The story of Our Lady's Image given to Juan
Diego is one of those stories that always seem to inspire and demands
retelling. When I was about 13 years
old I was challenged by an "atheist" who used science to
"prove" that God did not
exist. His arguments and my ignorance shook my faith. It was
the scientific evidence on the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe
that set my faith once again upon a firm foundation. The fact that this image is beyond the
explanation of science and that science can only affirm that it is not man made
is the central theme of this brief article.
surrounding the miraculous image are a beautiful sign of God's tender love and care for His children. The history began with the conquest of
Mexico in general and of the Aztec
Empire in particular by Spain in 1519-1521.
The seat of the Empire was Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City). It is
calculated that it was, at the time of its conquest, the largest city on earth. It was beautiful and advanced
in architecture. There were 7000
buildings and 360,000 people living within its walls. It was built similar to
the structures of ancient Egypt. The
Aztecs were much more technologically advanced then were their neighbors but
they were no match for the technology
of the Spanish Conquistadores. Cortez
approached the city with barely 30 men and they were able,
because of their technological advantage and the superstition of the people , especially the king Montezuma, to over power and take over the Empire very
swiftly. The story of that conquest is
most excellently told in the small but wonderful book by Warren Carrol; "Our Lady
of Guadalupe and the Conquest of Darkness." I
cannot begin to do justice to that incredible story in such a small article as
this. But the one thing you must know is that the Aztecs were despised by
all the other tribes who occupied
the whole of Mexico for one reason; Not only were they ruthless to their
enemies and subjugated all those around them but they sacrificed thousands and
thousands of human lives to their gods in a bloody ceremony that ended in the
most hideous act of
depraved humanity; cannibalism.
The hearts of their victims were cut out of their bodies while they were
still alive shown to them as they expired and then thrown on a fire to be
consumed by the flames. The victim's arms and legs would be hacked-off and
thrown to the crowd below who would take them and cook them in their
Cortez and his soldiers saw these horrible
demonic ceremonies they were
sickened and angered. They climbed up the forbidden steps of the temple hacking their way
through the Aztec priests attempting to stop them. When they reached the top they broke the altar and destroyed the idols to whom they were
sacrificing. They then commanded that
there could be no more human sacrifice
or cannibalism and they forced the Indians to wash the temple and steps clean
of the blood that had been shed there.
Then a new altar was erected on
the sight of the old pagan altar and the Holy sacrifice of the Mass was said in
a place that had been dedicated to the service of devils. The place was
consecrated to Christ and to His
Blessed Mother and hell was changed into
the truth must be enforced by the sword and
so it was in this
situation. Nonetheless, the brutality
and the disgust that the
Spanish showed toward the barbaric savagery of the Indians did not
endear them to the Spanish nor did they readily
convert to the Faith. Many of them continued to worship their pagan
gods in secret and in their own
homes. 12 years after the conquest of
Mexico with many Spanish Missionaries
spreading the good news of Christ there were only a handful of Indian converts.
The Franciscan priests were
gentle and good toward the Indians unlike the Spanish soldiers yet they could
not convince the majority of Indians to embrace the One, True, Faith.
In 1525 several Aztecs were baptized into the
Faith. The first (which had been prophesied)
was the princess
Papantzin, sister of Emperor Montezuma II. At her baptism she took the
name Dona Maria. Along with her were
baptized Cuauhtlatohuac who took the Christian name Juan Diego and his wife who
took the name Dona Lucia and his uncle who took the name Juan Bernardino.
Diego, Juan Bernardino and Dona Lucia would cheerfully walk the 14 miles every
Sunday to go to the Church of Santiago de Tlaltelolco which had been
build upon the sight of the great pagan temple to the "Humming Bird"
god Huizapochtli. It was to this god that hundreds of thousands of lives had been sacrificed and this temple was
leveled by the Spanish.
It is interesting to note that liberal historians have mourned the loss of such
structures because of their "cultural
significance." Our ancestors had a much more real understanding of these
structures and dealt with them accordingly. This evil demanded a drastic response and got it. It could have been
preserved as an example of how depraved humanity becomes without Christ but
then we have enough examples of this without having to preserve such a source
Can you imagine walking 14 miles to
go to Mass? We have become so soft that driving 14 miles seems almost out of
the question for some people.
1529 both Dona Maria and Dona Lucia died of illness. Juan Diego was left alone and he greatly mourned the loss of his
wife. His only comfort was his devotion and love for the Blessed Virgin. By
1529 the Franciscan Missionaries had built a convent much closer to Juan Diego
and his uncle's residence. They now only had to travel 9 miles
to go to Mass. Juan went to Holy Mass every Saturday (in honor of the
Blessed Mother) and every Sunday and Holy Day.
the feast of the Immaculate Conception (it was celebrated on December 9th at
that time) 1531 Juan was on his way to
Mass. He was 57 years old. When he reached Tepeyac hill. A place that had been
used frequently for human sacrifice and was barren because the blood
soaked earth had turned alkaline. He
heard the most beautiful sounds he had
ever heard. He even pinched himself to
see if he were dreaming. The singing was coming from the top of
the hill. Suddenly the singing stopped and a beautiful voice
began to call to him from the top
of the hill. "Little Juan, Juan Dieguito."
hurried to the top of the hill. When he
reach the summit he saw a beautiful Lady standing there who asked him to come
closer. He was overwhelmed by her
beauty. She was surrounded by a nimbus of sun-like radiance with many colors
streaming forth changing the very surroundings where she stood. It was as if
one could see heaven all around where she stood. He immediately knew who she
he knelt before her she said, "Juanito, the smallest of my children, where
are you going?" "My Lady and
my Child, I must go to your house in Mexico Tlatilolco to study the divine
mysteries taught by our priests who are emissaries of Our Lord."
Our Lady spoke to reveal her mission. "Be
it known and understood by you, the smallest of my children, that I am the ever
Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the true God from whom all life has come, of the
Creator, close to whom is everything, the Lord of heaven and earth. I ardently
desire that a temple be built for me here, where I can show and offer all my
love, compassion, help and protection, for I am your merciful mother. Here I
wish to hear and help you, and all who dwell in this land and all those others
who love me, and invoke and place their confidence in me; and to hear your
complaints and remedy all your sorrows, hardships, and suffering. In order to
carry out what my mercy seeks, you must go to the bishop's palace in Mexico and
tell him that I sent you to make clear how very much I desire that he build a
temple for me here on this place; you shall tell him exactly all you have seen
and marvelled at, and what you have heard.
Our Lady told him she would reward his efforts and to therefore go and
do what she had commanded. Juan Diego graciously took his leave and headed off
toward the palace of the bishop.
presentation to the bishop didn't seem to have much impact. Despite the
bishop's gracious invitation for Juan to return and provide more information
Juan was convinced he didn't believe him.
He returned to Tepeyac hill and Our Lady was waiting for him. It was
late afternoon. After describing to her what happened he pleaded with her not
to send him on such an important mission because he was out of place and a
nobody. Nonetheless, Our Lady insisted
that it was him that she would use as
her instrument and that he must return to the bishop the next day and do
whatever was necessary for him to believe. Even as he knelt before her he bowed
low and accepted her request obediently.
The next day after religion class and Mass Juan went again to the
bishops residence. After much trouble
he got in but the response was the same despite Juan's insistence that it was
true. The bishop asked for a sign in
order that he might believe.
went back to our Lady and told her that the bishop needed a sign in order to
believe what Juan had said. Our Lady's responded with understanding. She asked
him to return on Monday morning for the sign that would convince every one that
he was telling the truth. Juan went
home but found his uncle was sick even to the point of death. A doctor was
called but all he could do was to make Juan Bernadino comfortable. Juan
Diego remained by his uncle's side all of Monday. Before dawn on Tuesday he left his home to begin the nine mile
journey to the Franciscan convent in
order to bring a priest back to his uncle that he could receive the
Last Rites. Knowing that Our Lady would
probably be waiting for him he took a route that did not pass by the place on
Tepeyac hill where Our Lady always appeared. Once the priest had given the Last
Rites to Juan Bernadino it was Juan Diego's
intention to return to Our Lady and get the sign for the bishop.
As Juan was hurrying along the road he suddenly
saw Our Lady coming down the hill toward him.
She said to him, "What is the matter my little son? Where are you
going?" Juan immediately began to explain what had happened and was very
apologetic. Our Lady told him not to
worry about his uncle, that she would heal him and his uncle would not die. "You may be
sure that he at this moment is cured." And so it was
discovered that Juan Bernadino had been cured at that
very instant. She then instructed Juan to climb to the top of the hill where they had met before and to
gather the many flowers he would find and bring them back to her. Juan wore a
type of poncho (tilma) that tied behind his neck. It was woven of cactus
fibers. He went to the top of the hill and found a bush with many different
varieties of Castilian Roses, all
in perfect bloom. This was unheard of in the cold
and frost of December 12th on the high plateau of the Yucatan
Peninsula and particularly upon this hill where nothing grew. The fragrance of
the roses was overwhelming. He gathered as many as he could into the folds of
his tilma and brought them down to where Our Lady waited. "My
son these roses are the sign and proof that you shall take to the bishop. You
shall tell him in my name that these
(the roses) shall make him
understand my wish and he must carry it out.
You are my ambassador most worthy of confidence. I strictly order you
not to unfold your tilma or reveal its contents until you are in the presence
of the bishop...." She then arranged the flowers in his tilma and tied
both ends of the bottom to either side of his shoulders and off he went to the bishop's residence.
much delay and attempts by the guards to see what Juan carried with him he was
finally allowed to see the bishop. The
entire palace was filled with fragrance of Castilian roses; a plant that had
not yet been imported from Spain and was not indigenous to Mexico and a plant
that does not bloom in winter climate.
he knelt before the bishop Juan related all that had happened and about the roses.
He stood up and said "Behold them
here: receive them." At
this he opened his tilma and the roses fell to the floor. As the roses cascaded
out onto the floor the bishop and the others who were there stood in amazement
over the beauty and magnificence of the roses. Then, suddenly, they fell to
their knees. What they saw was so overwhelming that they could only weep. With their own eyes they watched appear upon
Juan's tilma the image of Our Lady exactly as Juan had described her. The bishop wept both with joy and also with
sorrow because he had not believed Juan and had not yet begun to fulfill the
request of Our Lady to have a chapel built in her honor where all who came to
her there and who pleaded their cause would be heard.
Now upon the spot where
Our Lady appeared and Juan picked the roses stands a beautiful chapel erected
as Our Lady requested. However, the
miraculous image of Our Lady is not in this chapel but rather a magnificent
basilica has been erected in Mexico
City where the beautiful Lady of Juan Diego can be seen.
in all things the Church is very cautious when promoting any alleged miracle.
Remember the official Church never takes a supposed miracle on face value but
instead investigates it according to the old Roman Juridical principle
that it is guilty until proven
innocent. There was a bit of a
difference in this case however, because it was the highest official of the
local Church that witnessed the miracle himself. He could judge the veracity of it from his own experience. Nevertheless, the Church has allowed many
scientific studies to be conducted on the tilma in order to not only verify but
also give scientific evidence for the miracle itself. The following is a list
of some of the most significant findings of science regarding the miraculous
1. The original image (which has been
painted over in some areas???) is of no known pigment on earth. It is not paint
or ink and seems to have the properties of a photograph rather than a painting.
2. The original image has no markers to
indicate that it was fashioned by human hands. They are no brush stroke,
rubbing or press marks on the cloth.
3. Every photograph of the image
seems incapable of capturing the colors
the original image presents to the naked human eye.
4. The cactus fibers which were woven
to make the tilma have never been known
in any other instance to survive
past 25 years. They always, except with
the tilma, deteriorate and turn to dust
even if there is an attempt to preserve
them. The tilma is over 470 years
old. There is no scientific explanation for this phenomenon.
5. The image itself was exposed to the
open air without even a pane of glass to shield it. The image itself has had no sign of deterioration.
6. The image is so perfect that one can
actually see images reflected in the
eye of Our Lady one of whom can be
identified as Juan Diego. (This
will be discuss at length further in
7. During the various revolutions in
Mexico different anti-Catholic groups targeted the shrine of Our Lady for
destruction. Despite all their attempts to destroy the image with explosive devices. There was no damage.
8. Finally, on the day that Our Lady
gave the proof of her appearance to
Juan Diego the news spread like wild fire. When the Indians saw the image for the first time they knew in
their hearts it was not a work of man.5000 Indians were converted that day and
were baptized. There have been 100 baptisms
a day since. Within 7 years the
entire Aztec Empire (8 million Indians)
was converted to the Catholic Faith.
the past 10 years several scientific studies of the Miraculous image have been
conducted by reputable scientists interested in discovering more about this phenomenon. After X-rays were taken of the image and
hundreds of photographic studies made a very interesting fact was discovered. If you look at the photo
of the image on Page 7 you will notice that the golden rays that surround the
figure of Our Lady look like they are flaking off. Now that would
indicate an imperfect
creation. I mean if this truly were miraculous shouldn't Our Lady be
preserving the whole image just as she has the very fabric upon which it was
placed? So what explanation is there for such a deterioration? Well as unbelievable as this may seem the
evidence shows that with permission of
the bishop a group of Spanish monks took the tilma and actually painted over
portions of the miraculous image. When
I first heard this I was astounded. It sure seems like the height of audacity
for mere humans to try to improve upon the creation of a heavenly
creature. But that is exactly what they
did. Why? Because they wanted to
impress upon the Indians symbolically that the Blessed Virgin, as great as she
is, she is still only a creature and
subject to her Son Jesus Christ who is True God and true man.
scientists discovered this because through their x-rays, infrared , ultraviolet and special photographic imaging
they can now tell what is from human
origin and what has no evidence of human origin.
color of the face and the hands were darkened to give her a more olive complexion than Our Lady gave to her image;
(Thus, they thought the Indians could relate to her more as one of their own.) Her
fingers which were originally long and slender were shortened; (This was to allow for Indian sensibilities.) A
cross was painted on the broach at the top of her dress; (To show
that she was Christian like the Spanish). Golden stars and piping were
painted on her mantle; (This
indicated royalty.) A paisley design of gold was painted on her dress; (Symbol
unknown). The nimbus of light
surrounding her was painted on; (indicating her celestial
origins). The crescent moon under her
feet was enlarged and an angel was painted on.
image originally given to the
bishop as proof of the Blessed Mother's
appearance was quite simple, beautiful and elegant.
The sad thing is that
the bishop in his good
intentions to make the image more relevant
for the Indians
gave the image a gaudy quality that almost seems like the worst of Mexican culture rather
than the best and most
spite of all these human additions the image still has an overpowering effect
upon those who see it. The most common
comment given by pilgrims is that when looking upon the image everything else
seems to fade into the background and one's full focus and attention rests
solely upon the Blessed Virgin's image.
It is as if one is actually seeing her and not simply a two dimensional
picture. Since I discovered that men had painted over certain portions of the
image I have always hoped that someone would come along and through computer
technology strip the image of all human
embellishment and allow us to see her as she originally appeared.
will recall Our Lady asked that a chapel be built on Tepeyac in order that all who
invoked her there would be
heard. They have a room dedicated to
all of the miracles which have taken place due to Our
Lady's intercession. In this room one can
see crutches, wheelchairs, back, leg and arm braces, as well as thousands
of little medals hung on
chains. When there is a cure the
individual cured will have that
part of their body that was healed made into a small medal which is hung
on a chain and then placed in this room
in honor of Our Lady's intercession. There are images of arms, legs, hearts,
heads, lungs, stomachs, eyes, ears, etc....
It is wonderful to see.
one of the most spectacular miracles that took place happened only 14 days
after Our Lady gave the Mexican People the image of her tender love. A chapel
had been erected in only 2 weeks and a procession had been arranged to transfer
the image from the bishop's residence to the newly consecrated chapel. Everyone
was there for the event including Hernando Cortez, Juan Diego and Juan
Bernadino. When they arrived at the chapel they placed the image above the high
altar and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated. At one point during
the celebration of the placing of the image in the chapel an Indian was
accidentally shot with an arrow. The arrow pierced his heart and he
died. Weeping and full of sorrow the
Indians told the bishop what happened.
He commanded that the body be brought before the image of Our Lady and
the whole people would implore her intercession. They removed the arrow and laid him in front of Our Lady's image.
He was restored to life and his wound healed in front of thousands of
witnesses. Their joy knew no bounds.
This was the beginning of a new nation and a new people consecrated to Our Lord
Jesus Christ through His Immaculate Mother.
Perfection of the Sacred Image
the list of unexplained phenomena
that is associated with the
image I mentioned the reflection of Juan Diego
in the eyes of Our Lady's
Picture. This was not discovered until
1929 when a photographer was studying the negative he had taken of the image.
In 1956 a scientific study was done to confirm this phenomenon. It was
found that the image found in
the eyes as a reflection was that of
Juan Diego, of which there was a
portrait done soon after the miracle of the Indian being restored to
life. It was also discovered that there
are 3 other images reflected in the eyes. It has been noted that these are
Bishop Zumarraga, the interpreter he had for Juan and another unidentified
person. The eyes on Our Lady's image are about 6.5 mm in radius. The image was enlarged 25 times in order to
see the reflected images clearly. A
picture of Juan Diego with the reflected image can be seen below.