Ten years before the Blessed Virgin Mary, Patroness of the Americas*, appeared to Juan Diego in Mexico, Martin Luther’s rebellion had initiated the Protestant Reformation in Europe, a revolution which drew many millions away from the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. In contrast, the marvellous apparitions of Our Lady in Mexico, her messages, and the following amazing miracle of her image engraved on the tilma of Juan Diego, started off a conversion to the Catholic Faith (that before this had been ongoing but slow) of countless millions of Mexicans, and there afterwards to all the rest of the central and southern American continent.
* Pope Pius XII was the first to grant the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe the title Patroness of the Americas on 12th October 1945.
At dawn one early December day of the year 1531 Juan Diego, a humble Mexican Indian, was on his way to Mass when he reached the hill known as Tepeyac, just outside Mexico City. Here he heard sounds of celestial singing, and raising his eyes to the East he saw a beautiful Lady who was calling him to come hither. He climbed the hill and when he reached the feet of the vision She asked him where he was going? He replied: “My Lady and Child, I have to reach your church in Mexico, Tlatilolco, to pursue things divine, taught and given to us by our priests, delegates of Our Lord.” She then spoke to him:
“Know and understand well, you the most humble of my sons, that I am the ever virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of Heaven and the Earth. I wish that a temple be erected here quickly, so I may therein exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help, and protection, because I am your merciful mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me, invoke and confide in me; listen there to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions and sorrows. And to accomplish what my clemency pretends, go to the palace of the bishop of Mexico, and you will say to him that I manifest my great desire, that here on this plain a temple be built to me; you will accurately relate all you have seen and admired, and what you have heard. Be assured that I will be most grateful and will reward you, because I will make you happy and worthy of recompense for the effort and fatigue in what you will obtain of what I have entrusted. Behold, you have heard my mandate, my humble son; go and put forth all your effort.”
Juan Diego dutifully obeyed Our Lady’s request, but it was only after much pleading with the Bishop who had doubts at first, further apparitions of Our Lady to Juan Diego, the miraculous healing of his uncle through her intercession, and then the final great miracle of the “exquisite rosas de Castilla”, gathered into the tilma of Juan Diego, falling to the ground and revealing the image of Our Lady on the cloth, that brought the desired confirmation that the apparitions were truly from Mary, Mother of God.
“He unfolded his white cloth, where he had the flowers; and when they scattered on the floor, all the different varieties of rosas de Castilla, suddenly there appeared the drawing of the precious Image of the ever-virgin Holy Mary, Mother of God, in the manner as she is today kept in the temple at Tepeyacac, which is named Guadalupe.
When the bishop saw the image, he and all who were present fell to their knees. She was greatly admired. They arose to see her; they shuddered and, with sorrow, they demonstrated that they contemplated her with their hearts and minds. The bishop, with sorrowful tears, prayed and begged forgiveness for not having attended her wish and request. When he rose to his feet, he untied from Juan Diego’s neck the cloth on which appeared the Image of the Lady from heaven.” (The full story can be read in this first copy of the original account here.)
The iconography of the image of the Virgin is fully Catholic; Miguel Sanchez, the author of the 1648 tract Imagen de la Virgen María, described her as the Woman of the Apocalypse from the New Testament’s Revelation 12:1, “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” He says: “…this New World has been won and conquered by the hand of the Virgin Mary … [who had] prepared, disposed, and contrived her exquisite likeness in this her Mexican land, which was conquered for such a glorious purpose [with] so Mexican an image.” She is described as a representation of the Immaculate Conception.
Catholic sources claim many miraculous and supernatural properties for the image such as that the tilma has maintained its structural integrity over nearly 500 years, while replicas normally last only about 15 years before suffering degradation; that it repaired itself with no external help after a 1791 ammonia spill that did considerable damage, and that on 14 November 1921 a bomb damaged the altar, but left the icon unharmed.
In 1929 and 1951 photographers found a figure reflected in the Virgin’s eyes; upon inspection they said that the reflection was tripled in what is called the Purkinje effect, commonly found in human eyes. An ophthalmologist, Dr. Jose Aste Tonsmann, later enlarged an image of the Virgin’s eyes by 2500x and claimed to have found not only the aforementioned single figure, but images of all the witnesses present when the tilma was first revealed before Zumárraga in 1531.
Numerous Catholic websites repeat an unsourced claim that in 1936 biochemist Richard Kuhn analysed a sample of the fabric and announced that the pigments used were from no known source, whether animal, mineral or vegetable. Dr. Philip Serna Callahan, who photographed the icon under infrared light, declared from his photographs that portions of the face, hands, robe, and mantle had been painted in one step, with no sketches or corrections and no visible brush strokes.
Gynecological measurements have determined that the Virgin in the Image has the physical dimensions of a woman who is three months pregnant. (The Blessed Virgin Mary, is popularly invoked as Patroness of the Unborn and a common image for the Pro-Life movement.) Under the belt that holds the dress in place, at the very location of the embryo, a flower with four petals stands out—the Solar Flower, the most familiar of Aztec hieroglyphs, and which symbolised for them divinity, the centre of the earth, Heaven, time, and space. On the Virgin’s neck hangs a brooch, the centre of which is decorated with a little cross, recalling the death of Christ on the Cross for the salvation of all mankind. Many other details of the Image of MARY form an extraordinary document for our age, which is able to observe them thanks to modern technology. Thus science, which has often been a pretext for unbelief, helps us today to give prominence to signs that had remained unknown for centuries and that science is unable to explain.
(Other sources: Traditional Catholic Priest, Catholic On-Line, EWTN.)