Our Lady of Guadalupe: Miracles, Facts and Fancy

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Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of the most dramatic appearances of Mary in history, when Mary, in the guise of an Aztec princess, appeared to Saint Juan Diego (his pre-conversion name of Cuauhtlatoatzin translates as “Talking Eagle”), a Mexican convert, on December 9, 1531 as he strode to Mass and was passing by the base of Tepeyac hill.  She spoke to him in Nahuatl, his native tongue, and told him to go to Archbishop Juan de Zumarraga, the primate of Mexico, and tell him that she wished for a shrine to be built on Tepeyac hill.  She also gave him this message: ”I will demonstrate, I will exhibit, 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, 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.”  

The Archbishop told Diego he would not believe in his encounter with Mary unless he had a sign.  Our Lady told Diego to visit the Archbishop again, but Zumarraga repeated his request for a sign.   Returning to Tepeyac, Diego again encountered Our Lady who told him to present himself to  Archbishop Zumarraga and give to him roses he was instructed to pick.  Roses growing in Mexico in December were a miracle in and of themselves.  Diego did as he was bidden, and when he presented the roses to the Archbishop, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was imprinted on his tilma, his peasant’s cloak, where the roses had been held by him.  News of the miracle spread throughout Mexico and before the decade was out some eight million Mexicans converted to the Faith.  A chapel was built on Tepeyac and Diego cared for it and the image as a religious hermit until his death in 1548 at 73.

Doubts have been raised about whether Juan Diego existed due to the lack of contemporary accounts.  However, these doubts were quashed, at least any reasonable doubts, in 1995 with the coming to light of the Codex Escalada which has been dated to the sixteenth century.  It bears the date of 1548 and is an illustrated account of the apparition with text in Nahuatl describing the encounter between Juan Diego and Mary.  The document bears the signature of  Father Bernadino de Sahagun, a missionary priest and historian in Mexico, and a contemporary of Juan Diego.  The first mention of the image in Spanish is in 1556 in a sermon preached by Archbishop Alonso de Montufar, the successor to Archbishop Zumarraga, in which he recommended devotion to the image.  Devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe spread rapidly throughout the Catholic world, with Genoese Admiral Andrea Doria having a copy of the image on his flagship during the decisive Christian victory at the battle of Lepanto in 1571.

The image I believe is miraculous in nature.  However, many spurious claims have been made about the image, and the video at the beginning of this post is a good compilation of some of the wilder ones.  Go here to read a very good article which separates fact from fancy regarding the image.  It points out the true miraculous feature of the image:

Again, this is misplaced over-excitement. There is paint ALL OVER the tilma, BUT NOT IN THE FACE AND THE HANDS OF THE VIRGIN. The above observation is correct only with reference to the Face and the Hands.

As a matter of fact the original figure, including the rose robe, blue mantle, hands and face … is inexplicable. In terms of the infrared study executed over the tilma in the 70s, there is no way to explain either the kind of color luminosity and brightness of pigments over the centuries. It seems that the facial image is formed from the very woof and weft of the fibers of the cloth.

There is no need to gild the lily in regard to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe;   it is quite miraculous enough without that, both the miracle intrinsic to itself and the faith, always the greatest of miracles, in God it has fostered in human hearts.

O Immaculate Virgin Mother of the true God and Mother of the Church! You, who from this place revealed your clemency and your pity to all those who ask for your protection: hear the prayer that we address to you with filial trust, and present it to your Son Jesus, our sole Redeemer. Mother of Mercy, Teacher of hidden and silent sacrifice, to you, who come to meet us sinners, we dedicate on this day all our being and all our love. We also dedicate to you our life, our work, our joys, our infirmities, and our sorrows. Grant peace, justice and prosperity to our peoples; for we entrust to your care all that we have and all that we are, our Lady and Mother. We wish to be entirely yours and to walk with you along the way of complete faithfulness to Jesus Christ in His Church: hold us always with your loving hand. Virgin of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas, we pray to you for all the bishops, that they may lead the faithful along paths of intense Christian life, of love and humble service of God and souls. Contemplate this immense harvest, and intercede with the Lord that He may instill a hunger for holiness in the whole People of God, and grant abundant vocations of priests and religious, strong in faith and zealous dispensers of God’s mysteries. Grant to our homes the grace of loving and respecting life in its beginnings, with the same love with which you conceived in your womb the life of the Son of God. Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Fair Love, protect our families, so that they may always be united, and bless the upbringing of our children. Our hope, look upon us with compassion, teach us to go continually to Jesus and, if we fall, help us to rise again, to return to Him, by means of the confession of our faults and sins in the Sacrament of Penance, which gives peace to the soul. We beg you to grant us a great love for all the holy Sacraments, which are, as it were, the signs that your Son left on earth. Thus, Most Holy Mother, with the peace of God in our conscience, with our hearts free from evil and hatred, we will be able to bring to all true joy and true peace, which comes to us from your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
Pope John Paul II

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