a microscope, reflect the images of the witnesses present at its unveiling, including Juan Diego and the bishop
St. Juan Diego’s original tilma as it hangs today in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City
Many parishes, who have a special feast day Mass, will also host a reception or party in honor of the feast day. If not, hold your own celebration of Our Lady by inviting friends & family to your home for a traditional Mexican meal. Decorate your table with colorful roses in bright reds & pinks, blues & greens, along with your advent candles for a festive remembrance.
During this time of Advent, may we all gestate an immaculate conception that we bring to birth through our collective will for the good.