When I was young, I used to observe my aunt pray to the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe, who manifested herself to Juan Diego on December 9, 1531. Tía held such great devotion and it was said that she used to invoke Our Lady to pray for me when I was still a baby.
As Our Lady’s feast is fast approaching, it may be worthwhile to know some things about her and a few facts on one of the most celebrated religious imagery among the faithful, especially in Mexico! We all have to thank the humble Juan Diego for the rich tradition we hold.
When Juan Diego—a 57-year-old native convert to Christianity—saw the Virgin Mary appear in front of him, Our Lady commanded him to inform the bishop to build a chapel in her honor so she could lead the people—especially natives—to the faith. Unfortunately, the bishop probably thought Juan Diego was out of his mind, so he was quickly dismissed!
When Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego once again, he had no choice but to return to the bishop. The bishop told Juan Diego that he would believe the story if he was to be provided with a sign. Juan Diego went out frustrated, not knowing what to do. The Virgin Mary appeared once again. Juan Diego told her what the bishop requested. Upon hearing the story, she then commanded Juan Diego to pick some Castillian roses on a nearby hill.
Now, these roses were rare in Mexico as they mostly grew in Spain. What’s more is that during that time, they didn’t grow in season, so he thought it was impossible for him to pick such flowers. He acquiesced anyway, and was amazed to actually see the roses blooming. He immediately returned and gave the roses to Our Lady. She requested for Juan Diego’s cloak—known as a tilma—and laid it on the ground.
She wrapped the roses in the tilma and asked Juan Diego to take it to the bishop. Juan Diego did as she said and rushed to the diocese to present the tilma to the bishop. As Juan Diego unraveled the tilma in front of the bishop, the roses fell out and the latter was greeted with a beautiful image of Our Lady on the garment.
The bishop saw this as a sign and was convinced that he had to build the chapel on the historical Tepeyac Hill. Since then, it drew the attention of many natives and converted much of what once was a pagan society. On the original site, there now stands a basilica in honor of Our Lady.
It is not known where the title of “Our Lady of Guadalupe” came from, as scholars do not have a consensus. However, its origin appears to be of little importance as the image of the Virgin Mary on Juan Diego’s tilma was made into the symbol of Mexico.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe now welcomes 6.1 million pilgrims every year. The image is venerated throughout the Americas, with numerous parishes bearing the Virgin’s title.
A certain specie of roses were bred by the botanist Keith Zachary in 2000 and was named after Our Lady. It is said to bear a striking resemblance to the roses which Juan Diego picked himself.
Truly, the apparition left a lasting legacy which still emanates throughout the modern world.