Our Lady of Guadalupe has an enduring tradition and has sources both oral and written, Indian and Spanish, and the account is unshakable. The Blessed Virgin appeared on Saturday, December 9, 1531, to a 55-year-old neophyte named Juan Diego, who was hurrying down the hill of Tepeyac to hear mass in Mexico City. She sent him to Bishop Zumárraga to build a temple where she was. She was in the same place that night and Sunday night to get the bishop’s response. The bishop did not immediately believe the messenger, questioned him and silenced him, and finally told him to ask the lady who claimed to be the mother of the true God for a sign. The neophyte readily agreed to ask for the desired sign and the bishop released him.
Juan was busy all Monday with Bernardino, an uncle, who was dying of a fever. Indian medicine had failed and Bernardino seemed on the verge of death. At dawn on Tuesday, December 12, 1531, Juan ran to the nearby convent of Santiago in search of a priest. To avoid the appearance and the inopportune message to the bishop, he slipped through where the chapel of the well is now. But the Blessed Virgin approached him and said: “What path is this that you take, son?” A tender dialogue followed. He reassured Juan about his uncle, to whom he also appeared briefly and was instantly cured.
Calling herself Santa María de Guadalupe, she told Juan to return to the bishop. He asked Mary for the sign he needs. She told him to go to the rocks and pick roses. Juan knew that this was neither the time nor the place for the roses, but he went looking for them. Gathering many in the lap of his tilma, a long cape or cloak worn by the Mexican Indians, he returned. The Holy Mother rearranged the roses and told him to keep them intact and invisible until he reached the bishop. When he met with Zumárraga, Juan offered the sign to the bishop. As he unfolded his cloak, the roses, fresh and wet with dew, fell. Juan was surprised to see the bishop and his assistants kneeling before him. The life-size figure of the Virgin Mother, as John had described her, glowed on the tilma. The painting was venerated, kept in the bishop’s chapel and shortly afterwards carried in procession to the preliminary sanctuary.
The roughly woven material of the tilme bearing the image is as thin and open as a bad cloak. It is made with vegetable fiber, probably maguey. Painters have not understood the imposition of colors. They have declared that the “canvas” was not only inadequate, but was not prepared, and they marveled at the apparent coloring in oil, water, tempera, etc. of the same figure. They are equally admired for the floral hues and abundant gold. They and other artists find the perfect proportions for a fifteen-year-old maiden. The figure and the attitude belong to the one who advances. There is flight and rest in the eager angel of support. The main colors are intense gold in the rays and stars, greenish blue in the mantle and pink in the flowery tunic.
Several commissions of inquiry gave sworn testimony that corroborates the traditional account of the miraculous origin and influence of painting. Some wills related to Juan Diego and his contemporaries were accepted as documentary evidence. Evidence of the existence of the letter from Bishop Zumárraga to his Franciscan brothers in Spain about the apparitions was given. His successor, Montufar, instituted a canonical investigation, in 1556, into a sermon in which pastors and people were abused for coming to the new sanctuary. In 1568 the renowned historian Bernal Díaz, Cortés’s companion, refers in passing to Guadalupe and her daily miracles. The lay viceroy, Enríquez, without opposing the devotion, wrote in 1575 to Felipe II asking him to prevent the third archbishop from erecting a parish or monastery in the sanctuary. Viceroys and other chief magistrates used to make inaugural pilgrimages. The processes, national and ecclesiastical, were carefully formulated and certified for presentation in Rome, Italy, in 1663, 1666, 1723, and 1750.
The clergy, secular and regular, have been remarkably faithful to the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, encouraging it especially the bishops, to the point of making the protest of faith in the miracle a matter of occasional obligation. Pope Benedict XIV decreed that Our Lady of Guadalupe should be the national patron of Mexico, and made December 12 a feast of obligation with an octave, and ordered a special Mass and Office. Pope Leo XIII approved a second complete historical Nocturnal, ordered the painting to be crowned with his name, and composed a poetic inscription for it. Pope Pius X allowed Mexican priests to say the Mass of Santa María de Guadalupe on the twelfth day of each month, and granted indulgences that can be obtained anywhere in the world to pray before a copy of the image.
The place, called Guadalupe Hidalgo since 1822, is three miles northeast of Mexico City. Pilgrimages to this sanctuary have been made almost without interruption since 1531-1532. A sanctuary at the foot of the Tepeyac hill served for ninety years, and is still part of the parish sacristy. A rich sanctuary was erected in 1622 and a newer and richer one in 1709. There is also a parish church, a convent and church for the Capuchin nuns, a well chapel and a chapel on the hill, all built in the 18th century. Around 1750 the sanctuary obtained the title of collegiate, establishing a canonry and choir service. It was added to San Juan de Letrán in 1754. In 1904 a basilica was created, with the name of abbot to the ecclesiastical president. The sanctuary has been renovated in a Byzantine style that presents an illustration of Guadalupan history.
Today we remember that Our Lady of Guadalupe always directs us to her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
May the Lord bless you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen